I’m here at Isabella Freedman, learning about shmita with a group of Israelis and Americans, and noting in relation to shmita that the next few months has an interesting conjunction of events.
Next Thursday sees the release of Laudato Sii (“Praised Be To You”), Pope Francis’s first encyclical. We don’t know what he will say; but the presumption is that he will bring to bear his distinctive voice, and his very considerable moral authority, on two closely related topics: how we treat this planet; and the consequences of how we treat this planet on poor and vulnerable people around the world.
And meantime, the shmita year is drawing towards its close; this Rosh Hashanah will mark the start of a new 7-year cycle in Jewish life. When I first started thinking about shmita, in late 2007, I thought that we would spend several years preparing for the shmita year. Only a year or so ago, as the start of the shmita year came clearly into view, did I understand for the first time that the opposite is also true: the shmita year is a time to step back and reflect on the last six years, and to imagine and vision for the next seven.
This naturally leads us (it should lead us) to what at Hazon we call “2022 Vision” – the question of what our communities and institutions could or should look like in 2022, at the end of this next 7-year cycle in Jewish life. What is our vision? How will we inspire those who are already involved in Jewish life? How do we bring new people through the door? How do we connect Jewish tradition to some of the greatest issues of our time? Where and how are we finding common cause with our neighbors, of all religions and backgrounds? How do we integrate knowledge and passion in our education? How do we strengthen our relationship with Israel, at a complicated moment, and how – if at all – can we help Israelis of all backgrounds prosper and feel safe? And very practical questions in relation to sustainability: What food do we serve, and why, and how do we source it, and do we compost it, and how does it connect to our kids’ education? Are we learning about food systems in this country? Are there bike racks at our shul? Are there ways that we could reduce our carbon footprint, (and ideally save money at the same time)? Have we hosted our local elected officials to ask them what they’re doing to help create a more sustainable world for all??
These are the questions we can and should be asking, as we head towards, and begin, a new 7-year period in Jewish life. And then just ten days into that new cycle, on Yom Kippur – as our rabbis are speaking and teaching, across the country, to their biggest congregations of the year – the Pope is due to speak to the Congress. And the day after Yom Kippur he’ll be at the UN. In both cases speaking not just for the world’s billion Catholics, but to some extent for all people of good faith. Who can doubt that, in a sense, and in our language, he will be calling us to teshuva – to strive to return to being our best selves? And given this conjunction of timing: what sermons will our rabbis give this year? What could they give, what should they give?
I share these thoughts now because I’m fascinated by this unfolding and overlapping series of events. the Pope’s encyclical, next Thursday, essentially inaugurates a public conversation that will run through the end of this shmita year, the high holydays and the start of this new 7-year cycle. The conversation will continue certainly to the Climate talks in Paris in late November. (He is not a pope, but Arthur Waskow is both a rabbi and an indefatigable prophet, and you can hear his distinctive voice in the recently published rabbinical letter on climate action, which has been signed by a growing number of rabbis – if you are a rabbi, I warmly encourage you to join them.)
So I warmly invite you to start to think about your 2022 Vision – for yourself, your family, your shul, your school, your JCC, your community; and to think about it through the prism of health and sustainability. Bring people together. Carve out some time at your board meeting to brainstorm together. Learn. Act. I absolutely believe that we have a unique and enormously powerful opportunity – to challenge ourselves, to raise our vision, to imagine change that will strengthen our communities.
Hazon’s resources – physical, human, intellectual, virtual – are here to help, to as great an extent as we can.
We’re working to make them more easily available and more easily understandable, and you’ll steadily see new resources and new frames in the coming months.
Isabella Freedman is open to all on so many occasions – I warmly invite you and your friends and family to sign up for our forthcoming retreats, and for the New York and Israel Rides. Our summer Adamahniks just arrived – if you’d like to come for fall ’15 or spring ’16 click here.
And know, also, that you can come to Freedman as a community – we’re happy and willing to work with you to craft a unique retreat for you and your people. (If you’re interested, email Rabbi Jeffrey Greenberg at email@example.com).
Hazon is here to serve Jewish institutions. If you want a wide range of educational resources and curricula, click here. If you’re a Jewish Greening Fellow – stay in touch with us, and with each other. There have been great JGF gatherings in recent weeks. Board members Anna Ostrovsky and Sandy Rocks, lead-staffed by Becca Linden, are leading an internal task-force focused on all the work that we do in the New York area. In the coming year we hope and intend to serve New York area Jewish institutions more powerfully than ever before, bringing to bear everything we have and everything we know to help you strengthen your community.
We’re proud to be co-sponsoring the Art Kibbutz artists’ residency on Governor’s Island this summer – an amazing group of Jewish artists learning together about shmita. Save the date: please join us for a celebration on Governor’s Island, August 9th from 11am – 6pm.
This summer the Topsy Turvy Bus – fueled by used veggie oil and inspiring Teva educators – will be going on tour through the Northeast, starting at Freedman, traveling as far north as NH, as south as DC, and with stops in PA, CT, NY and Boston. There are a few slots left – if you’re interested click here.
Finally: Hazon is proudly a network agency of UJA Federation of New York. I have been in New York, now, for fifteen years, and as each year has gone by I have learned a little more about UJA-Federation of New York, from the inside and from the outside. It is absolutely astonishing to me what the organization accomplishes. They help people in need; they strengthen our communities; they work thoughtfully and strategically to build capacity that no other organization is capable of doing; and when crisis hits – unemployment or disability; Hurricane Sandy; the Gaza war; attacks in France – they are there to help. Many of you already support them. Their financial year ends June 30th, and every dollar counts. Liz and I increased our gift this year; if you would like to join us please click here.
May this be a peaceful and inspiring week for you, your family – and for His Holiness Pope Francis, as he heads into an important and I hope deeply impactful week.