February 24, 2020

Mazon’s ‘This Is Hunger’ Exhibition Now Available Online

Photo by Barbara Grover.

Three years ago, the national advocacy organization Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger debuted the exhibition “This Is Hunger.” It opened in Los Angeles, generating lots of attention, and introduced Angelenos — via an immersive and audio visual experience — to just a few of the millions of Americans who are food insecure. 

Then the exhibition hit the road — literally — as it was mounted in a converted semitruck and traveled the country. Now, for the first time, Mazon has made “This Is Hunger” available online.

The traveling exhibition was, by all accounts, a success. Over the course of 17 months, it made 70 extended stops in 30 states and the District of Columbia, mainly at synagogues and other community organizations, and garnered plenty of media coverage. 

Liz Braun-Lilenfeld, Mazon’s deputy director of community relations, said that during this period, 15,535 individuals saw the exhibition. But the plan was never to have a permanent traveling exhibition. It simply wasn’t tenable because the logistics were complicated (you can’t park a semi just anywhere). And since admission was free, there was no ticket revenue to offset the costs. But it was clear there was still significant, ongoing interest in “This Is Hunger.”

“We knew we were going to create a permanent space for it once we had seen the response,” Mazon President and CEO Abby Leibman told the Journal. The trick was finding the right space.

“We had certain needs to duplicate the experience in the truck,” Braun-Lilenfeld, added. “Finding a giant room in Los Angeles where you could get a 30-foot table inside is not as easy as it sounds.” 

Fortunately, last year Mazon found an ideal space in Encino, and it also checked a second box. 

“We wanted to create a vibrant Jewish center in the [San Fernanco] Valley where there hasn’t been a very physical presence for the larger Jewish community outside of synagogues,” Leibman said. “It’s like a community space.” 

Since the permanent exhibition opened last December, close to 500 additional people, many of them students, have experienced “This Is Hunger.” Currently, the in-person experience is open by appointment only to groups of up to 30. But there is talk of maintaining limited but set hours in the future, perhaps once a quarter on a Sunday, for drop-in visitors.

“We couldn’t extend our tour any longer. But we knew we wanted to make this resource available to people. Doing something digital seemed like a natural next step.” — Liz Braun-Lilenfeld

But what about people in other parts of the country? There were calls asking if the truck could come back. There were also communities that had very much wanted the exhibition to visit when it toured, but whether because of scheduling issues or lack of space to accommodate the truck just couldn’t make it work. 

“What we found a lot on the road, we would be finishing up in a city and some educator would come through and say, ‘If I had only known, I would have brought my class here,’ ” Braun-Lilenfeld said. “We couldn’t extend our tour any longer. But we knew we wanted to make this resource available to people. Doing something digital seemed like a natural next step.”

And so, a few weeks ago, Mazon made “This Is Hunger” available to anyone at any time on its website. Users are required to register prior to downloading the 14-minute film, a simple process put in place so Mazon can track engagement. In addition, Braun-Lilenfeld said, “We want to use it as an opportunity to be in touch with folks [to offer them support].”

A variety of complementary educational resources are available on the website, including a facilitator’s guide, activities appropriate for young people and a document titled “What Can You Do?” that includes a range of activities such as “Distribute Thanksgiving dinner at local senior center” and “Approach your local Veterans Administration to create a program that assists homeless veterans.”

Watching “This Is Hunger” on a personal computer, even on a large screen in a dimmed room with community members, is not the same as the fully immersive in-person experience. You don’t sit across the table from 14-year-old Dylan as he talks about going to bed hungry, for example. But it is still incredibly powerful. Some 150 registrations have already come through to access the new digital resource.

Braun-Lilenfeld said she is is excited about “reaching out to new partners and finding great opportunities for both Jewish day schools and secular schools that have robust social justice programs to use this resource.”

Leibman urges locals to come to Encino. “If you’re in L.A., you have the privilege of being able to experience [‘This Is Hunger’] in its original iteration, in its incarnation as an immersive experience,” she said. “I don’t think people should pass on that opportunity.”

To access the video, visit mazon.org and click on the “This Is Hunger” tab at the top of the homepage.