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Author Archive | Nigel Savage

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Seven brief thoughts at the end of a long seven days.

Friday, March 27, 2020 | 2nd Nissan 5780 Dear All, These are seven very different thoughts, on very different topics…. Number 1: At Hazon and Isabella Freedman we’re hanging on, and thank you to everyone who has supported us in the last week.  Isabella Freedman, like all places of gathering, is closed, for at least two months. We haven’t yet let any of our staff go, though like many non-profits we’re in a very exposed place. The federal bailout plan may be very significant for us, and we’re poised to apply for support from that as soon as we are able. Meantime, board members, donors, foundations, participants, and our own staff have all stepped up in quite extraordinary ways over the last two weeks. My great great thanks go to each and all of you. It is a cliché that crises often bring out the best in people. Every single day this week I have seen that to be true. Number 2: It is not too soon to draw conclusions from the different infection and death rates in places like Germany and New Zealand, on one side, and the USA, very sadly, on the other.  Having universal health care makes […]

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Noon, Wednesday April 22nd (Please read this.)

Thursday, March 19, 2020 | 23rd Adar 5780 Dear All, First: my heart goes out to everyone. This is unbearably painful. People are in hospital. People are losing their lives. People are losing their jobs. People are losing their savings. People are afraid. And as I wrote last week, Hazon is one of the organizations most directly impacted by this. We are especially exposed because we have had to close Isabella Freedman, our retreat center, for at least two months, and have thus lost all our revenue from the busiest time of the year. We’re reviewing options right now, from a tight place. (We’re writing separately to people to whom we will be returning retreat deposits. Some of you will feel unable to do so, and we will understand that, but to the extent that you are able to donate some or all of your deposits – we would appreciate that enormously.) I also want to let you know that we have begun gathering community resources for both inside and outside activities at hazon.org/stuckinside. We’re curating there all sorts of things to watch, to read, and to do. Check it out and bookmark it.  But as well as coping with […]

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Now what? / An update from Hazon

Monday, March 16, 2020 | 20th Adar 5780 Dear All, As well as everything else we’re enduring right now, it is becoming ever clearer that the range of impacts of the virus is extraordinarily varied. This is true in relation to health, but even more so in relation to organizations. For individuals: although there are exceptions, kids seem in general to be fine, and many young adults are fine also. (But if you get the virus it (a) could still be seriously injurious to you and (b) even if it is not, you could unawarely kill someone else by passing it on. So don’t be sanguine.) On the other side, as we have seen: for people who are old, or for people with weakened immune systems and so on – these are the people who are in intensive care and who are dying, and their numbers will grow. So the range of outcomes if you get the virus is indeed very wide. This is true in a different way for companies. Mask manufacturers are super-busy. Food retailers and food manufacturers are doing fine. Conversely – and to give just one example – Gotham Bar & Grill closed its doors for […]

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Now’s the time to plan a cleanse!

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 9th Adar 5780 Dear All, The coronavirus is spreading, and it will get worse before it gets better. Batten down the hatches, wash your hands, follow public safety advice, be considerate to others – and don’t freak out. And the aftermath of the Israeli elections and the ongoing US elections – same advice… But as the velocity of travel, literally, starts to slow, I want to argue that we – you, me, all of us – do a cleanse in the next few weeks. And I get this idea from thinking carefully about the deep lessons from the Jewish calendar right now: First: Purim isn’t an isolated holiday. It comes to help us get ready for Pesach, existentially as well as physically. Purim is “the world turned upside down.” No mention of G!d in the story. Getting drunk. Cross-dressing. Purim comes to shake us out of false certainties. It comes to question the components of our identity, the relationship between inner and outer, the tension between who we are and what we have. And Purim does this because it kicks off an eleven week period from Purim to Shavuot. Seder night is the fulcrum of the whole period. And seder night is the […]

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Jewish Tradition / Western Values

Thursday, February 20, 2020 | 25th Shvat 5780 Dear All, Last week we heard the ten commandments. This week we read mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18), which expands a short list of injunctions into a more detailed frame for establishing a just society. It is one of the most glorious sidras in the Torah. It has been foundational to what it has meant to be Jewish these last twenty centuries and more. And it prompts some quite deep questions – and even provocations – about the juxtaposition between Jewish tradition, on one side, and contemporary Western values, on the other. The sidra includes – variously – injunctions about the shmita year, about Shabbat, and about making restitution for damage done by your livestock. It twice includes the injunction against wronging a stranger, “because you were slaves in Egypt.” It includes the instruction that if you took your neighbor’s garment as security for a loan, you must release it before sunset – because if your neighbor is so poor that they’re using a coat as security, they’ll likely need it back that night. It proscribes false rumors, and boiling a kid in its mother’s milk and subverting the rights of the needy; and […]

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The British general election, Tu B’Shvat and Richard Powers

By Nigel Savage Tuesday, January 28, 2020 | 2nd Shvat 5780 Dear All, What does Tu B’Shvat mean in 2020? It’s a deeper question than it may at first seem. It’s the “new year for trees.” And we indeed associate it with trees and fruits and perhaps a Tu B’Shvat seder. Ok – but beyond that? Answering this involves a certain kind of leap of faith. (It is not for me a theological leap. If I had to make a theological leap I’d barely get across a little puddle…) It’s a leap of faith in relation to the deep wisdom of an ancient tradition, in our unsettled post-postmodern age. We have to assume – and trust – and somehow really believe – that Jewish tradition isn’t just for kids. It’s not about the formal structures of Jewish life or responding to antisemitism or leaning in to Israel or any of those things. Such things may come from faith in the wisdom of Jewish tradition, but they can’t drive it. When they do our soil becomes depleted and we use the equivalent of pesticides or other interventions as a quick fix; and, as we are all learning, quick fixes like that […]

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Reb Isaiah at the March, and Rob Kutner on Daf Yomi…

Thursday, January 9, 2020 | 12th Tevet 5780 Dear All, First: we were so proud of Hazon’s rabbi-in-residence, Isaiah Rothstein, who had a lead role at the march against anti-semitism in NYC on Sunday. You can see links to that here and here. Secondly: part of the punchline of the Bari Weiss book on anti-semitism – with which I very strongly agreed indeed – is that it’s vital that we not somehow become “anti-anti-semites.” That’s not why I’m Jewish. I’m Jewish because I love the tradition and I think it wise; and – right now – I especially believe that we should be rallying the full resources of Jewish tradition and of the Jewish community to address the global climate crisis, which is the greatest crisis civilization has yet faced. And so one aspect of that is actually to deepen our own Jewish learning. That leads me to daf yomi… Daf Yomi – literally “a page a day” is a recentish (early twentieth century) tradition of learning the entire Talmud, by doing a page a day; and if you do that, and stick to it, you’ll learn the entire Talmud in about 7 1/2 years. I somehow assumed that this was only an ultra-orthodox practice. But way […]

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How to feel better in a sometimes thankless world

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 29th Cheshvan 5780 Dear Hazon, This year at our JOFEE Network Gathering we learned about Joanna Macy, and her concept of “active hope.” She’s an 80-something eco-philosopher, Christian I think by background; a world apart, on the face of it, from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is English and Jewish and a generation younger. And yet what she teaches about active hope jibed for me with what Rabbi Sacks has taught about hope in Jewish tradition. Each of them, in different ways, argues that hope is a choice, not a feeling. Optimism is the presumption that things will be better. Hope is the determination, the leaning in, to help make things better. So: this has been a hard year in many ways. I have lived my adult life in three countries – the UK, Israel, and the US – and this year it has too frequently felt like a mad and bizarre competition amidst the three of them as to which could melt down the most: “Our Prime Minister is having to give up the four different ministries he holds (!) because he’s just been indicted for corruption (!!).” “You were lucky!! Of all things, the Financial Times (!) had an op-ed titled ‘Boris Johnson’s […]

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Reflections from Israel & a Critical Error of Omission in the American Jewish Community

By Nigel Savage Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | 15th Cheshvan 5780 Dear All, I got an inexpensive Airbnb near the marina in Ashkelon, to decompress for a day after the Israel Ride and to catch up with some work and write this email. Right now I’m in the marina. Totally deserted. There were more than 200 missiles shot out of Gaza, yesterday and today, and everything in the south – schools, shops, businesses – is closed. I’m one of just two customers in the only café open here. It is quieter, far quieter, than Israel on Yom Kippur. It is strange to sit in an apartment, as I was doing a couple of hours ago; hear a siren go off; and then walk a few feet into the room which is a miklat, a sealed shelter, as one is instructed to do. Then a few seconds later you hear a boom go off, quite close by, presumably an Iron Dome intercepting the incoming missile. Before walking to the marina I was asking a friend in Kfar Saba what the custom was if you’re in the street when a siren goes off. She said, look, you have to duck and try to get cover, because you may […]

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We Are the Weather: A Year of Environmental Teshuva

ראש חודש אלול תשע״ט  ——–  Rosh Chodesh Elul 5779, August 29th, 2019 Dear Rabbis and Clergy, I hope that you have now received a pre-publication copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. I’m writing to explain why we arranged to have this sent to you, and how we hope it might be useful to you. We really are in a climate crisis, and this year, and even this summer, feels like a tipping point of sorts – not only in terms of extreme weather events – this past July was the hottest month on record – ever, but also in relation to people’s consciousness of them. A growing number of people in the Jewish community feel strongly that we ought to be “doing something” about this – but what exactly we do and how we make an impact is sometimes less clear. This is why at Hazon we intend to raise our game in the coming months and years. We’re here to catalyze and support Jewish institutions and Jewish leaders, as Jewish tradition compels us to respond to this crisis. In addition: most people have some sense that food is central to […]

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A Year of Environmental Teshuva

ראש חודש אלול תשע״ט  ——–  Rosh Chodesh Elul 5779, August 29th, 2019 Dear Rabbis and Clergy, Hazon is entering into a year of Environmental Teshuva. The backdrop is that: We really are in a climate crisis, and this year, and even this summer, feels like a tipping point of sorts – not only in terms of extreme weather events – this past July was the hottest month on record – ever, but also in relation to people’s consciousness of them. A growing number of people in the Jewish community feel strongly that we ought to be “doing something” about this – but what exactly we do and how we make an impact is sometimes less clear. This is why at Hazon we intend to raise our game in the coming months and years. We’re here to catalyze and support Jewish institutions and Jewish leaders, as Jewish tradition compels us to respond to this crisis. In addition: most people have some sense that food is central to Jewish life and Jewish tradition. But they’re far less aware that food choices – especially in relation to industrial meat, industrial dairy, and food waste – are one of the top two anthropogenic drivers […]

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A Year of Environmental Teshuva

ראש חודש אלול תשע״ט  ——–  Rosh Chodesh Elul 5779, August 29th, 2019 Dear Rabbinical Council Members, Hazon is entering into a year of Environmental Teshuva. The backdrop is that: We really are in a climate crisis, and this year, and even this summer, feels like a tipping point of sorts – not only in terms of extreme weather events – this past July was the hottest month on record – ever, but also in relation to people’s consciousness of them. A growing number of people in the Jewish community feel strongly that we ought to be “doing something” about this – but what exactly we do and how we make an impact is sometimes less clear. This is why at Hazon we intend to raise our game in the coming months and years. We’re here to catalyze and support Jewish institutions and Jewish leaders, as Jewish tradition compels us to respond to this crisis. In addition: most people have some sense that food is central to Jewish life and Jewish tradition. But they’re far less aware that food choices – especially in relation to industrial meat, industrial dairy, and food waste – are one of the top two anthropogenic drivers […]

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