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Author Archive | Nigel Savage

Nigel Headshot 2021

An Ending, and Two Beginnings (7 of 7)

Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 18 Elul 5781   Nigel: Hi! Jakir: Shalom!  You did it!  I’m not sure how you pulled it off, but you made it to the holy land! N: Yep. I’m now in bidud, the word the Israelis use for “quarantine” or “self-isolation.” It’s from the same root as hitbodedut, a type of personal meditation that traces back to Reb Nachman of Bratslav.  And bidud does feel like a kind of hitbodedut. Getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and for the shmita year – getting organized, getting clean.  J: Getting clean? N: Bidud-enforced cold turkey! Before I arrived, a friend brought to the apartment fruits, vegetables, some fish, some eggs. But: no booze, no caffeine, no sugar, no chocolate, no wheat; no dairy except for some goat yoghurt. And I’m not allowed to leave the apartment for seven days, so I’m committed, whether I like it or not. 🙂 J: That sounds…fun…I guess?!  Of course I have four kids, an incredible partner, and now two organizations to run, in the process of merging. So probably not a lot of bidud-self-isolation in my near future… N: Well, that’s true. But this is not your bidud moment. You’re in a […]

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Why does shmita matter? (6 of 7)

Friday, August 20, 2021 | 12 Elul 5781   Dear All, I admit that I am baffled by Jeopardy!, and why people care about it. (What’s wrong with University Challenge?) But Jeopardy does remind us to ask this: what questions does shmita come to answer?This led me, a couple of years ago, to amend my own observance. It is true that last time I didn’t buy any books, or any liquor, for the whole year. Doing this reminded me that it was the shmita year, and that I had enough.But then I realized that this failed, even metaphorically, even as just one individual, to address one of the central questions that shmita comes to answer: how do we reduce inequality?  Because shmita is not just about “letting the land go, letting it be.” (Shmot 23:11). It’s about doing this “that the needy of the people may eat.” (same verse).  So for this forthcoming shmita year I’ve decided, bli neder, to  Not buy books, not buy liquor, and (after the last 17 months of covid-wear) not buy any clothes, but then also  To figure out roughly what I spend on these three things, in a normal year, and give that money to […]

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Israel (5 of 7)

Friday, August 13, 2021 | 5 Elul 5781   Dear All, The second day of the 2005 Israel Ride was on Thursday, May 12th. The day before we had ridden from Jerusalem to Ashkelon. Now we were riding to Mashabeh Sadeh, alongside the northern tip of Gaza. That day was Israel’s Independence Day, i.e. a public holiday. And it was the year of the proposed “hitnatkut” – the withdrawal from Gaza.  So we rode alongside an enormous traffic jam of Israelis flying orange flags (the color associated with the Gush Katif settlements in Gaza), protesting against the withdrawal. Miles and miles of cars with orange flags. And it was important to see this. Most liberal American Jews, at the time, seemed to feel: “of course I support the withdrawal. What’s Israel doing in Gaza in the first place? The sooner Israel leaves, the better.” But huge numbers of Israelis were against the withdrawal; and the Israelis in favor of the withdrawal had a rather different perspective from the Americans: “on balance I’m in favor of the hitnatkut. But I pray that the Gazans, after we’ve withdrawn, don’t smuggle in heavy weapons. And if they do, and G!d forbid they lob a […]

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Climate at a tipping point: What do we do? (4 of 7)

Friday, August 6, 2021 | 28 Av 5781   Dear All, You might think this email would for me be easy and obvious. But it has been the hardest one to write. I want to convey some seemingly contradictory ideas.  It has been right for the environmental movement not to overstate things (i.e. not to make wild claims beyond what we already know). But it’s been clear for some while that the numbers and the projected negative impact, in terms of temperature rise and concomitant impacts, were and are more likely to be worse, rather than better, than our median projections. And this summer has felt like a tipping point. 116 degrees in cool temperate Canada. People suddenly wanting air conditioners in Seattle. Flood deaths in Germany. Wildfires in California, Greece, Turkey. Here’s the Guardian today – 14 separate stories, led by “Last Month Was Worst July For Wildfires On Record.” The Covid pandemic is a parallel cautionary tale.  A lesson about how something out of kilter in one part of the planet can have impacts the whole world over. A reminder of the fragility of systems – and of human beings. An object lesson in the necessity of good […]

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Does Jewish tradition support my politics? (3 of 7)

Thursday, July 29, 2021 | 20 Av 5781   Dear All, There was the first time I went on this thing called Facebook. It asked my religion, so I wrote “Manchester United.” It asked my politics, so I wrote “Jewish.” We can talk some other time about commitment to Manchester United as an ancient familial tribal religion.  But in this email, I want to reflect a little about Jewish tradition and politics. Is Jewish tradition conservative? Well, yes. It’s a slow-moving tradition, it’s generally against change, its strong instinct is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Is Jewish tradition moderate? Yes, strongly it is. It’s a very on the one hand / on the other hand tradition, almost definitionally so. Well then, is it liberal? Yes, of course it is, in a few senses of the word. It’s strongly open to new ideas. And Jewish thinking has been deeply interwoven with the evolution of civil liberties, democracy, the rights of the individual, and free enterprise.  Is it radical? Yes, strongly so. The notion that every human being is made in the image of (this unimaginably powerful) G!d –  is in and of itself, in a fundamentally unequal world, incredibly […]

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Some thoughts for funders (2 of 7)

Thursday, July 22, 2021 | 13 Av 5781  One big idea – and a few smaller ones. Dear All, First: gratitude. I don’t take anyone’s gift to Hazon for granted. (If it ever seemed like I did, I apologize.) We’re an imperfect organization, but as each year has gone by our impact has increased. Your support enables this. Whether you have given $36, or $3,600, or six and even seven-figure gifts and grants – thank you. When I started Hazon I had never fundraised, nor thought about it. But I have now spent 21 years (worrying about) fundraising, and so in the second of these stepping-down-as-CEO reflections, I want to share a few thoughts for funders. (Most of these comments are for foundations, federations, and the largest individual funders – though not all.) I don’t claim unique insight; I merely wish to add my voice to the weight of some of these arguments. These are, in many cases, things I’ve been thinking about for a while, but haven’t yet said publicly. 1. Please increase payout ratios. Most “normal” foundations have too low a payout ratio. 5% is a legal minimum, not a guideline. If you’re a foundation trustee or CEO and […]

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Leadership and failure (1 of 7)

Thursday, July 15, 2021 | 6 Av 5781    Dear All, As I step down as CEO, this is the first of seven emails, reflecting on a range of different topics, to the Hazon list, roughly weekly from today. That’ll take us from now through August 26th – and it will give Jakir a chunk of August to settle in, before he starts to share some of his own opening reflections. Thank you to the many, many people who sent gracious messages after the announcement last week. People said kind things about Hazon, about Pearlstone, about Jakir, about the merger; and about me. It was proverbially like hearing parts of your own funeral eulogy. (The analogy may be especially apt because funeral eulogies, I note, skew to the generous.) I’m proud of Hazon. I’m proud to have worked hard to bring it into existence; and proud also that, despite bumps along the way, we are still in existence, and Isabella Freedman too. This should not be taken for granted. I’m delighted at so many of the things that, together, we have accomplished. I feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to have vision and to bring fresh ideas to […]

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Stepping down as CEO; Hazon merger

July 8, 2021 | 28 Tammuz 5781   Dear All, Here’s the statement that Hazon & Pearlstone have just released. All the rest (of this email) is commentary… I’m stepping down as CEO after 21 years. It is bittersweet. I love this organization, and I believe in it very deeply. I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped us, and helped me, reach this point. And/but… it is good to make way for new leadership; and good to step down, to reflect, renew, to think about vision and the next phases of life. For me the timing goes back partly to the last shmita year, in 2014-’15. I (somewhat randomly) decided not to buy books or liquor. Clearly neither of these things is religiously prescribed. But I wanted to do something that would remind me that the year was different from the other six in the cycle; and I wanted to change my behavior in a way that, like the biblical shmita, would reduce my normal consumption. To my surprise, I kept to these two decisions the whole year. They did indeed remind me not only that it was the shmita year, but also that in so many ways, I […]

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Getting down to bedrock

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 14 Sivan 5781   Dear All, Many of the arguments that divide contemporary Jewish life come down to different readings of what it means to be Jewish. I want to offer some of my own thoughts on this. Before I do, let me preface these remarks with the reminder that Hazon, institutionally, doesn’t take “positions” on things. You can support Hazon, or work for Hazon, or attend any of our programs, whether you agree with what I write here, or disagree, or for that matter are baffled by what I write. In these emails I am thinking through some of the things that animate my own work, and sometimes providing context for things we do or don’t do, but you’re entirely free to disagree with anything I write. I strive to respond politely and thoughtfully to every person who replies to one of these emails, and I know from that experience that the range of views on a list as long as Hazon’s is considerable. Which is as it should be. And so to our current struggles. It may be that to be Jewish is to (a) strive never to distinguish between one human being […]

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Shmita & Parshat Behar Bechukotai 5781

Please enjoy this week’s video newsletter message. Full text transcript is below.  We were thinking we might try and send out some videos as well as just written words, and this week’s parsha seemed like a great time to begin. (Leviticus 25:1) “Vayedaber adonai el moshe behar sinai leymor,” “And God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai saying” “Daber el bnai yisrael”, “Speak to the children of Israel,” “V’amarta elehem,” “and say to them,” “Ki tavo el haaretz asher ani noten lachem,” “When you come to the land which I give to you,” “Veshavta haaretz shabbat laadonai,” “The land should be at rest, a shabbat for God,” “Shesh shanim tizra sadecha,” “six years sow your field,” “V’shesh shanim tizmor carmecha,” “Six years gather from your vineyard,” “V’asafta el tvuata,” “And harvest your produce,” “U’v’shana hashviit,” “And in the seventh year,” “Shabbat shabbaton,” “It should be a full shabbat,” “Shabbat shabbaton yihiyeh la’aretz,” “for the land,” “Shabbat ladonai,” “And a Shabbat for God,” “Sadcha lo tizra,” “Don’t plant your fields,” “V’charmcha lo tizmor,” “Don’t prune your vineyard.” Later on, by the way, in the same parsha, famously, we’ve got (Lev. 25:10) “V’kidashtam at shnat ha’chamishim shana” “You should sanctify the fiftieth year,” “U’kratem dror […]

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Different Jewish narratives in relation to place

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 | 24th day of the omer – tiferet she’b’netzach   Dear All, Tomorrow is Earth Day, and there’s lots happening. I hope you will attend some of the many events that are taking place, including our second annual #SoundTheCall. And tune in this Friday for the first episode of a new 6-part series that we’ve produced with EarthX – Jewish Life & Planet Earth. I wrote two weeks ago about Earth Day as a “secular chag.” My point was that it makes sense for us to use ritual, and to leverage the calendar, to really think about how we live on this planet – and how we change how we live upon it. Last week at our staff meeting I took this in a different direction. There are essentially three different contemporary narratives for someone who (for instance) is Jewish and thinking about relationships to ha’aretz – to the earth. I want to sketch these out, for us all to think about. One is Israel – the land of Israel, and nowadays the state of Israel. It’s where we entered human history. Our synagogues face towards it. Three times a day, we point ourselves in its direction – […]

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The Economy, Krugman, Healthcare, Pesach – and Power, Ethics & Ecology in Late Jewish Antiquity

March 18, 2021 | 5 Nissan 5781    Dear All, The whole world we live in, right now, is “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Everything happens simultaneously. Everything and its opposite is true. Things overlap and repeat, fold in upon themselves. I feel this strongly in relation to the economy, as well as so much else. It is good that the federal government has learned some of the (negative) lessons of 2008, and before that of Herbert Hoover. Paul Krugman has argued repeatedly that it’s wrong to fear inflation in a deflationary environment. If the government were not printing money – had not printed money this last year – then millions and perhaps tens of millions would be out of work, perhaps homeless, perhaps hungry. And it is always those who already have the least who suffer the most. So: printing money is good. And the American Rescue Plan is especially commendable because, for the first time since perhaps Lyndon Johnson, there’s a (somewhat) focused attempt to get the most help to those who are poorest. This is what the Torah enjoins. And yet one other consequence of this is that all sorts of bubbles are developing. From GameStop to the […]

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Rosh Chodesh Adar, and a preview of the Shmita Prizes

February 11, 2021 | Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar   Dear All, The Hebrew month of Adar, by tradition, “increases joy.” Those who are used to Jewish tradition may take this idea for granted. But underlying it are presumptions that are worth thinking about, not least because they run so counter to contemporary western presumptions. First amongst these is the Jewish idea that we can choose to determine how we feel. In Western life: don’t we just go with the flow? Isn’t it somehow unhealthy to squelch how I’m feeling? In this particular year – of death and sickness and disruption – aren’t we entitled not merely to feel (choose your words) tired / depressed / exhausted / unsettled / lonely / scared / confused or, indeed, just plain slogging-along-and-wondering-if-things-will-ever-get-better…? A contemporary Jewish response would be to say, yes, of course, we should feel what we feel. And in these times especially, it may be important to share how we feel with loved ones, indeed to let it out a little; not be trapped or further bowed down by our feelings. That’s part of it. But the other part is a different kind of Jewish response, sometimes rooted in chasidic tradition. […]

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Light In The Darkness

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 | 28th Tevet 5781   Dear All, Tomorrow night it’s Rosh Chodesh Shvat. The beginning of the beginnings. Next week a new president, a new government. The week after it’s Tu B’Shvat and the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. The almond trees will start to bloom. Then longer days, more sunlight, vaccines… it’s a whole new world. Well – not entirely. Of course we have lives lost, structural racism, pollution and environmental destruction, people still sick from long-Covid. The new president and vice-president are gonna have to clean up a heck of a mess. (Much of it, of course, predating these last four years; too much of it, of course, made worse these last four years.) In any case – we live poised between fear and hope. That is always part of life; it’s just that this last year it has been more so. But the whole point of this season – of all of our new beginnings – is that we actually believe in hope; in an almost theological sense we have the intuition that the first step to recovery, of any sort, is to imagine its possibility. “That’s why vision is so important. We need a […]

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Darkness, and light – from the United Nations

Wednesday, December 9, 2020 | Erev Chanukah   Dear All, First: a huge thank you to every single person who has supported us in 2020. A record number of people supported us on Giving Tuesday. I and we appreciate it. This year we survived, we thrived, we’ve touched people’s lives. And we hope to catapult into 2021 and beyond. If you want to be a stakeholder in Hazon, please click here to give a year-end gift. Second: practically the last thing I did, pre-Covid, was attend a superb Tu B’Shvat gathering in Seattle, organized by Lisa Colton and Rabbi Josh Weisman and a bunch of their friends.  Now with them and with a growing number of partners we’re happy to announce the launch of The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, over Tu B’Shvat in late January – one week after the inauguration. Go to the website for info or – better yet – to propose sessions you’d like to deliver. Third: Campus at Camp looks like it’s happening. Registration closes tomorrow. If you want to join us, click here. The remainder of this email I give over to António Guterres – the Secretary General of the UN. He gave a speech at Columbia University last week […]

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