Last week, BBYO, a Jewish teen organization, organized prescreenings of the new film "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," but with a twist – they teamed up with local food banks and asked for food donations. Across the country, Jewish teens participating in this effort donated over 17,000 pounds of food.
"Many American and Canadian youth saw hunger as a foreign issue," Natalie Spring, director of campaigns and leadership initiatives at BBYO, told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday. Showing that hunger is a problem here in America as well, Spring cited the Food Research and Action Center, which found that 49 million Americans faced hunger in 2012 – 16 million of them children.
"Our biggest message to our teens is that this is not a Jewish issue," Spring stated. "This is an American issue and an important issue for all people." The BBYO spokeswoman said she hopes the teens involved will energize their schools and families to address the issue of hunger.
Spring told CP that the BBYO chapters spent two months preparing for these events. In some communities, the young people donated over 1,000 pounds. Chapters in Denver, Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix, and Charleston, each reached that level.
Spring said BBYO chose to tie the hunger drive to the film "Catching Fire" because the kids were already planning to see it. "Many of our teens were planning to go see the movie, so we saw this as an opportunity to reach out on hunger," she explained.
Aleeza Lubin, BBYO's director of Jewish enrichment, discussed the generosity of Jewish religion and culture. "As Jews, when we are thankful, we give back," Lubin said. She also mentioned the very rare overlapping of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah this year – a phenomenon which has come to be known as "Thanksgivukkah."
"This year, the overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is a momentous occasion," Lubin declared, noting that it will not happen again for "approximately 70,000 years." This overlap fits well with both holidays, she explained. "We give thanks at Thanksgiving for where we are in this country and at Hanukkah to be in this place at this time as a Jewish community."
Lubin found many themes in "Catching Fire" that resonate with a Jewish audience. "Fighting for what you believe in definitely resonates throughout our story – it's the nature of the story of Hanukkah."
Furthermore, the "Hunger Games" sequel also portrays the freedom BBYO wishes to cultivate in its members, Lubin added. "The element of freedom to be who you want to be, live your life, practice in your daily life – that's the undertone of what we, as an organization, are trying to instill in our teens," she said.
Judith Mendelsohn Rood, a Jewish Christian and professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at Biola University, explained the motivation behind acts of charity like this one. "They believe in doing 'sedaca,' which means social justice, charity, projects," Rood told CP on Tuesday. She praised the Jewish community for generous acts like this food drive and mentioned the many groups who headed to the Philippines to help in the typhoon relief efforts.
Rood also explained that charity is a way the Jewish community responds to the long tradition of Anti-Semitism and the anger at the state of Israel. Many Jews "try to increase or improve the reputation of Judaism and Israel by showing how devoted they are to social justice and humanitarian causes around the world." Rood insisted, however, that these acts are "a very sincere effort to contribute to the common good, not just for public relations."
BBYO allows teens to do most of the work in organizing events, Rood explained. She exhorted Christians to lend their efforts in giving to the poor and match this generosity. "I hope it spurs Christians to get their youth more involved in social justice activities like this," she said.