Topic: Shmita

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The Taste of Shmita

By Rabbi David Seidenberg “May the Merciful One turn our hearts toward the land, so that we may dwell together with her in her Sabbath-resting, the whole year of the Shmita!” Harachaman hu yashiv libeinu el ha’aretz l’ma’an neishev yachad imah b’shovtah kol sh’nat hash’mitah! It was erev Rosh Hashanah – just before the Shmita year began – when I wrote this prayer to add to Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after meals) during the Shmita or Sabbatical year. I was trying for months to come up with a blessing for the Shmita, but it just wouldn’t come. It works that way for me: I can only feel the quality of a particular holy time or season when that time is upon me. It is a kind of living in the present that can be wonderful, and it can make ritual enormously fun and truly profound, even if it makes meeting deadlines harder. When I wrote this blessing, I also prayed in my heart that these words would not just be beautiful, but that they would actually be something I could experience, this year, in Israel. So when the opportunity came to join a delegation to a Palestinian farm to replant […]

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In the Shmita Year, Lifting the Burden of Pay Day Loans

By Ari Hart The beginning of 2015 is also the halfway point in the year of shmita, the once in seven years when the Bible commands that land be left fallow — a tradition that is followed today in a number of symbolic ways. One of the powerful practices of the shmita year is society coming together to erase oppressive debt, in a practice called shmitaat kessafim — the release of money. In biblical times, those trapped in debt would eventually wind up in chains as slaves. A year of release from debt stops that cycle. Today, 12 million Americans are trapped each year in a cycle of payday loans. These are small loans marketed as a quick, easy way to tide borrowers over until the next payday. However, the typical payday loan borrower is indebted for more than half the year with an average of nine payday loan transactions at annual interest rates of more than 400%. Could you afford a loan at 400% interest? Do you think seniors living on a fixed income could? They can’t. Which is exactly why payday loans are marketed so heavily to them and other vulnerable communities — so that they have to […]

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Shmita Reflections on the Origins of Teva

By Amy Meltzer I’m no farmer. The amount of produce harvested from everything I’ve ever planted would surely not top ten pounds. The impact of adapting the agricultural principles of shmita to my life in Northampton would be fairly insignificant. But like all educators, I have planted scores of metaphorical seeds. Of all those seeds, nothing has produced as bountiful a harvest as those that were planted at Isabella Freedman in the Fall of 1994, the very first season of Teva. A quick summary, before I wax metaphorical. In 1993, after two years of teaching at Nature’s Classroom, I sat in my mother’s office and wrote a letter describing my dream of a residential environmental-education program for Jewish day schools. I made a few dozen copies and mailed them to every winterized, kosher camping facility within three hours of NYC. (Ah, the hubris of youth!) Eric Robbins, then director of Isabella Freedman, called me into his office. “I love the idea,” he said. “Let’s give it a try.” I created a “brochure”, which was inadvertently printed with the back cover on the inside, and a mailing, which I hand-addressed to almost every Jewish Day school in the Northeast. We received exactly […]

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The Earth Belongs to Whom?

By Deirdre Gabbay As we move through liturgical time, we are called upon to embody the various mindsets that Torah wishes specifically to cultivate. During Pesach we meditate on the meaning of slavery and freedom, and in particular on freedom as being a fundamental embodiment of Divine intention for us, as intrinsic as life itself. I believe that as we move through the liturgical period of Shmita, we are called upon to embody an awareness of the earth as belonging to God, and to reflect and elaborate upon the implications that arise from this particular axiom of faith. In Parashat B’hukotai, God reveals with utter transparency the purpose of the earth. We learn that the earth itself will bring forth the reward for building the society envisioned in Torah, by means of its rains, its soil, its vegetation. A hospitable climate leads to productive landscapes. Sufficiency and contentment allow us to be numerous and healthy, at peace internally, and so strong that our neighbors do not threaten us. As a result we find ourselves in possession of the inner and outer peace that we are told is the highest blessing that God wishes to confer on us, and for which […]

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Life Lessons Learned from the Shmita Year

By Akiva Gersh It’s fair to say that Shmita inspired me to become religious.  After learning about it and other environmentally-related laws and values of the Torah towards the end of my college years, my perception of Judaism was radically and forever changed.  The lifeless and irrelevant form of the Jewish tradition I inherited in my youth was being replaced by one that was proving to be vibrant, meaningful, and very, very relevant.  As a spiritual seeker and social activist, Judaism had what to say about many of the things I was passionate about and cared for.  Especially when it came to the Earth. Fast-forward twenty years and my home has transported across the world to the land of Israel where ancient Jewish environmental and agricultural laws have once again become part of the national consciousness of the Jewish people back in their land.  Laws that technically only apply to this very small patch of our planet’s surface are being practiced by millions, affecting the way they grow, purchase and eat food.  And now for the second time in the ten years since I’ve moved to this land, I am taking part in the unique opportunity and challenge that is […]

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The Old Made New and the New Made Holy

The digital countdown clock at Isabella Freedman now reads that we’re under 35 days until Shmita. It’s hard to imagine how quickly time has raced since the clock read nearly 400 days at the time we installed it. And yet it’s hard to be anxious when what we’re racing towards is a year of release and renewal. Over those days between 400 and 35, we’ve been spending time planning and preparing for the Shmita year, including a very special book project. We are proud to announce our newest publication, Rav Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’Aretz, the first-ever English translation of the introduction to a book on Shmita by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel in the 20th century. His essay, written in 1909, is lyrical and mystical, a meditation on the big themes that underlie religious environmentalism. It has been beautifully translated by Rabbi Julian Sinclair, scholar and Vice President of Energiya Global, a leading Israeli solar energy company that has just developed the first-ever large-scale solar project in Sub-Saharan East Africa. As part of the book, Rabbi Sinclair has also written a terrific background essay about the traditional conception of Shmita, Rav Kook […]

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Let it go, let it go! – Reflections from a Topsy Turvy Adventure

It is 11:30 am, and I am sitting in a field in the middle of the Rocky Mountains surrounded by horses, trees, compost toilets, a bike blender and solar ovens. And Eli, who is dressed as a tree, sitting in a sleeping bag, his head covered in blankets and a music stand. Everything we need for our second program at Ramah in the Rockies…except for the kids. This blog post is about letting go of control, about what it means to truly accept everything that we cannot change and take advantage of for spontaneity and improvisation. Set for 9:50, the group was delayed coming back from a masa on horseback, leaving Eli waiting patiently (and snugly) for over an hour and a half and the rest of the group practicing, preparing and dancing around the bus. This was hardly the first moment where things did not go quite according to plan; yesterday our (valiant) attempt to climb the Rockies raised the engine temperature above the heat limit and we had to pull over on the side of the mountain…twice. It started raining while we were trying to paint the bus’s roof to add water protection. There have been parking challenges, […]

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We’ve arrived in Denver!

  Shalom! I’m Molly, a member of the program support staff for this tour, and I’m thrilled to be putting up the inaugural post for this blog.   Today marks the first day of orientation, where the educators will all meet for the first time (those who don’t already know each other) and continue developing the energy, knowledge, and sense of community that we’ve been working toward since February when we first started planning out the route.  They’re choosing their educational stations (worms, bike blender, solar ovens, veggie oil), their beds, and their rules to live by for the tour over the next three days.  To recap, here’s what they’re looking forward to:   The educators are getting excited to hit the road, catch some rays, and begin the exciting journey of learning and growing along with pockets of our people scattered about this great strange nation. Five educators will be touring the nation, talking about Judaism and sustainability in different communities. They’ll be busting into the Rockies in the beginning of July and then head straight through the center of the contiguous 48 — you can check out the route in the tab entitled “tour schedule.” In just one […]

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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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