Rabbi Erin Glazer didn’t know it at the time, but her path to becoming a rabbi and her current work as MAZON’s Senior Engagement Officer started with her family. She grew up in Richmond, Virginia, in a Conservative synagogue and in a family that instilled in her a passion for tikkun olam (repairing the world).
After earning her degree in government and politics with a minor in Jewish studies, she spent a year volunteering in Israel, then became a legislative assistant at the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and later joined the National Council of Jewish Women’s Washington Office, each experience further honing her passion for Jewish life and social change.
A passion for teaching, community work and religious study led her, to her surprise, to Hebrew Union College, the Reform movement’s seminary where she was later ordained. Even though she had only recently encountered female rabbis and rabbis engaged in social justice, she knew she’d found her work in the world.
After five years as a congregational rabbi she joined MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger last July in a new position as Senior Engagement Officer. “My role at MAZON involves outreach and education, working with synagogues, Jewish organizations and individuals to help them engage in our anti-hunger efforts,” explains Rabbi Glazer. “This means everything from curriculum writing for religious schools and teaching at congregations and community events to developing resources for rabbis and lay leaders to lift up the issue of hunger around various Jewish holidays and cultivating relationships with interested advocates.”
While MAZON focuses on national policy issues, such as protecting vital federal nutrition programs, “We also work to address hunger among populations that are particularly vulnerable or may be overlooked including seniors, rural and remote communities, American-Indian communities and military families.”
Rabbi Glazer also points to MAZON’s state engagement initiatives through MAZON Advocacy Projects (MAP). Maryland’s MAZON Advocacy Project (MAP: MD), for example, is a new statewide legislative initiative coordinated by MAZON that brings together several local partners, including anti-hunger groups and synagogues in the DC area, to develop strategies to sign seniors up for SNAP (food stamp benefits).
Many seniors are eligible for these food benefits, but do not enroll in the program because they don’t know they qualify or they are not able to fill out the complicated forms on their own. Many are ashamed that they need help, and still others just don’t know how to begin the process. Lowering barriers to SNAP participation would mean granting more seniors in our area access to the food they need to stay healthy.
In addition to national and state-level advocacy, MAZON is also engaged in education around hunger and Rabbi Glazer is currently working with others on the MAZON team to create a new educational multimedia traveling exhibit called “This is Hunger.”
The exhibit will feature a series of black-and-white photographs of people who experience hunger and food insecurity and will highlight their stories. It will include documentary photography, interactive digital education tools and connections to Jewish values and will be hosted by congregations and other hunger relief organizations around the country.
Rabbi Glazer encourages people to get involved in hunger issues either at the national or state levels by signing on to receive advocacy updates on the MAZON website. She also suggests engaging in your local community or synagogue. Talk with your rabbi and religious school staff about including hunger justice as a congregational action issue.
MAZON will have a new curriculum on hunger, justice and Jewish values for 8th and 9th graders available next academic year and will also be developing curriculum materials for other grades. The MAZON website has materials for Jewish holidays and suggestions for ways in which synagogue communities can get involved.
Rabbi Glazer’s passion and life’s work in social justice and tikkun olam inspire us to look to our own communities and ask, What can we do? With the right education and advocacy resources, the answer is: a great deal.
Top photo: Families sign up for SNAP at Crossroads Farmers Market in Maryland.