Special Interview the Fight Against Hunger

Israeli technology could save the world from hunger by turning deserts into farmland, according to Steve West, co-director of an organization called “Impact on Hunger,” which he and Stephen Deutsch co-founded five years ago.

West, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said that Israeli technology “is in the forefront for solution-seekers to the problem of hunger in the world. Techniques used by Israel to turn desert into farmland are living examples for those concerned with growing things in naturally hostile environments.”

West said that “methods pioneered in Israel, such as hydroponics, water drip system, and ‘miracle fish’ which mature in eight weeks through genetic engineering, are being taught and should be taught on a more widespread scale to all who are committed to saving the lives of the 15 to 20 million people — about 80 percent of whom are children — who die from hunger all over the world each year.”

West said that “Impact on Hunger” is a volunteer-based organization with a small staff of 12 people who create projects designed to “inform, inspire and involve people” in ending hunger in the world. “The knowledge that every minute 21 children die unnecessarily changed my life, and all who work with us hope that this awareness will gradually change the world.”

But, he hastened to add, this hope is not an idle dream. The concrete programs of the organization he and Deutsch head are now financed through grants from companies and large foundations and are are based on the premise that death from hunger can be overcome on a worldwide basis.

GUIDED BY JEWISH ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

Although “Impact on Hunger” is non-sectarian, working with all religious and racial groups, West said that when he resigned from a top executive position after 18 years to devote himself to what for three years was purely volunteer work, he was very much guided by the Jewish ethical principles handed down by his parents who had both been active B’nai B’rith leaders in New Hyde Park, Long Island. Those principles, he said, were that charity should be given anonymously, effectively, and aimed at self-help. Deutsch, the son of two Hungarian Holocaust survivors, feels the same way.

The basic premise of the “Impact” programs is that hunger is a vast but solvable problem and that individual will and commitment is what makes the impact and change possible. This approach is the core of one-week educational “packages” which have become part of the New York City school system’s curriculum and will this year be extended to San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Long Island and other school systems across the country, West said.

Youngsters in the course are taken through three stages: awareness or consciousness-raising; in-depth education on techniques; and creation of an action group. West cited as examples, food collection for local centers dealing with the needy, upgrading the nutritional quality of food in local cafeterias, fund-raising for events the proceeds of which go to such organizations as Oxfam, UNICEF and other groups all over the world working toward ending hunger.

AN UNPRECEDENTED COLLECTION

Jerry Goldman, who became a staff member of “Impact” after one year of full-time volunteer work, is program director for “Superstars for Ending Hunger,” an “Impact” staff action group. On August 14, “we collected five tons of canned food — the largest collection ever — at the New York Mets-Chicago Cubs baseball game at Shea Stadium to be distributed to food kitchens around the city,” he told the JTA.

This collection was the result of “three weeks of announcements on radio and TV and the active participation of baseball stars,” he said. Goldman’s televised appeal at the game itself was followed by Odetta, the internationally famed Black folk singer, who sang the national anthem, and the spectacular arrival of 35 Harvard students who had bicycled two months from Seattle to New York to collect $700,000 for the self-help programs of Oxfam — which are largely designed on Israeli and American technological know-how.

This fall, a single “Impact on Hunger” volunteer will walk across Africa, providing practical information to hungry communities and his person-to-person encounters will be followed in the U.S. by TV coverage, Goldman said.

Summing up his views about the work of “Impact” and his own attitude toward hunger, West said: “In reaching out to the world, I feel I am fulfilling a need for moral commitment that rises from my religious upbringing.”

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