COP27, Mount Sinai, and Flora of Vanuatu

Friends, This year, thanks to support from the Jewish Agency for Israel and several supporting foundations, our first-ever Jewish Youth Climate Movement delegation traveled to COP27: ten Jewish climate activists from campuses across North America, and ten Israelis from the educational youth village, Nitzana. We were there alongside 35,000 participants from all over the world.  I was honored to speak about our work on Friday November 11th at a session called Faith Communities Leading on Climate–you can see the recording here. It was inspiring to connect with multifaith allies at that session and throughout the conference.  I traveled with Nigel Savage (Hazon’s founder), Yossi Abramowitz (American-Israeli CEO of Energiya Global Capital and co-founder of the Arava Power Company), David Miron-Wapner (board chair of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development), and Sue Surkes (British-Israeli reporter for the Times of Israel). We drove to a small bedouin village at the foot of what locals believe to be Mount Sinai, or as it’s known in Arabic, Gebel Musa. We woke at 1:30am and spent the night hiking up the mountain, arriving at the summit just before dawn. The Sinai wilderness is majestic and awe-inspiring, beautiful beyond words, and quite powerful to be on […]

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Hakhel Newsletter: November 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, In this week’s parsha, we read the famous story of two brothers, Jacob and the elder Esau, sons of Isaac. Jacob convinces Esau to sell him his birthright in exchange for a pot of lentil stew, and under advisement from his mother, Rebecca, he tricks his father into believing that he is Esau by dressing in furs in order to resemble his hairy brother, thus gaining his father’s blessing for his firstborn. Strife in families – never mind in communities! – rings quite realistically, from historically until the present day. We all have many types of people in our communities, from hunters and scholars, to mothers and fathers, and a whole range of emotions, from jealousy and rivalry to hate, loyalty and love, are present at any given moment. How do you accommodate the needs of such a parade of humanity in your own community? How do you solve conflicts that arise in the community, from minor grievances to those frightful moments where, as Esau did after this incident, members want to kill (figuratively and literally) each other? The fact that these familiar and complicated community issues are discussed in the Torah may offer us a sense […]

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Hazon Detroit: November 2022

The Hebrew month of Cheshvan marks the beginning of the cycle of praying for rain, highlighting the ancient Jewish wisdom that we are dependent on the natural world around us. In Detroit, the remaining few leaves are joining a colorful array across the ground, providing nutrients back to the soil. During this rich time of transition, each leaf crunch beneath our feet and each sip of apple cider can be a humbling and empowering reminder of our need to leave our world better than we found it.  As we write, Jewish Youth Climate Movement (JYCM) teen leaders are joining leaders from around the world gathering now in Egypt at COP27, the UN conference on climate change. Read about Detroit native Naomi Parr and the delegation in the Jewish News! Our tradition teaches “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot). While we cannot complete the task alone, Hazon is at the forefront of a national effort to inspire and motivate the Jewish community on climate.  It was powerful to gather the Metro Detroit Seal of Sustainability community at the Fall Gathering! At our gathering, dedicated members of each organization had […]

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Hakhel Newsletter: October 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, I hope you had a wonderful chagim season filled with beautiful community, spiritual moments, and important new beginnings on a personal and collective level. Speaking of new beginnings, Simchat Torah marks the start of reading the Torah anew, and we continue this week with the story of the righteous Noah (Noach) and the ark he built to prepare for a global flood. As community leaders we can likely relate to Noach, who spends a copious amount of time (120 years, according to Rabbinic tradition!) preparing for this big event, when he was to make two of every kind of animal in existence feel at home. This in fact proved to be a taxing task, as during the entire year spent in the ark during the flood, Midrash relates that Noach and his sons were sorely overworked, spending all their time feeding the animals according to each one’s personal specifications. It seems Noach’s conscientious efforts paid off, as after the flood, God made a covenant with Noach and his descendants, symbolized by a rainbow. A midrash relates that during those long 120 years of preparation, God designed Noach’s ark-building as a strange project that would attract attention – […]

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V’Zot Habracha & Hakhel: How The Torah Ends The Shmita Year by Rabbi Yonah Berman

“Joining together with our People, and remembering a place and time before we had our own land, we are being called to maintain the sanctity of humanity and creation.” The final parsha in the Torah, V’Zot Habracha, is unique in that it is not read on a regular Shabbat. Rather, this third-shortest parsha, containing only 41 verses, is read on Simchat Torah as part of our celebrations concluding – and immediately restarting – the annual Torah reading cycle. It recounts blessings by Moses to the various tribes of Israel, his death overlooking the Land of Israel (which he was destined not to enter), and the Children of Israel’s mourning for our greatest leader.  (This Shabbat’s reading instead focuses on portions related to the Festival of Sukkot). It is actually right now and specifically this year that we are commanded to fulfill a unique and particularly beautiful mitzvah: Hakhel. Parshat Vayelech, which we read two weeks ago, instructs us to gather in Jerusalem during Sukkot following the conclusion of Shmita (Deut. 31:12): Gather the nation: men, women and children and the stranger in your midst, so that they shall hear and so that they shall learn; and be in awe of […]

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Hazon Detroit: October 2022 Newsletter

Shana Tova! How sweet and hopeful to have arrived into this new year with you. We hope that you are nourished and inspired from these last weeks of reflection, joy, togetherness, and intention-setting. We look forward to showing up for one another and for the earth in this new year.  This year, we’re building on the impactful foundation of our longstanding Hazon Seal of Sustainability program, and working with over 50 Jewish organizational partners to provide enriching Jewish Earth-based experiences and environmental education, stewardship, and action in 5783. In the weeks and months to come, we hope you’ll join us – as individuals and organizational partners – in showing up for one another and the Earth by participating in an upcoming event (see below). Start the New Year off with opportunities to connect with community and steward our earth: Tree Planting with The Greening of Detroit One approach we’re taking to offset some of the environmental impact of our recent Food Festival, is partnering with The Greening of Detroit to plant trees! We hope you can join us. This is a great opportunity to connect with our new Hazon Detroit team and contribute to increased tree equity in our region.  […]

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Ha’azinu: The Idolatry Of The Denier, by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff

“We are growing closer to our last chance to turn our attention back to the earth and its needs, for our beliefs to become re-rooted in reality.” What is sacred to a climate denier? What do they worship? They privilege pseudo-science over science, fantasy over reality, all in the name of preventing  significant change in the world. Non-change, non-progress, unending perpetuation of the status quo. That is the religion of the climate denier. The climate pessimist says something similar. They acknowledge the climate crisis but they refuse to believe in a solution. This phenomenon has echoes in Parashat Ha’azinu. After describing the extraordinary ingratitude of the Jews in turning to idolatry, the Torah says, “They sacrificed to demons, no-gods,”(Deut. 32:17) and the Midrash says, “If they had worshiped the sun, or the moon, or stars, etc., things that are necessary to the world, and the world benefits from them, God’s angry jealousy would have been less. But they worshiped things that do no good for them but rather do them harm!”(Sifrei Devarim 318:17). The idolatry described here is not misplaced faith that something beneficial has powers of its own. It is doubling down on the belief that something that in […]

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Vayelech: Is This The End Of Shmita? by Rabbi Petakya Lichtenstein

“What is being born when something is ending and what is ending when something is being born?” This week is the last week of the 7 year sabbatical cycle called Shmita. The portion of Torah read this week, as the year takes its leave, is called by the name “Vayelech,” which translates as “and he went.” Who is he? Moses. Where did he go? He went to tell the tale of his passing (in an epic overshare) saying “I am one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer go forth and come in.” He is to leave this world on the day he came into it 120 years ago. It is on this day, the 7th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, that Moses writes the Torah scroll and instructs that it should be read at the end of every shmita year. It is this merging of coming and going which is at the core of the deeper Torah of shmita. As the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, states about the mysteries of creation that “their end is in their beginning and their beginning is in their end.”  A closer look at the text will reveal […]

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Nitzavim: Keep It Real – Don’t Overthink It! by Rabbi Benjamin Shalva

“The shmita year is nearly ended, but not quite. There is still time. Time to pause. Time to pray.”  “And in the night My father came to me And held me to his chest He said there’s not much more that you can do Go on and get some rest.” – “Think Too Much (b)”, Paul Simon Moses is soon to die. He gathers his tribe to him and says: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your reach. (Deut. 30:11) But, of course, we know that’s not true. The Torah is too hard for us. It has always been too hard for us. We never get it right, this life. The very existence of the High Holy Days, of an entire season devoted to repentance, testifies to our forever missing the mark. It must be that Moses means something else. That, or he’s playing the part of the underdog coach, offering a pep talk to his hapless team. But that doesn’t seem right; Moses is a tough love prophet. Moses does not do so much “pep.” Then what does he mean: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your […]

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Ki Tavo: Property, Shmita And Learning To Fly, by Aharon Ariel Lavi

“You can only give what is yours.” Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the commandment of bikkurim. It continues with related agricultural commandments and a commandment to inscribe the Torah on large stones. The sages add that this was made in 70 different languages, to be accessible to all nations. The parsha concludes with a long speech detailing the blessings the nation will receive if it follows the Torah, and the calamities which will befall it if it does not. Bikkurim means bringing the first fruits to the Temple and reciting a special prayer. It is valid only under certain circumstances: (1) physical presence in the Land of Israel; (2) well-established political status in the land; and (3) building the Temple. There is an additional precondition, which is complete human ownership of the fruits a person brings, according to the verse: “the first fruits of your land.” Even one who has planted a tree in their own land but has layered it into another person’s land cannot bring the firstfruits (layering is taking a branch and bending it to the point of planting it in the ground while still attached to the original tree so it grows new roots). Nevertheless, the […]

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