Reflecting on a Decade of Leadership at MAZON

Abby J. Leibman
June 1, 2021

When I was hired by MAZON’s Board of Directors in 2011, I was already familiar with the unique role MAZON played in the Jewish community and the importance of its mission. I spent my initial weeks reading, learning from long-time Board and staff members, new colleagues who had spent decades in the anti-hunger movement, and MAZON’s founders — Leonard Fein (z”l), Irv Cramer, and Ted Mann (z”l).

I was asked to develop a new vision for MAZON — one that honored its past and also prepared it to respond to an evolving set of challenges and opportunities.

I wanted to give life to MAZON’s mission — to show that Jewish values not only teach us how to respond to others but that they have meaning and impact in a modern world. I wanted it to matter that MAZON was a part of the anti-hunger movement — that it had a powerful role to play in ending hunger in America and Israel.

I thought about what it means to be guided by Jewish values, caring for the stranger, being a part of a community, ensuring that the most vulnerable people have what they need to survive. I looked at the vital, yet narrow, scope of the anti-hunger movement in the U.S. — defending the nutrition safety net — and I thought, we can do more. I thought about those who are too often left behind when we set policy for the majority without regard to the needs of those who do not match our generalized assumptions about the poor. And I crafted a vision for MAZON that embraced the acceptance that no one should be left behind when we respond to hunger; seeing all people as being b’tzelem Elohim (made in the image of God) but also understanding that people reflect the many faces of God, each with a distinct set of possibilities, some stymied by barriers not experienced by others.

When I was hired by MAZON’s Board of Directors in 2011, I was already familiar with the unique role MAZON played in the Jewish community and the importance of its mission. I spent my initial weeks reading, learning from long-time Board and staff members, new colleagues who had spent decades in the anti-hunger movement, and MAZON’s founders — Leonard Fein (z”l), Irv Cramer, and Ted Mann (z”l). I was asked to develop a new vision for MAZON — one that honored its past and also prepared it to respond to an evolving set of challenges and opportunities. I wanted to give life to MAZON’s mission — to show that Jewish values not only teach us how to respond to others but that they have meaning and impact in a modern world. I wanted it to matter that MAZON was a part of the anti-hunger movement — that it had a powerful role to play in ending hunger in America and Israel. I thought about what it means to be guided by Jewish values, caring for the stranger, being a part of a community, ensuring that the most vulnerable people have what they need to survive. I looked at the vital, yet narrow, scope of the anti-hunger movement in the U.S. — defending the nutrition safety net — and I thought, we can do more. I thought about those who are too often left behind when we set policy for the majority without regard to the needs of those who do not match our generalized assumptions about the poor. And I crafted a vision for MAZON that embraced the acceptance that no one should be left behind when we respond to hunger; seeing all people as being b’tzelem Elohim (made in the image of God) but also understanding that people reflect the many faces of God, each with a distinct set of possibilities, some stymied by barriers not experienced by others.

I am someone who listens, learns, and then acts, and I have always made that central to my work at MAZON. The issue areas that MAZON has made its key priorities are not new challenges; indeed, many of them have languished for years, perceived as too complicated to address or too narrow to merit a national response. But when we listen, we hear the anguish of struggle too long overlooked. We can conceive of policies, laws, rules, and regulations to address the challenges we’ve heard. And then, we act to make those a reality. We committed to lifting up particular issues or populations, to leading where we see an opportunity, and being gratified when others embrace these priorities, too. MAZON currently focuses on food insecurity among military families, single mothers, Native Americans, veterans, LGBTQ older adults, and the people of Puerto Rico.

The vision I articulated 10 years ago was rooted in MAZON’s mission, its history, and the promise that the organization held for the future. The essence of this mission has not changed in MAZON’s 36-year history, and I am proud to continue this critical work with each of you to transform how it is into how it should be.

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