Author Archive | Nigel Savage

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Food is Memory, Family, and Culture

Editor’s note: This essay is from the new anthology Faith in Food, published by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. Order from Amazon or directly from the publisher and read some of the glowing reviews. I’m writing this on the eve of Yom Kippur, the fast day that is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It’s an appropriate moment to reflect on the centrality of food in Jewish life, and on the multiple ways that our relationship to food shapes who we are and how we influence the world. I want to sketch out some of the vital elements of the traditional Jewish relationship to food, how they’re evolving today, and what we all might learn from them. It’s an important task because religions are no longer islands unto themselves. Our communities need to stand not only for their highest ideals — which sometimes run the risk of sounding like platitudes — but also to be challenged by the tougher questions: how do your ideals play out in reality? Do they have meaning in the 21st century? Can they really help us live better lives, in all senses, and if so, how? Jewish tradition — a maximalist tradition — […]

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Reb Zalman z”l and the Tree of Life

Dear All, As the week goes on, and despite events in Israel and so many other things, I remain profoundly aware of the death of Reb Zalman, may his memory be for a blessing. A sense of him and the memory of him is never far away. He had such a beautiful voice, his beautiful accent, and those twinkly eyes. He was irrepressible, joyous, and a font of ideas and connections. It was a pleasure and a challenge to try to keep up with him and his richly associative mind. His presence continues to echo. I will miss him very much. He was intimately involved with Hazon and our programs over many years. The staff at Isabella Freedman loved him; he made it a habit always to meet with the behind-the-scenes staff, not just front-of-house folk. He taught at Shavuot, was a central figure at Elat Chayyim since its earliest days, was a very special presence at our benefit last year, and came to England with us for a climate change conference a few years back. He was deeply interested in, and supportive of, our work on shmita. And he and Eve have been incredibly kind and generous to me personally. […]

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The Gifts of Irresponsibility and Unseriousness

It is a cacophonous and intense time to be here in Israel. The three kidnapped boys. War in Iraq. My niece’s bat mitzvah. Syria. Netanyahu and Abbas. The World Cup. Seeing old friends. Waze. Shopping malls, Israeli hospitals, Mahane Yehuda, the (superb) Rabin Museum. The Presbyterian vote to divest. Masechet Ta’anit. Everything higgledy-piggledy, one experience jarring upon the next. Against this background, I have no great wisdom to offer – certainly succinctly ☺. But I note that many of us living in comfort and peace have afforded ourselves for a great while – without being fully aware of it – the gifts of irresponsibility and unseriousness. I include within this a whole raft of things: not reading serious newspapers (including, especially, those with which we disagree); allowing our attention spans to shorten; polluting our inboxes and thus indirectly our souls with nonsense and vapidity. Stepping back from civic engagement. Being in Israel is a good antidote to this. The multiple lessons of the Torah and of Jewish history are that subtle and fragile artifacts of human creation – culture, community, education, law – accrete over time, but fracture, relatively speaking, in moments. Aleppo, Baghdad, Damascus – these have been thriving […]

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In March of 1944 the Nazis invaded Hungary. There were by then almost 800,000 Jews here. In a period of eight weeks, starting in May that year, the Nazis rounded them up, deported them, and took them to Auschwitz to be murdered. About 437,000 people were killed. That’s a bit more than every man, woman, and child in Minneapolis today. It’s like killing every single Jew in London, Montreal, Detroit, and Cleveland, combined. That’s what was going on here, this June day, seventy years ago. Seventy years on I’ve been here for a retreat, funded by the Schusterman Foundation, produced by Connection Points, and led brilliantly by Tomi Buchler and Limor Friedman, titled “From Me To We: Between Tribal and Global” – a gathering of young environmental and social justice leaders from three networks: Minyanim (a project backed by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Agency For Israel), ROI (Schusterman), and Siach (itself a partnership led by Hazon and Heschel and supported by UJA). It has been an indescribably rich experience. I find myself with thoughts that are disparate and contradictory: The Shoah is over. Those most obsessed by the Shoah should let it go. Read something else. History […]

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Strengthening Institutions / Renewing Oneself

Dear All, I had the great honor last weekend to be at the B’nai Jeshurun shul retreat at Isabella Freedman. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking experience. In the last two decades a remarkable number of rabbis, rabbinical students and Jewish tourists have attended services at BJ, which has had a profound influence on non-orthodox shuls in this country (not to mention quite a few orthodox ones, too, and a growing number of kehillot in Israel.) But what struck me last weekend was an unseen aspect of BJ’s success. A shul can have great services and yet not be a community; to be a strong community one needs to put enormous thought and effort into thickening relationships. BJ does this in two ways. First, through a web of weekly and daily interaction – learning and davening, committees, social justice, a hevra kadisha, a range of ways for someone to find a smaller space within the larger whole; a context in which to be seen, to connect and to make a difference. All the good shuls, in my experience, have this. BJ has something in addition which I think is critical in this 24/7 world, and which is slightly rarer: an […]

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Dear All, I wanted to write this week about Teva. There is so much going on at Hazon, right now, that is exciting and impactful; and yet Teva is almost in a class of its own. It is the longest-standing continuous program of those surveyed in the JOFEE Study. It’s been around long enough that some of our Teva staff first encountered it as middle-school participants. Its alumni are staffing – in many cases founding and leading – initiatives around the country. The content and the approach that it pioneered are being adapted and applied in day-schools, camps, and synagogues. So I’m writing to you to update you on Teva and to invite you – variously – to send your kids to Shomrei Adamah; to come and teach at or work for Teva; to participate in this year’s Teva Seminar; to speak to us about bringing Teva to your school; and to consider supporting Teva financially, including especially providing scholarships to support attendance at Teva programs. The Teva Seminar You’re warmly invited to join us at the Teva Seminar! It’s an amazing opportunity to gain skills in wilderness exploration, Jewish gardening, eco-activism, pedagogy, textual exploration, and culinary arts, here at […]

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The Shmita This Time: Suggestions for Learning & Action

Dear All, Ahead of this shabbat’s Torah portion of Behar Sinai (which begins with one of the explications of shmita in the Torah) I want to give you a flavor of some of what is happening in relation to shmita around the Jewish world – some of the ideas that people are coming up with. (Last week’s email gave the background on why I believe that shmita is such a remarkable topic. Click here if you didn’t have a chance to see it.) Here are a few aspects of shmita to think about. This list is intended to whet your appetite. We hope that you’ll treat this week’s parsha as a reminder to start planning in relation to shmita for the coming year. Shmita & Israel Shmita is many things, and it is unspooling into many more, but it begins with a sense of the sanctity of the land of Israel, and of the people who are fed by its bounty. So: Check out a sweet – and challenging – 2-minute video by Teva Ivri, led by Einat Kramer and Rav Michael Melchior. This leads on to the “Israeli Shmita Declaration,” catalyzed by Einat, and signed on to by a […]

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Shmita: A Paradigm for Funding

Written by Charlene Seidle
 for a session at the recent Jewish Funders Network Conference Posted on eJP on March 20, 2014 As funders, the onset of shmittah offers a good opportunity to test our assumptions and think about opportunities to support the organizations and issues we care about through a different, more holistic lens. The shmittah sabbatical year kicks off in September 2014. One of the core tenets of halacha and traditionally only observed in the land of Israel, shmittah also offers a useful and meaningful model for our lives, our relationships with each other, our responsibilities to those less fortunate than we are, and our systems for community, justice and equality. The word shmittah, exactly translated, means release. More than just one year of release, shmittah is actually the pinnacle of a seven-year cycle that sustains healthy society, community and individuals. Shmittah teaches us that our land – and our resources – do not truly belong to us, that our lives can be enriched and changed in powerful ways through releasing control. Opening ourselves to the shmittah experience inspires us to reinvest or recalibrate our relationships. As funders, the onset of shmittah offers a good opportunity to test our […]

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Putting Shmita Back On The Jewish Map

Cycles of time are central to Jewish life, and they are amongst the most significant of our contributions to the world around us. The modern weekend of western tradition is simply the extension of the Sabbath from one day to two; without the Sabbath there would be no weekend. And without the Torah, and the Shabbat of Jewish tradition, there would be no Sabbath. In practice, today, Shabbat remains central to Jewish life, though Jewish people observe Shabbat differently from each other. But it’s literally impossible to imagine Jewish life without Shabbat. And just as Shabbat punctuates the week, so too the chaggim – the holidays – punctuate the year. Tu b’Shvat and Purim and Pesach herald the spring. Shavuot marks early summer. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provoke self-reflection as a new Jewish year begins. Succot celebrates the harvest and the end of summer. Chanukah offers light in the darkness and the knowledge that a new natural cycle will shortly begin. In recent years there’s been a flowering of interest and awareness in the rhythms of the calendar. The every-28-years blessing of the sun was a big deal when it happened in 2009; I hope I’ll be around to […]

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Shmita / 146 days to go…

Dear All, It’s 146 days until Rosh Hashanah and the start of the next shmita (sabbatical) year in Jewish life. That means it’s also, as it happens, exactly 500 days until the start of the next 7-year cycle in Jewish life, starting at Rosh Hashanah in September 2015. We’re sending this today because this Shabbat afternoon we start to read parshat Behar Sinai, which we read in full the following Shabbat. The parsha begins with a central description of shmita. It’s a good moment – as individuals and organizations – to start to think about the coming year. As some of you will know, I’ve become steadily more fascinated by – some might say, obsessed with – the shmita year, since the last shmita year in 2007-8. So this week and next week I want to share with you some of what we’ve been thinking about in relation to shmita. And for those of you who are rabbis, educators, organizational leaders; or – also – students, parents, kids, civilians, Jewish or not Jewish – a range of things you could think about or do in relation to shmita. First: what is shmita? Briefly, the word means something like “release” – […]

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