Posts in category "Featured"
By Yadidya Greenberg
I spent the first eight and a half years of my life living on one of Israel’s much-idealized kibbutzim (communal living villages). My mom worked in the kibbutz dairy, and for a time my dad worked with the broiler chickens. I loved milking the cows, and my favorite thing in the world was to let the calves put my entire hand in their mouths. Through these experiences I developed a great fascination and love for animals that has never left me.
I am riding in my third Hazon Golden Gate Ride this Memorial Day Weekend. I first rode because it seemed like a fun way to raise money to do good things in a Jewish way. I next rode not just for that – dayenu! – but for the powerful sense of community I knew I’d get with fellow riders. Where else can you finish gutting out a 60-mile ride through the most beautiful coastal hills imaginable and then turn to study Torah with some kindred text-loving nerds?
This year, I ride with some deeper intent. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my investment advisory firm’s philosophy around investing. My firm is different from many – we invest our clients’ assets with somewhat of a ‘slow money’ approach. Kind of like some people grow and cook ‘slow food,’ we invest patiently around long-term value, and avoid fast-money strategies much as one might avoid fast food (and, our opinion is that fast money, like fast food, is pervasive and ultimately destabilizing to the entire ecosystem in which it is produced).
Fortuitously, I attended the Hazon Jewish Food Festival in San Francisco last month and learned with Yigal Deutscher, the manager of Hazon’sShmita Project and Founder of 7Seeds, who led very compelling teachings about the agricultural laws in the Torah. These laws include Shmita, the seven-year cycle that requires that the land and people slow down, share resources, and shorten and then ultimately forgive debts. Shmita is not business as usual, but business unusual.
Now, I don’t run a farm. And yet, there are powerful lessons to be learned from our ancient teachings about modern-day business and investment. These laws address how to arrest the extremes of the business cycle, how to move patiently and slowly with care and intent when it comes to putting resources to work, and how to make sure others are cared for in your act of producing. This year I ride to continue the conversation and learning so that I can continue to bring these strands of Torah and the way I work for others, together.
Sue Reinhold, Ph.D.
Third-year Rider, Hazon Golden Gate Ride
Founding Partner, North Berkeley Investment Partners
By Rabbi Elisheva Brenner
In the Torah “holiness” is part of an idiosyncratic way of understanding how the cosmos came into being, our place in it (cosmogony) and the nature of reality (epistemology). To our ancient ancestors, the cosmos, the physical world as we experience it, all life was brought about by “the word of G-d.” Today we would regard “the word of God” as a metaphor for the energies, forces, karma, particle and wave plus the energy of human consciousness that concentrates, compresses, expands and contracts into what we experience as the physical and spiritual world. When the energies of life are in properly balanced, albeit dynamic, homeostasis, the life system has achieved a state of sustainability. In Torah-speak, that homeostasis, that sustainability, is called “Holiness.” The parts of the system as well as the objects, actions and time intervals used to maintain and correct the system are called “Holy.”
We can find our way into the Torah’s way of understanding through the study of language and literary structural forms. Language is a window onto the way a people or culture perceives reality. It both arises from and reifies a culture’s epistemology. Biblical Hebrew is a language that for the most part, is made out of verbs and verb roots. This lets us know that our ancient Hebraic ancestors experienced reality as something in constant motion–even nouns and predicate adjectives are made out of verb roots–they represent motion in repose. In Torah, holiness/sustainability is a living system of systems just as we humans are living systems of systems. Each component of the system – humans, the Earth, nature, time intervals and the Godfield – are all in recursive relationship with every other part of the system. We humans are energy movers, drawing down from and sending up to the Divine source, and sending out to and receiving from other people, other life forms and the living Earth. The holiness system is in constant flux, needing to be balanced and corrected by human action.
Just as the systems of the human body exist in a structural form, so the cosmic system has a structural form. When we study the Torah according to its own ancient literary conventions, we find that just as the universe was spoken into existence, so the written words of Torah form a pictogram of the cosmos–a 3-D mandala made of words. The holiness/sustainability message is so central that it sits in the eye of the mandala, in the Holiness Code of Leviticus!
I first became interested in mandala form and the tendency of the human mind to “mandalize” visual memory in another forum… psychology. I did a master’s in counseling psychology at an Evangelist college in Atlanta, Georgia while I was in rabbinical school. That school did a lot of research on the integration of spiritual and religious parameters into the various psychological theories. It seemed to me then that the mandala, particularly the four-quadrant mandalas of Jungian psychology, related more to the horizontal dimensions of psychological geometry—they didn’t really model the “quest” dimensions of the psyche as well as some other models.
Our Hassidic rabbis psychologized cosmology in a way that addressed both dimensions. The four worlds model of Hassidut gives us a vertical dimension—every soul receives energy influxes from above to below and we “quest” from below to above as we elevate our consciousness toward the most abstract realm of communion with the Godfield. We express those energies in the world horizontally by way of what Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak called “talents.” Today we would call them personality traits. I brought Hassidut into my own research on personality theory and interpersonal psychology, and there it was—a mandala! The details of years of research aside, I eventually realized that this three-D geometry keeps repeating – in psychology, in chemistry, in nature, in halakhic reasoning and in Torah.
My final halakha project for ordination was about kosher meat. That brought me to reconsider many of my preconceptions about the sacrifices. For the first time (I admit), I really got into Leviticus. That interest continues to this day and informs my work and life as a rabbi. I read and reread works by Jacob Milgrom, Mary Douglas, and eventually, Moshe Kline. Those scholars in particular made me aware of how various literary structural forms used in Torah also reflect the cosmonology and epistemology of our ancient Hebraic ancestors. Those scholars convinced me that I, like so many others, kept imposing a Western linear reading on an archaic document.
New understanding brought many changes in my life. Take the way I pray, for example. I used to davven the traditional way. Now, I sit on the floor in a meditative pose with my coccyx, spine and head forming the vertical axis, the “quest” dimension, and the fringes of my tallit spread out in four directions. I imagine my head as the eye of the mandala. The tzitzit represent the mitzvoth and ethical commandments by which I interact with the world. I visualize myself as a mandala anchored by my vertical axis within the greater mandala of the cosmos. As I meditate, I focus on balancing my spiritual energies. On Shabbat I love to “travel” out of the physical world up to watch the angels doing the first “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh (Holy, holy, holy),” praising the eternal sustainability of God, alone. I then go out of linear time to watch our people rejoicing after they, we, cross the Sea of Reeds. The energy field is very different in the Earthly realm.
It has also affected how I regard my work. My husband, Aleph Rabbi Dr. Hersh Saunders, and I started the Center for Eco-Judaism a few years ago. We farm and ranch on 415 acres in Southern Colorado. For both of us, our Jewish spirituality is expressed and reinforced through our interaction with the land and the growing and processing of our food. I imagine that this land is much like the land our ancestors encountered. Our actual experience here, along with our study of historical, climatic, and archeological information from the ancient world also changed our understanding of much of the Torah and inform the Eco-Judaism courses we teach.
If you are interested in the ideas I have laid out above, I invite you to study with me at the Aleph Kallah this coming July, in the week-long course titled “Eco-Judaism: The Torah Mandala and the Mystical System Of Sustainability.”
I am teaching this in the hope that it will invite other Torah students to join me in developing Eco-Judaism as a way of life. For it to be rich and compelling we need midrash, commentary, praxis, and responsa. There is a lot of room for creative thought and collaboration, here. As the saying goes, “iron sharpens iron.” The synergy of our collective mind will, no doubt, take us places we might never go alone.
Complicated as the individual channels of study may seem, it all gets fairly simple when it comes together. So, I will close with this quote from Pirke Avot V:27:
Effort is its own reward. We are here to do, and through doing to learn; and through learning to know; and through knowing to experience wonder; and through wonder to attain wisdom; and through wisdom to find simplicity; and through simplicity to give attention; and through attention to see what needs to be done.
Rabbi Elisheva Brenner, JD, LPC, NCC, is executive director of the Center for Eco-Judaism in Pueblo, Colorado, a 415-acre farm, ranch, nature conservancy, and worship,research and teaching facility, and co-founder of Eco-Glatt, Inc. For more information, visit www.centerforecojudaism.com.
Here are the Top 10 quick and useful suggestions from Hazon, to make your Passover more healthy and sustainable. To find out more information and suggestions from Hazon for Passover, visit the Hazon Passover Resource Page.
1 – Passover Recipes
Charoset from Around the World
Moroccan Jews settled in Morocco, located near the northern tip of Africa that is closest to Spain, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Jewish population in Morocco has been a vibrant and active population, but after the founding of the State of Israel, many of the 265,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel and the United States. As of 2004, Morocco had a population of about 4,000 Jews; meanwhile Israel is home to nearly 1,000,000 Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation’s total population.
- 1 3/4 cups dates
- 1 3/4 cups dried figs
- 1/4 cup wine
- 1 cup almonds
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pit and chop dates, and chop figs. Then throw it all in the food processor and chop into a paste! Optional: roll charoset into little balls to serve.
Ashkenazi Jews trace their lineage back to the medieval Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and their traditions have developed to be distinctly influenced (to varying degrees) by interaction with surrounding peoples, such as the Germans, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Kashubians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Belarusians and Russians of contemporary Eastern Europe. Today, Ashkenazi Jews make up 80% of Jews worldwide, and 6 million of the 7 million Jews living in the United States.
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 2 cups almonds, chopped
- ½ cup sweet Passover wine
- 2 tsp cinnamon
Peel, core, and dice apples. Chop nuts (should be slightly smaller pieces than the apples). Add wine and cinnamon; adjust quantities to taste!
Israeli Jews either live in Israel or have had family in the Middle Eastern state since Israel’s founding in 1948. Currently, Jews account for 76.4% of the Israeli population, and many of them are recent immigrants. Between 1974 and 1979 nearly 227,258 immigrants arrived in Israel, about half being from the Soviet Union. This period also saw an increase in immigration to Israel from Western Europe, Latin America, and the United States. A trickle of immigrants from other communities has also arrived, including Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and others.
- 2 apples, chopped
- 6 bananas, mashed
- 1 lemon, juiced and grated
- 1 orange, juiced and grated
- 1 1/4 cups dates, chopped
- 1 cup red wine
- 4 tsp candied orange peel, chopped
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- Matzah meal
Blend the fruits and nuts. Add wine. Add as much matzah meal as the mixture will take and still remain soft. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. Mix well and chill before serving.
Yemenite Jews are those Jews who live or whose family has lived in Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. The immigration of Jews into Yemen can be traced back to about the beginning of the second century CE, but between June 1949 and September 1950 almost the entire Jewish population left Yemen for Israel. Most Yemenite Jews now live in either Israel or the United States. Only a few remain in Yemen, and most of them are elderly.
- 1 lb. dried raisins
- 8 oz. pitted dates
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 2 cups water
Put raisins and dates in a bowl and cover with water. Let stand one hour. Add the sugar and whirl the mixture in a blender, a few spoonfuls at a time, or divide the mixture in thirds and place in a food processor. Transfer the chopped fruits to a heavy saucepan and let simmer over low heat until the fruits are cooked and the liquid is absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a jar.
Venetian Jews are those Jews who live in or are from Venice, a city in northern Italy. Many Jews visited and worked in Venice beginning in the 10th century CE; and at its peak time, around 1650, the Venetian Ghetto (where the Jews were forced to live) housed about 4,000 people. Before World War II there were still about 1,300 Jews in the Ghetto, but 289 were deported by the Nazis and only seven returned. Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in Venice, with five synagogues, a yeshiva, and Judaica shops.
- 1 1/2 cups chestnut paste
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 10 oz. dates, chopped
- Grated rind of one orange
- 12 oz. figs, chopped
- 1/2 cup white raisins
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup dried apricots
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds
- Honey to bind
Combine all ingredients, gradually adding just enough brandy and honey to make the mixture bind. Other Italian charoset recipes include mashed-up bananas, apples, hard-boiled eggs, crushed matzah, pears, and lemon.
2 – Plan Ahead
In the time leading up to Pesach , be mindful of what you buy. Try to finish those “almost empty” containers in your fridge, and half empty bags of bread, rather than automatically resorting to buying new. You can get rid of chametz in the most sustainable and cost effective way by planning ahead in order to use up as much as you can of what you have before the start of pesach.
3 – Invest in Passover Dishware
Pesach is a time when many families break out the fine china and heirloom silverware. It is a good investment, cost effective, and a sustainable method to invest in a set of Pesach dishware, that way you do not need to buy disposables every year. However, if you’re using disposable plates this year, use post-consumer waste paper or plant-based ones. For some great compostable disposable dishwear products, check out Leafware, Go Green in Stages, Let’s Go Green, and World Centric.
4 – Get Rid of Your Chametz – Sustainably
You don’t have to douse your house in poisonous chemicals—noxious to both you and the people who work in the factories that produce them—to get rid of your chametz (bread products and crumbs which are literally, and ritually, cleared before Pesach). Try using natural, non-toxic cleaning products, and scrub away. Eco-cleaning products that we like are Seventh Generation and Ecover.
5 - Buy Veggies at Your Farmers Market
Meat dishes like chicken soup with matzah balls and brisket are traditional favorites for Passover. Try buying your meat from the person who raised it (or as close to that as possible. Where to shop: farmers’ markets, meat order co-ops, local butcher shops (ask themwhere the meat comes from). If you’re looking for kosher organic meat, visit our page on kosher, sustainable meat for some great options!
6 – Every Charoset Tells a Story – Lean More about Charoset!
Charoset’s mixture of apples and nuts is already healthy and delicious and, when made with local apples, sustainable. Charoset also offers you the chance to explore other cultures within the Jewish Diaspora. Check out the Jew & the Carrot to find recipes from Russia, Spain, Holland, Yemen, Turkey, Surinam… – or ask your guests to bring their own favorite charoset recipe and have a taste-test. Check out this delicious Sephardic Charoset recipe!
7 – Sprout Your Own Karpas
If you can’t find locally grown greens to dip for karpas, sprout your own! Although many sprouts come from corn, soybeans, and other chametz or kitnyot, in just 2-3 days, you can have fresh, delicious quinoa sprouts that you “grew” yourself!
8 – Buy Fresh or Make Your Own Horseradish
Buy and grate fresh horseradish root for maror on your seder plate. When it comes time for the Hillel sandwich, hold up an ungrated root so your guests know where that bitter stuff comes from. Or learn how to make your own horseradish.
9 – Use Free Range Eggs
Buy organic, free-range eggs, and be willing to pay slightly more for them. They taste better, didn’t cause suffering to the animals who laid them, and support farmers who are making it possible for you to eat good food.
10 – Roast a Beet
If you’re going vegetarian for your seder (see below), substitute a roasted beet for the roasted lamb shank. Or follow The Jew & The Carrot reader, Sarah Fenner’s suggestion: “In place of the shankbone in my home, we have often roasted a “pascal yam” instead!”
“With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might”. This is my mantra. Not because I am a person who davens three times a day reciting this phrase from its original source in the Sh’ma, but simply because I think it’s beautiful. Imagine a world in which we dedicated our whole selves to every mitzvah we preform, every fleeting thought we have. In a gemara in the tractate of Brachot, the Rabbis expound upon each of these segments: “With all your heart” they explain as what Freud might call the “id”—that is the most instinctual, animalistic parts of ourselves, “with all your soul” refers to our actual life, and “with all your might” commonly refers to our physical possessions. I strive preform every action with all my heart, soul, and might whether it’s loving God as the original texts indicates, loving a friend or a stranger as some scholars interpret, doing a project at work, or even something as mundane as grocery shopping (I said strive!). (more…)
Yigal Deutscher, Manager of the Shmita Project
The tribes of Israel have just gathered together, am echad b’lev echad, one nation with one synchronized heart, in alignment and in unity. They have just stood, in deep humility, in awe, in trepidation, witnessing and receiving a divine gift.
They have emerged from the brokenness of slavery; they have traveled through the wilderness for 50 days, only to stand together in this moment, before a mountain covered in fire, topped with thundering clouds, shimmering with lightning, rippling with the sounds of the Shofar. 1o utterances have emerged from the heart of creation; 10 utterances so clear and powerful that the tribes could actually see & feel each of them, as they echoed from the mountain, from the sky, from the ground and rock and sand below their feet, and from within their own beating hearts. (more…)
By Yigal Deutscher
In the third and final mention of Shmita in the Torah, the concept of Shmita expands to directly influence economic and monetary systems. Until now (sources in Shemot & Vayikra), Shmita texts have been specifically in reference to land, agricultural practices, and annual harvests. Here, with the text of Devarim, the picture and implications of the Shmita Year is complete: Along with the practices of leaving land fallow, opening private lands as commons, collectively sharing the harvest, we are also to synonymously forgive debts. Once the Seventh Year arrives, all loans which are outstanding are released and all debts are cancelled. Here are some thoughts to consider regarding this practice (see the full text here):
Hazon Receives Grant to Oversee First Formal Research on Integration of Jewish Learning with Food, Environmental and Outdoor Education
SAN FRANCISCO – Recognizing the growing interest among individuals and families in experiences that integrate Jewish learning with learning about food, the environment, and the outdoors, a group of national and local funders have awarded a grant to Hazon to oversee new research in this area. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, and Rose Community Foundation, the research will explore how participation in immersive Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs influences individuals’ Jewish growth and leads to increased Jewish involvement.
“More and more people, particularly young adults, express their Jewish identity through passion for building sustainable and environmentally conscious Jewish communities,” says Nigel Savage of Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental organization. “We need to learn more about this phenomenon, better understand effective strategies, and determine long-term outcomes on participants. This is an exciting first step in deeply examining this relatively new and emerging space of Jewish learning and engagement.”
While organizations have invested time and resources to develop and sustain these immersive educational programs, to date there has been no formal evaluation or research conducted in this field. Nor has there been a review of existing research from outside the Jewish world to inform practitioners and funders.
Among other areas of interest, the research will examine such topics as the kinds of learning that occurs in these experiences that deepens Jewish identity; to what degree these experiences influence participants to become involved in their Jewish communities; and the relationship between local and national programs.
“We are excited to partner with other funders to determine how to invest the community’s attention and resources in this area,” says Al Levitt, President of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “There appears to be growing interest in Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs, and this research will help us better understand the learning that is taking place and identify what is working most effectively. The findings from this study will help inform future grantmaking decisions and could ultimately lead to more Jews being engaged in meaningful Jewish experiences.”
“Immersive experiences in the areas of Jewish food justice, farming and environmental advocacy help align individual values and interests with substantive Jewish principles and traditions,” says Charlene Seidle, Vice President and Executive Director of the Leichtag Foundation. “We look forward to learning together about the impact of these experiences in order to inform our funding and program model development.”
The grant announcement comes a week after Hazon and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center announced a merger of their organizations, both national leaders in the Jewish Food Movement and Jewish environmental movement in particular. The merged organization also will include the Teva Learning Alliance, which began in association with Isabella Freedman in the 1990s. The merger builds on the success of the existing Isabella Freedman campus – a spiritual home for many – and Hazon’s track record of re-connecting American Jews with the natural world. The new entity will have a wide range of programs, staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and will be positioned to have a greater impact across the country.
“Merging the organizations certainly capitalizes on the strengths of each one and combines various separate areas of expertise into a streamlined operation,” Savage adds. “This in turn will foster a broader and more in depth study that ultimately will lead to more significant learnings for the field.”
Along with reaching out to alumni and former participants of programs run by Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva Learning Alliance, the study will reach out to alumni from a range of other related programs including Eden Village Camp, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, Kayam Farm, and the Jewish Farm School. Their program offerings include Jewish farming programs, environmental bike rides, conferences about food and sustainability, group camping trips structured around Jewish holiday celebrations, backpacking and outdoor adventure trips, and environmental educator training fellowships.
While the exact number of participants in these programs is unknown, field leaders estimate that in 2011, as many as 2,500 individuals participated in an immersive Jewish food, environmental or outdoor education program lasting four days or more.
“Programs that integrate socially conscious living with Jewish learning are proving to be a high-potential ingredient in the mix of experiences that enable young Jews to live as global citizens in accordance with Jewish values,” said Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which includes the Schusterman Family Foundation. “We believe this research will provide a framework for understanding how such experiences can help inspire a deeper connection to Jewish life.”
The research will build upon early planning efforts being led by the Green Hevra, a network of key Jewish environmental organizations of which Hazon is a participant. The Green Hevra received a $65,000 startup grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Morningstar Foundation earlier this year.
Sarene Shanus, Chair of the Jewish Community Development Task Force of the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal at UJA-Federation of New York notes, “We are pleased to embark on this research partnership, as it builds on the foundation we’ve helped to lay with the Jewish Greening Fellowship, the Jewish Farm School, and Eden Village camp as touchpoints for Jewish community and environmentalism.”
“The Colorado Jewish community is seeing a sudden burgeoning of individuals and new organizations interested in being part of the Jewish Food Movement,” says Lisa Farber Miller, Senior Program Officer of Rose Community Foundation. “Established Jewish institutions are realizing the importance of embracing the values of the sustainable food and environmental movements. Hazon provides pertinent educational resources, links and assists grassroots groups like the Jewish chicken coops in Denver and Boulder, and helps organizations adopt new ways of engaging their users to learn about food and the environment. The national research study, which includes a case study highlighting Denver/Boulder Hazon work, will help us better understand how we can continue to advance this movement.”
For Hazon, the grant is an opportunity to further the organization’s goals of offering compelling experiences, providing thought leadership, and supporting the work of the individuals and organizations that share its vision for healthier and more sustainable independent communities in the Jewish world and beyond. The research will be conducted by an outside firm and managed by Hazon with oversight from an advisory team that includes both funders and practitioners.
“There is now a strong and expanding group of individuals and organizations that seek to create these learning opportunities,” says Savage. “The support from funders to conduct this research will ultimately help all organizations that offer Jewish food, environmental and outdoor education programs.”
Monday December 3rd 2012 / 19th Kislev 5773
Sometimes our lives cross and crisscross in unexpected ways.
Things that one thinks are incredibly significant prove minor; and minor or accidental decisions can change one’s life.
So it was for me in the summer of 1998. That was when, for the first time, I visited Isabella Freedman; spent time at Elat Chayim (then in Accord, NY); and met people like Adam Berman (who went on to direct Isabella Freedman and to found Adamah), Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Nili Simhai (currently the director of Teva) and Rabbi Dr Arthur Waskow.
Not more than a few moments’ thought went into the serendipitous construction of that summer. But encountering those people and institutions led me to found Hazon, late the following year. And today, things go full circle: we’re announcing that Hazon is merging with Isabella Freedman (which includes Elat Chayyim, following a merger a few years ago). The Teva Learning Alliance, until now a part of Surprise Lake Camp, is also going to be part of the new Hazon. (Click here to read the official press release.)
Why did we do this, and what will change?
At one level (happily) it involves no change at all. The values and vision that underpin Hazon are strongly shared by Isabella Freedman, and vice versa:
- We both believe that immersive multi-day experiences (retreats, bike rides, conferences) play a unique and vital role in reframing Jewish tradition, in transforming people’s live, and in weaving a stronger and more inspirational Jewish community. Other than for kids (summer camp) and young adults (birthright) the American Jewish community has under-invested in such retreats, and we’d gradually like to change this in the future.
- We’re both significantly engaged with leadership development. How do we re-frame what Jewishness is or could be? How do we tease out the places where Jewish tradition’s understanding of how we relate to the natural world critiques some of what today we assume is “normal?” How do we connect and network young leaders so that they can support and encourage each other for a lifetime to come? This area includes Hazon’s work in curriculum development, the support we provide to the growth of Jewish CSAs, the platform we’ve created for the Jewish Food Movement overall, and the determined work we’re already doing in preparing for the next Shmita year in 5775 (September 2014). For Freedman this includes their Jewish Greening Fellowship, spurring institutional transformation through leadership development; and it especially includes the Adamah and Teva programs, whose alumni fuel vibrant Jewish life of all sorts across the country;
- We both have a strong commitment not just to what we do but to how we do it. Both organizations care passionately about inclusive community. We’re both explicit in seeking gender equality, and in running as many extra miles as we need in order to be organizations in which someone who might be in a minority in the room – for having a different sexuality, or age, or religious background – is made to feel especially welcome. Both organizations engage the front edge of Jewish religious development (new ideas, new liturgy, new forms of practice) and seek to make the most observant and traditional members of our communities feel at home. (When Hazon organizes a retreat or a ride somewhere other than at Freedman, we send in staff and volunteers in advance to build an eruv – a symbolic domain beyond which an observant Jew doesn’t carry on Shabbat. We do this even though only a minority of our participants observe the rules of eruvim. And – yes – we’re pretty happy that Freedman already has its own eruv.)
And it’s not just that our values are shared, strongly held, and will not change. It’s also important to say: this is not one of those mergers where you put two organizations together, fire a bunch of people, and thus save money. David Weisberg and I (who will together run the new postmerger Hazon) think that both organizations are understaffed. Over time we need to increase headcount, not reduce it.
So if many things will not change because of the merger, why are we doing it? The simplest answer is: More impact.
In the last two or three years it has become clear that after 15 years of investment in “start-ups” in the Jewish community, we now need to devote different sorts of resources to enable a smaller number of organizations to really go to scale. Doing this is vital if we’re serious about transforming American Jewish life (let alone enabling the Jewish community, as a community, to have any impact on some of the greatest issues of our time, such as developing sustainable food systems, or seeking to prevent even worse climate-related destruction for generations to come).
Becoming a larger single organization – with a wide variety of programs, and revenue-streams, but with shared educational resources, and a single fundraising department, communications department, finance team, website, database etc – will enable us internally to be more specialized and to devote more resources to particular tasks. Externally it will enable us to orient ourselves more determinedly around the needs of others– to offer to individuals and to institutions a wide range of resources from a single website and a single staff-team.
This is important because the growth of the Jewish Food Movement, of Jewish outdoor education, and of Jewish environmental education in the last 10 years is incredibly profound – and it’s still incredibly under-resourced. Under the radar of American Jewish life, – and despite a community that is in overall terms trending flat to trending downwards, by a variety of metrics – remarkable things are happening. The Adamahniks and Tevaniks are fanning out into the rest-of-their lives: becoming rabbis, educators, farmers, leaders of all sorts. Many of them, along the way, are founding or leading their own institutions: Becca Weaver and Leora Mallach at Ganei Beantown (Boston); Jakir and Netsitsa Manela at Pearlstone (Baltimore); Risa Alyson Cooper at Shoresh in Toronto; Vivi & Yoni Stadlin at Eden Village in Putnam Valley, NY; in the Chicago area, the Margulies family at Pushing the Envelope Farm, and Jill Zenoff at the Gan Project; Zelig Golden and Julie Wolk at Wilderness Torah in the Bay area. Plus people like David Fox at Amir, in San Francisco, and Robert Nevel in Chicago at KAM Isaiah.
We are no longer an alternative to organized Jewish life; for a growing number of people, we are Jewish life. We’re weaving the Jewish community of tomorrow, and it’s happening today. The kids who go to camp at Eden Village or Ramah Outdoors, who go with their school to Teva, who go on to do a trip with Jewish Farm School, who teach at Teva, who live at Adamah or Urban Adamah – these are people who take for granted that there is no distinction – and should be no distinction – between learning and growing Jewishly, between celebrating our ancient tradition, and between being good citizens of our small fragile planet.
In our very first ride, in the summer of 2000, Hazon set out not only to touch people’s lives directly, but actively to support other great people and organizations. That summer our riders raised $32,000 in sponsorship, and WE gave away 100% of what we raised. (100% because I believed that a tooth-fairy would support Hazon’s work indefinitely in the future; that is definitionally not a sustainable business model.) Since then the percent that we have given away has steadily reduced – but the dollar-amount we’ve given away, and the other ways that we support people and organizations, has steadily grown.
In the next ten years, we want this merger not so much to fuel our own growth as to help drive positive change across the American Jewish community. That’s what this merger is most about. Here’s some of what we need:
- High-quality Jewish food education in every day-school, every Hebrew school and every synagogue – so that we’re connecting a 2,000-year old history of keeping kosher and of Jewish food traditions, with the deepest possible understanding of where our food comes from, and what it is to eat healthily as an individual, as a community and as a society;
- High-quality Jewish retreat centers – at Isabella Freedman and around the country – so that far greater numbers of people can experience a taste of living in Jewish space and time;
- New resources for rabbis and educators, to support them in teaching and leading in a way that’s grounded and inspiring;
- New ways to take Jewish people outdoors – not just for our kids, and not just at summer camps. That’s what Hazon’s bike rides are about, that’s what Teva’s Yitziah program is about, that’s what Wilderness Torah has done at its retreats. This in turn needs more training, more resources and more coordination;
- New ways to connect to Israel. Through our rides, through our Israel Sustainable Food Tour, through Siach, we’ve seen that food and environment are profound ways to connect to Israeli Jews, (not to mention new ways to start to build relationships with Israeli Palestinians, with Palestinians and Jordanians and other neighbors in the region). We’d like to play a role in helping to strengthen and renew the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel;
- New ways to bring Jewish tradition to life. An institution like Elat Chayyim is, in a sense, an R&D unit for the whole Jewish community. What the Jewish Renewal movement pioneered – in relation to the status of women, to sexuality, to the language of prayer, to silence, meditation, yoga, the encounter with Buddhism, with Sufism, with Hinduism, with the ecstatic prayer and movement of born-again Christians: these things are not for all Jewish people, and they don’t need to be. But those of us – including me – who come from somewhat more traditional backgrounds, or who practice Jewishly in more traditional ways, shouldn’t fail to recognize how influential – and how fundamentally good – that R&D work has been, often without subsequent accreditation.
There’s more to be said, but I hope you get the point. Overall: I’m incredibly proud of what together we’ve accomplished in the 13 years since the Nash family first gave me the money to found Hazon. But I also note, overall, the challenge of asset allocation in American Jewish life. The installed capital base of the American Jewish community – all the synagogues, day schools, camps – is probably worth more than $10 billion. The total value of family foundations established by Jewish families is almost certainly in excess of $50 billion. Yet the total revenues of all the Jewish green organizations – broadly defined – is barely $10 million. That’s probably up 10-fold in a dozen years, but it’s still less than a fraction of one percent of the annual revenues of American Jewish life. Given the vitality of food, the environment and the outdoors as profound gateways to Jewish life and to social change, that just doesn’t make sense – and we’d like to help change that in the coming years.
In the coming year we’ll work hard, internally and externally, to build the new enlarged Hazon. We invite your help and your involvement in multiple ways. These organizations and programs have grown because of the passion and commitment of our staff, our board members, our volunteers, our participants and our funders. In the coming year we’ll be reaching out in new ways to ask questions and to invite feedback and involvement going forwards.
I want to end by noting that this is the time of year-end appeals. A growing number of people are proud to be Hazon stakeholders. Lots of us – me included – are members of shuls that we don’t necessarily go to each week, or we write checks to organizations that we don’t necessarily interact with every week or every month. But we pay dues because, even if we’re not there, the shul or the organization is; and we want it to be there, and to do what it does. So whether you’ve been recently to one of our Rides, or you’re coming to our Food Conference next week, or this year you were part of a Hazon CSA, or a member of your family was touched by work that we did – even if one of these things isn’t true for you, we hope that you’ll send a year-end check –or, better yet, become a monthly sustainer – because we stand for things that I know so many of you believe in.
From a standing start 13 years ago we’ve grown incredibly. We reach people who are affiliated and unaffiliated; orthodox and Reform; we work with a wide range of institutions, across the country. We’re renewing Jewish life in powerful ways, and we’re taking practical steps towards creating a better world for all. Please become a Hazon stakeholder – please give us a year-end gift, or make a commitment to become a monthly sustainer. Click here to give a donation.
Thanks – and wishing you a happy Chanukah and a healthy and peaceful new year,
Executive Director, Hazon
PS. I’m thrilled to announce that, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous supporter, if you’ve never supported Hazon before, your gift will be matched up to a total of $5,000.