In its strictest interpretation, that’s a gift to make sure that poor Jews can celebrate the holiday. You can fulfill that mitzvah, feeding Jews, by a couple of routes:
MAZON is a Jewish organization that feeds people in both North America and in Israel. They do not turn anyone away, but they are primarily focused on Jewish food insecurity.
Alternatively, you can give money to your rabbi’s discretionary fund. Every congregation has members who are living with food insecurity, usually silently. The rabbi sometimes becomes aware of these situations and the discretionary fund can help buy groceries. A rabbi’s discretionary fund is not a private slush fund for expenses. Those funds have to be spent on things that preserve the deductible status of the original gift (in the USA.)
However, we are taught by our tradition to feed ALL hungry people, not just Jews. Some other options:
- Donate cash or goods to your local food pantry or food bank.
- Persuade others to give to your local food bank.
This is different from the usual “tzedakah before a holiday” thing, although that’s certainly good on its own. This is a particular part of Purim observance. Partly this makes sure all can celebrate the holiday, but also look at the calendar: this holiday comes at what can be a brutal time of year for people with food insecurity. It’s cold and wet in many locations, and has been for months. Nutrition affects people’s resistance to colds and flu. Many kinds of produce are more expensive because of the season, too.
The Hebrew name for these Purim gifts is Matanot L’Evyonim (mah-ta-NOTE l’ev-yon-EEM): Gifts to the Poor. Purim is actually the traditional Jewish gift-giving holiday: we give gifts to the poor, and food gifts to friends.
The root of tzedakah (charity) is tzedek, justice. It is unfair that so many are hungry. In my own home state of California, 15% of households – that’s over 2 million people! – are currently suffering with food insecurity. There are parents going hungry to feed their children and children going hungry because there isn’t enough to go around. This is a shanda (scandal.)
Before we put on our festive masks, let’s each choose a place to send what we can!