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Author Archive | Nigel Savage

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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Light, and the amplitude of life

Thursday, November 19, 2020 | 3 Kislev 5781   And announcing a new initiative for college students: Campus-at-Camp – at Isabella Freedman – spring ’21. Applications opened today and close December 4th.   Dear All, I’m feeling intensely the amplitude of life right now. One of the things that I learned from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – z”l; who died since last I wrote to this list – is the distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism, he taught, is the expectation that things will get better. Hope, by contrast, lacks that certitude or even that expectation – but it consists of a vision of a better future, and a determination to work to create it. And that is this pregnant moment in human history and in American history. So much that is broken, scary, messed-up, pointed in the wrong direction, alarming. And so much that is good, that presages new possibilities, new building from the wreckage, new structures, new ideas. This is what the Hebrew month of Kislev is. Kislev began two days ago, and it heralds Chanukah, which starts three weeks from tonight. I was talking to a journalist yesterday who wanted to know what the significance of Chanukah was or could be […]

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September 9th, 2029

Thursday, October 15, 2020 | 27 Tishrei 5781 Dear All, The Jewish holidays are over, and the rest of our lives now proceeds. I’ve been thinking about one particular future date that should be in our calendars – and why it should be in our calendars, and how and why we might work backwards from it. September 9, 2029 It’s about nine years from now. That’s a long time for most of us. But not that long. Kids born this year will be starting fourth grade? Bar and bat mitzvah kids this year may be in college. Some of us will be retired, or in new jobs, or new relationships, new cities. And some of us will no longer be here. But Jewish tradition runs long. We sing lecha dodi on Friday nights, and that dates back a few hundred years, to the kabbalists of Tzfat. We learn from the Rambam and Rashi, each living centuries before Shakespeare. We learn about and from the rabbis of the Talmud, and they lived sixteen centuries ago or more. And when we say kiddush on Friday night, or recite the sh’ma, we’re reciting words that have been said continuously for close on twenty five centuries, give or […]

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The fires this time: public goods, the Jewish community, different time horizons

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 | 26 Elul 5780   Dear All, We weren’t going to send an email this week. We figured there’d be enough in your inbox in the days before Rosh Hashanah. But I am prompted by the fires out West to write something I have been thinking about for some while. This isn’t an appeal email, it’s not really a “shana tova” email, but I hope you’ll take a few moments to read it. The fires out west go to the heart of so many of the challenges we presently face, and Covid has provoked its own further re-assessment for us as an organization. We intend that Hazon will come out of this stronger and more focused. But part of that focus is striving to be as truthful as we can about what is possible, what is necessary, and the relationship between the two – for the Jewish community institutionally and for each of us as individuals. What is possible: every single thing we do to help create a more sustainable world is arithmetically close to meaningless. One change in behavior. One fewer plane trip. One donation to NRDC, one vote for the more sustainable candidate. Individually […]

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(A small number of) you are invited to join us for the chagim at Isabella Freedman

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 | 20 Elul 5780   Dear All, These of course will be unique chagim. The shuls and rabbis are preparing hard, and now is a time to send love to every rabbi, to every cantor, to every leader of a minyan, to every leader of a shul. Elbow hugs to everyone. Our own pivot has been parallel. Having trialed small Covid-safe retreats at Isabella Freedman, we are now planning to do small retreats for the chagim. Normally, as you know, part of the essence of Hazon and of retreats at Isabella Freedman is a deep commitment to inclusive community. At Sukkahfest, for instance, there will typically be davening in many different flavors – “orthodox”; “trad egal”; “renewal”; “meditation” and so on. (I use quote marks because each word is only a short-hand and an approximation – often not a very good one – for the davening itself. C’est ca.) This time around – for capacity reasons – we are stacking, as it were, horizontally rather than vertically. So Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuva/Yom Kippur will be liberal orthodox, led by Rabbi Avram Mlotek and Yael Kornfeld; the first yontef of Sukkot will be led by Rav […]

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Rosh Chodesh Elul, the instinct for joy – and a great short video on blowing the shofar

Thursday, August 20, 2020 | 30 Av 5780 | Rosh Chodesh Elul   Dear All, Today is my grandma’s 17th yahrtzeit. Tomorrow, the first of Elul, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. To be honest, we didn’t realize that this was Dad’s birthday until after he died. But in my grandma’s case, her yahrtzeit has always been significant to me. This is because of the fascinating construction of Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s a two-day new moon – today and tomorrow – but today is the last day of Av, and tomorrow, which is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, is the first day of Elul. And so tomorrow is the day we start to blow shofar. To me, my grandma’s yahrtzeit comes to remind me, as it were – tomorrow it begins… And by “it” I mean this whole period, from now through to the end of Simchat Torah, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the twin apex points, in the middle. “It” is a shorthand for “teshuvah, u’tefillah u’tzedakah” – teshuvah, striving to return to our best selves; tefillah, something about looking both within and beyond, for guidance and with gratitude; and tzedakah, not just in the broader sense […]

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Cancel culture & Tisha B’Av

Monday, July 27, 2020 | 6 Av 5780 Dear All, First: 2020 Vision Rides are proceeding; our first Adamah At Home has just completed, very successfully indeed, and two more cohorts are now planned; and you can book an Isabella Freedman Getaway (again, to our delight, the first guests we have had have really loved it.) And in Detroit our work on the ground to get food to people who need it is proceeding apace, and we were gratified to get a grant from the Oakland County Community Response & Recovery Fund to support this work. Beyond these headlines I want to take this moment, in the lead up to Tisha B’Av (this Wednesday night and Thursday), to say a few words on “cancel culture.” But first, a brief digression: rarely across Hazon’s printed materials will you find the word “Judaism.” It’s a word I strive personally never to use. In its place I almost always speak of “Jewish tradition.” This is because “Judaism,” in its very singularity, seems to suggest one thing – one religion, one perspective, one answer. What we are heir to, in fact, is an almost incomprehensibly huge history. Ten years or more for every year […]

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Two ways to feel better this summer (or maybe three)

Thursday, July 16, 2020 | 24 Tammuz 5780 Dear All, Wave upon wave of change and challenge. For the Jewish community, as for the world, there have been overlapping responses since early March. Understanding what this thing was. Changes in behavior, in what you could do, where you could go. A focus on kids, and on parents. A whole series of organizational pivots. Health and human services, people in need. Schools, and what should they do? Summer camps, and could they open? Funding challenges and choices and decisions. Then Black Lives Matter. (Just as the coronavirus didn’t come out of thin air, “BLM” is short-hand for four centuries’ of inequity that needs to be addressed.) I start with this because I want to reiterate a stark omission in this list of priorities. “The climate crisis,” which very few people, and very few institutions, have any bandwidth to think about right now, remains the defining – chronic, life-threatening – issue of our time. We care about the coronavirus because it threatens life and health, and because it challenges our normal life. And we care about BLM because we want to live in a world of equity and justice, and BLM makes clear that […]

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Isabella Freedman: an update, and an invitation

Thursday, June 23, 2020 | Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5780 Dear All, I want to explain how and why Freedman has been closed, and also to invite you to join us for an “Isabella Freedman Getaway” – a 5- or 12-night stay at Isabella Freedman. An amazing opportunity to escape from the city – or wherever you are – and hang out in a beautiful place, with kosher food, space for kids, and great hikes, trails and trips nearby. And I’m delighted, separately, to share with you the launch of a Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman for adults ages 55+, for the week of July 6th – 10th; and to remind you that registration for our first ever cohort of Adamah At Home is now open. We hope and intend that each and all of these will be very special experiences. To learn more about each, click here for Getaways, here for Adamah At Home, and here for Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman. To explain how these three programs arose, I want to give an update on Isabella Freedman in the last four months. On February 25th, we set up a coronavirus task force. On March 3rd, I left Freedman after a superb and impactful Kenissa retreat led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. And on […]

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