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Author Archive | David Weisberg

A Summer to Write Home About

In one of my favorite lines from the classic 1979 summer camp film “Meatballs,” head counselor Tripper, played by Bill Murray, tells new camper, Rudy Gerner, “You make one good friend a summer, and you’re doing pretty well.” Indeed, new friends can be one important way to measure a summer. And, as we’re all asked “How was your summer?” we may choose to answer it by where we traveled, how much we relaxed, the amount of time we spent with our family, how successful we were in keeping the gnats out of our mouths, and so on. At Hazon, where a core part of our mission revolves around providing transformative Jewish experiences, we look and measure our summer by the impact that we’ve had, the lives that we’ve changed, and – yes – the new friends we’ve made along the way. And, in that regard, what a beautiful summer it was, perhaps best embodied by transformative experiences ranging from Adamah Farm Vacations to Jewish spiritual leadership training institutes to our longest running program, Camp Isabella Freedman for Senior Adults, all occurring at our beautiful Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. And just as my parents would save a summer’s worth […]

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New Individual and Collective Dreams

Imagine for a moment if Hazon staged a Bike Ride (as we do several times each year) but if the participants showed up with incredibly varied notions of what a bike even was. One person came with a unicycle. For another, a bike meant one of those antique bicycles with the huge front wheel. And others came with a tandem bike, a tricycle, a scooter, an outdoor elliptical bike, a recumbent, a motorcycle, a stationary exercise bike, and other bikes beyond your existing conceptions. (I just looked at Google images for “strange bikes,” and you might enjoy doing the same.) The event would then become more than just a bike ride; it would be an exercise in exploring our individual and collective imaginations, about exploring what was, what is, and what may be possible. Last November’s first ever Jewish Intentional Communities Conference – co-sponsored and planned by Hazon, Pearlstone Conference & Retreat Center, and the Jewish Agency for Israel – felt a bit like that bike ride might feel. Nearly 200 people gathered together at the Pearlstone Center in November 2013 to talk about Jewish intentional communities – many with completely different concepts of what a Jewish intentional community was… […]

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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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Never Before Had I Felt So Accepted

“Never before had I felt so accepted… Never before had I felt so understood, in a way that almost cannot be explained.” “Being at the Shabbaton felt like exhaling. I hadn’t realized how much I had to hold back and posture in my everyday life until I was there. I realized that without knowing it I had been holding my breath all year waiting for the Shabbaton.” “The Shabbaton showed me that I am not alone. There are lots of other people that are going through some of the same things I am.” Dear Friends, The three quotes above all came from young people who participated in our Jewish LGBTQ Teen Shabbaton this past April, the largest of three such gatherings that we’ve held at Isabella Freedman, all in partnership with our wonderful friends at Keshet, and with the tremendous support of UJA-Federation of New York. By definition, most of you reading this message will not have the opportunity to attend one of these Shabbatons, for the fact that the gatherings are exclusively comprised of and led by teens (with the support of a few adult staff and volunteers). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the opportunity to know […]

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High Holidays: Organic and Delicious!

If retailers begin displaying items for the winter holidays in September, then July isn’t too early to begin preparing for the high holidays. Believe it or not, Rosh Hashanah is just over 60 days away, followed quickly by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. And, for me, there’s no more powerful way to observe our holiest of days than through a 360°experience that incorporates both giving thanks for and immersing ourselves in the world that has been given to us. I recall a six-hour canoe trip that I took with a group through the rainforest of Belize many years ago. As we rowed through the most beautiful and lush setting, we heard howler monkeys screaming from the trees as alligators popped up their eyes from the water before swimming past us. Half way through the exhausting and exhilarating trip, we stopped along the banks and were given our pack-out lunches for the day. And while everyone else was given one thing to eat, I was given something different. I was kosher. And, while sometimes I had wondered why I was kosher, at this moment, thinking about what I was eating and why, while having the most amazing sensory experience in […]

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How the NY Ride Changed My Life

If you want to understand the impact of Hazon’s programs, how they can truly change people’s lives in profound and meaningful ways, you needn’t look further than me. I first attended the Hazon NY Bike Ride in 2008. At the time, I was serving as the Executive Director of Friends of the Arava Institute, Hazon’s partner in the annual Israel Ride, and I was invited to come to the NY Ride, bringing some Arava Institute alumni with me. I brought along my wife Jamie and our children, Mikayla and Grace, then ages 10 and 6, for the Labor Day weekend retreat, which that year was held at Camp Kinder Ring, having no idea what we were going to experience, but genuinely just hoping to have a good time. We had more than a good time; we had a life-changing transformation. What we found at the NY Ride & Retreat, almost immediately, was a community like we had never experienced before. A community that was pervasively Jewish and radically inclusive. A community that felt both open and safe for our children. A community that encouraged Jewish journeys, including our own family’s journey. A community with a ruach and a neshama that […]

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Is Hazon Local or National? Yes.

I’m fascinated by photos from the Mars Rover. Of course, we could see photos of Mars, the whole red planet, for years, but I didn’t start to feel I had a sense of what the planet was like until I started seeing pictures from the ground level. And, of course, I keep hoping one of these times we’re going to see a Martian waiving “hello.” The action, should there be any, will most certainly happen at the local level. I’m often asked, following the merger between Hazon and Isabella Freedman: “Just what is the new Hazon? Is it a national organization? Is it a local organization?” And the genuine answer is: “Both.” Hazon is a national organization. We look to build a healthier and more sustainable world throughout the United States and beyond. But that work stems from creating healthier and more sustainable Jewish communities built of individuals, families, congregations, and organizations, and that – almost by definition – happens at the local level. Just this month: I attended a one-day Philadelphia Hazon Bike Ride with 200 participants and crew. Our San Francisco Bay Area office held its 5th annual multi-day Bike Ride on the heels of a successful one-day […]

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What does “access” mean to you?

Dear Friends, One of the most powerful transformative experiences is helping others. Last year, with the help of our supporters, Hazon proudly gave over $200,000 in scholarships and subsidies for people to attend our programs – whether twenty-somethings participating in the Adamah farming fellowship; families participating in Jewish holiday retreats; or senior adults seeking two weeks of respite at Camp Isabella Freedman. With increased interest in our programs and a still struggling economy, we are getting more and more requests for help, and your support is needed now more than ever. As a response to the growing need, we are launching our Access Fund. We are calling this an access fund and not a scholarship fund because we deeply believe that people should have access to our programs, whatever their financial situation. And we’ve lived this value over many years with the support of generous donors like you who understand that part of creating a healthier and more sustainable world is ensuring that the resources we have to offer should be available to everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances. Listen to the words of some of our participants: Right now in the Jewish calendar, we’re counting the Omer – literally […]

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"If Not Now Society" Induction

If Not Now, Pete Seeger, Fountains, and Challahs

It was fitting that we opened our 3rd annual “If Not Now” event in Brooklyn this week with a video of Pete Seeger (z’l) that we had recorded at Pete’s home for our inaugural “If Not Now” event. I had the privilege of speaking with and visiting Pete many times over the past several years, and, of the many lessons he taught me, Pete had explained that, when he recorded a song that he borrowed from another culture – be it “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” or “Abiyoyo” – and that recording made money, he didn’t keep that money for himself, but instead contributed the proceeds to a charity that benefited that culture. Pete understood that he was the fountain, but that the musical wisdom, creativity, and joy he was collecting and sharing came from many different sources; and he always respected and honored that. In the same way, we see Hazon – and especially the new Hazon of 2014 – as a fountain that pulls together many different sources. We have now given that fountain a name: JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education). That fountain, made stronger by our recent merger, is allowing us to touch many more individuals, families, […]

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Roseanne Barr and What Can Happen When We Teach about Shmita

Dear Friends, The story of Hazon is often a story about stories. Next week, on Tuesday, April 1, at the Green Building in Brooklyn, we’ll be telling the stories of four incredible inductees at our 3rd annual If Not Now Benefit, honoring the powerful stories of Rabbi David Ingber, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, the Margulies Family, and Margot Seigle. It’s going to be a wonderfully fun and meaningful evening, and, if you are in the New York area, I hope you’ll join us. But, for now, I want to share an unbelievable story that happened during our recent Purim Retreat at Isabella Freedman with Roseanne Barr. In the last decade of the 20th century, Roseanne Barr brought the issues and concerns of working class America to life through her groundbreaking sitcom “Roseanne.” At our Purim retreat, it was Roseanne Barr once again bringing concepts to life, this time in such a powerful and profound way that it literally changed the lives of some of those in the room with her. One of Hazon’s current points of focus regards creating a renaissance around the Jewish concept of shmita, the sabbatical year described in the Torah and other Jewish texts, which is scheduled […]

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Join the People of the Bike

Dear Friends, While I’m not a farmer myself, I have deep admiration and appreciation for the work that farmers do: how beautiful it is, the glory of hard work transforming into harvest, the ways that it gives life to our community. I am similarly not a biker; and yet for years now I’ve had the honor and pleasure of witnessing – and supporting – the many members of our community who have participated in Hazon bike rides. Since 2008, I, personally, have served as a crew member to Hazon bike rides in New York, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in Israel, watching community members just like you (and perhaps including you) traverse amazing vistas, experience life-changing transformations, and support sustainable communities, a healthier environment, and – in the case of the Arava Institute & Hazon Israel Ride – a more peaceful world. And perhaps the most surprising thing to me about attending Hazon bike rides is how they’ve left me feeling that one day I might be a participant myself. Indeed, most Hazon bike riders don’t look like they just came off the Tour de France. Participants come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, religious backgrounds, and levels […]

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New year, new vision, new programs… new organization!

January 6, 2014  |  5 Shvat 5774 Makom Hadash, NYC  |  Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT Dear All, It’s a new year and, legally, we’re now a new organization: this is the first email from the post-merger Hazon. After a long process, we’re excited to bring together the strengths, resources, and communities of the three organizations that, two years ago, separately comprised Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva.  A huge thank you to the many of you who gave us year-end gifts. Your support, and that of so many of the people reading this email, enable us to do the many things that we do. The time since we announced our merger has been focused both on strengthening our systems internally and growing our programs and resources externally. The links below go to our new website, which should give you a sense of the depth and breadth we now have to offer. If you want to read an overview of the new organization, click here. If you’re interested in participating in one of our multi-day events this year, you’re warmly invited: In Israel we have both a bike ride and a sustainable food tour. (The Israel Ride is […]

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