December 30, 2021 | 26 Tevet 5782 | Jerusalem
For affording me this sabbatical, as I stepped down as CEO, I feel so blessed, so lucky, so grateful, to so many people at Hazon. Thank you to the staff, to the board, to stakeholders, to Marina Lewin (our amazing board chair), to Jakir – and to each and all of you.
It has been a very rich four months, despite the craziness of the Covid-era intervening in various ways. I offer three brief vignettes.
One was Yom Kippur. Normally I’m in shul all the way through. I love Yom Kippur, I’ve fasted every year since I was seven, I daven the whole thing. I kept Yom Kippur even in the five years when I kept hardly anything else.
But this year I had bumped into Michal Deutsch, a week before, as she started an 8-day hunger strike, outside Beit Hanassi (the President’s residence) to call on the government to declare a climate emergency. She’s a law student, 20-something, secular, tattooed. I happened to bump into her the first day – I was walking past – and chatted, and then hung out with her and her friends for a little bit, every subsequent day. Davened kabbalat shabbat with her and a few folks on the Friday night, out in the street. And then Yom Kippur morning I walked over at 7am, before shul started, planning just to say hello – and ended up spending six hours there. Just sitting in the street, chatting, davening, talking to folks as they walked past. Later I came back and broke fast with her.
It was just so interesting, so rich. Normally I would hate to miss any of the davening. But here in Jerusalem there was an extraordinary sense of shleimut, of wholeness. Jewish life has an added dimension in Israel, and in spending it with Michal and friends, I experienced that very palpably. (And one aspect of that extra dimension: President Herzog not only came over, the first day, to say hello; he also walked over a second time, after Kol Nidrei, with his wife, wished Michal gmar chatima tova – a good fast – and said, “write me a letter when this is over, with what you want me to do – and I don’t promise I’ll do what you ask, but I’ll read it…” Very menschy. Then five weeks later, he announced the launch of the Israeli Climate Forum, led by (the widely loved and respected) Dov Khenin. I’m not suggesting that this was because of Michal; the planning for the new Climate Forum preceded her strike. But, yes, I think what she did had influence, and was significant. It is powerful to see Jewish life in public space. Thinking about the famous haftorah on Yom Kippur in a fresh light. Just breathing, integrating, being, in a slightly new way. Part of my own Jewish journey, my own human journey.
The second thing was COP 26, which I was at with Jakir. I had a real glimpse of the role and power of nonprofits and religions. We were a tiny part of COP 26. The center of gravity is the private sector, governments. Huge huge wheels turning. Vitally needed, and for real. Yes, should have been sooner; yes, should be more. But good things are starting to happen, on some considerable scale. What struck me, though, was that even though the third sector was so tiny at COP 26 itself, it is nevertheless that religions and nonprofits and the environmental movement are huge drivers underneath. Public education changes us, challenges us, provokes us. Hazon is and has been a small small part of this – but a significant part. I don’t know if I’m explaining this clearly enough – if I’m not, I apologize! – but I just had a sense of clarity about our role and our necessity. Every one of you reading this – you are part of this. Thank you.
And then the third thing was last week. I was briefly in Santa Katerina, in Sinai, hiking with friends in the mountains. It is beautiful, stark, silent. The rocks every shade of brown; the sky blue; and a few shrubs of green, dotted through. And silence. No light pollution, no road, no electricity.
I was there so briefly, but it felt like a still silent moment, a ground, an axis, at the very center of this whirling strange year – this 22-month Covid journey which continues to unsettle all of us.
And it was somehow profound to be there, and to go into Israel from there, as our weekly Torah portions recount the exodus from Egypt. Something about beginnings, journeys, connection, something about the physical world, something about how we are cleansed and reconnected by being in a stark natural environment.
So… thank you. Tomorrow is my last day in full-time employment at Hazon, since I began this thing in March 2000. It has been a long strange trip indeed. As of Jan 1st I’ll be working for Jakir and for Hazon, part-time, as a Global Ambassador (Jakir’s choice of title, not mine!) I’m honored to do so. I love this organization. I love its people, I love what we do and try to do. I’m so grateful to each and all of you for your support over the years. I hope that you will continue to support us, every more strongly, this year and next year and in the years to come. Our work has never been more important. And, remarkably and happily, Hazon’s greatest years – and its most important work – lie ahead of it…
Shabbat shalom; and wishing you a happy and healthy new year.
PS – as of Jan 1st, my email is email@example.com. Or you can WhatsApp me…