Danielle Smith, Eden Village Camp – Putnam Valley, NY
Parshat Ki Tavo
Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Be sure to check back weekly!
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Moses speaks reflectively and instructively to the Israelites as they approach the Promised Land, finally nearing the end of their forty year journey through the wilderness. Here at Eden Village Camp, we may not have spent forty years wandering the wilderness of Putnam Valley (though sometimes the packed days and weeks at camp can feel almost as long #jewishcamptime), but the transition into the fall season is the perfect time for deep reflection and exhalations. It was a fast leap from summer into the slower pace of the fall, and after two months of beautiful chaos, camp is now quiet and tranquil. This year, especially, the high holidays feel like they are coming at the perfect time. Just as we do during the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are currently reflecting on this past year and thinking ahead to how we can make next summer even better as we also prepare for an exciting calendar of Fall programs.
This season, I am co-coordinating our annual “farm school” program that we run for home schooling families. The theme for the fall is the chagim, or high holidays. Last week, we focused on Yom Kippur and held discussions with the students about forgiveness and gratitude. The kids planted oats and peas to cover-crop a portion of the farm and learn about the importance of giving back to the earth the nutrients it needs to successfully grow delicious veggies. Next week, we’ll learn about Sukkot and build temporary shelters with the kids as we discuss themes of home and refuge. We will also harvest salad ingredients and prepare a big salad to share with the community.
I think back to when I arrived at Eden Village in March, when the farm was cover cropped from the past year, and seeds were just beginning to be planted in the greenhouse. Since then, I have enjoyed so many delicious fruits and veggies from the farm. Ki Tavo is a reminder to pause and show gratitude for the greatness that surrounds us before diving in and enjoying the joys of creation. Beginning with the commandment of bikkurim, or first fruits, the farmer is told to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the temple to share with G-d rather than to indulge in them herself. This first offering of fruits historically happened at Shavuot, in the spring, which for us was the time when things at Eden Village started to speed up in preparation for camp. Meanwhile, crops continue to grow and bloom through the summer, and during Sukkot, we are commanded to present another offering from our harvest when the farm is at its peak. Just as the crops grow, the time for me in between Shavuot and Sukkot is when the most learning happened: navigating the full days of camp, stepping into a greater leadership role, and supporting kids and staff as they make connections between Judaism and the natural world.
Another idea behind bikkurim is to separate human actions from creation, and to respect the earth as the true source of life. At farm school, before trying a new fruit, drinking a homemade tea, or eating pita that we’ve made together on the farm, we always pause to say a bracha (blessing) and remember that the wonderful creation we are about to enjoy is a gift from the universe. Today at Eden Village, our farm is overflowing with tomatoes and kale and it is helpful to pause and recognize with awe the abundance that is growing around us.
Reflecting back on the mitzvah of bikkurim as we prepare for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot adds depth to our day of celebrating and giving thanks to the earth for providing us with a bountiful harvest here at the other end of the cycle. You can celebrate with us, too! On October 23, Eden Village will host an annual Sukkot Harvest Festival! In Ki Tavo, Moses also tells the Israelites that only now, after forty years in the wilderness, have they attained “a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.” At Eden Village Camp, we strive to listen, to see, to know, and to celebrate with all our senses. Come join us for a lovely day of fun, learning, and exploration!
Danielle is the JOFEE Fellow and Program Associate at Eden Village Camp. Ask her to show you the frog song. She is particularly excited to try new recipes this fall with veggies from the farm! See her full bio here.