Feeding the hungry

Temple Emanu-El and Island Harvest host annual food drive


While many local residents fasted for 24 hours beginning last Friday evening in observance of Yom Kippur, Temple Emanu-El, of East Meadow, asked its members to go one step further and donate the food they didn’t eat to those who need it.

Continuing an annual tradition, the Merrick Avenue synagogue is accepting food donations to be sent to Island Harvest, a Mineola-based nonprofit organization that distributes food to Long Island food pantries, soup kitchens and other distribution services for people who can’t afford to buy food.

This year, the synagogue began accepting donations at the start of Rosh Hashana, on Sept. 4, and will continue doing so until Sept. 30, after Simchat Torah.

Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner is an East Meadow native and a lifelong member of Temple Emanu-El. In 2005, shortly before Thanksgiving, she spoke to the congregation about hunger on Long Island. North Bellmore twins Stefen and Jamie Rosner were 7 at the time, and attended the service with their father, Daniel. “[Stefen] heard it and was kind of shocked to hear that there were children on Long Island who didn’t have enough to eat,” recalled Daniel, who has been a member of Temple Emanu-El since 1979. “He said, ‘We have to do something.’”

That night, the family bought several frozen turkeys and delivered them to Island Harvest. The next year, the twins turned their efforts into a formal drive, and it has grown ever since. Each year the drive collects more than 1,000 pounds of food.

The twins, now 15, are high school sophomores in the Bellmore Merrick School District — Stefen at Mepham High and Jamie at Calhoun. They now deliver an annual speech about hunger at the onset of the High Holy Days, urging the congregation to donate to the cause.

“Stefen and Jamie are amazing kids,” Shubin Dresner said. “I started in this business as a kid, and I’ve talked in front of groups … but I didn’t talk in front of 1,000 adults.”

Island Harvest collects and distributes millions of pounds of food across Long Island, but Shubin Dresner said the Temple Emanu-El drive has special meaning to her because of its East Meadow roots. “I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said. “I talk about East Meadow all the time, wherever I go. I say that East Meadow is the center of the universe.”

She also emphasized the importance of youth involvement, and its potential to inspire other children. Thanks to Stefen and Jamie, she said, her nieces Alana, Elizabeth and Sarah Reilly recently spent an entire day stapling fliers to bags to help in the drive. “For me, that’s the encouragement to keep pushing for kids,” Shubin Dresner said. “I see kids get it, then the doors open, and it allows us to come in and do more.”

Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El since last year, recently visited Island Harvest to learn more about the organization. He said he was impressed by its many programs, including a mobile food truck and the Kids Weekend Backpack Feeding Program, which delivers food to schoolchildren on weekends.

Bar-Nahum added that his recent Kol Nidre sermon focused on hunger, explaining that the purpose of fasting is not to deprive oneself, but to share bread with the hungry — which is exactly what Temple Emanu-El is doing. “That, to me, is kind of the message of Yom Kippur,” he said. “On a day when we all feel the pangs of hunger … there’s so many people locally on Long Island and across America who have to deal with that on a daily basis.

“As a congregation, we might not be able to accomplish the task of feeding every hungry person on Long Island,” Bar-Nahum said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re free to desist from trying.”