From Nigel Savage
February 23rd, 2017 | 27th Shvat 5777
There’s a lot going on.
In recent weeks I was at the Jewish Community Farming gathering at the Leichtag Commons in Encinitas – one of the best gatherings of its sort that I have ever attended. A clear sense of a field that is deepening and broadening, with strong leadership from Andrew Gurwitz and Charlene Seidle, amongst others.
In Boulder I got to see the extraordinary new JCC – home to Milk & Honey Farm, making it the first JCC in the country to open with an integral educational farm. Kudos to two generations of the remarkable Weaver family for making that happen, plus Jonathan Lev and the Boulder JCC team and active hands-on support from the amazing Julie Shaffer. And a beautiful Tu b’Shvat seder, starring twins – Gabrielle & Noah Shapiro – who were celebrating their bar and bat mitzvah that Shabbat. The best hope for the world, I often feel, is some of the truly inspiring young people that I get to meet.
In Detroit I held meetings with communal leaders and rabbis, which was fascinating and thought-provoking. And we hosted a phenomenal Tu b’Shvat seder, headlined by the remarkable Dr. Abdul el-Sayed – a Rhodes Scholar who at 30 is head of the City of Detroit’s Health Department (and who, just a couple of days before the seder, and long after we’d invited him to speak, announced he was running for Governor of Michigan.)
And it’s not just that Hazon’s Tu b’Shvat materials have been used all over the place; we’re delighted that communities are signing up for the Hazon Seal of Sustainability; 20-somethings are signing up for Adamah; our Teva team is growing; and, this week, we welcomed our second cohort of full-time JOFEE Fellows. At Isabella Freedman we’re making plans to replace the beds, just one practical improvement amongst many that are in the works. Hazon’s board signed off earlier this month on a master planning process for Freedman. Between now and September 2022 – the end of the current shmita cycle – we hope to substantially rebuild the campus.
And people are starting to make plans for the shabbatot of Parshat Shmini (April 22nd, aka Earth Day) and Tazria-Metzora (April 29th, aka the People’s Climate Mobilization). If you want programming ideas, visit hazon.org/advocacy or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have great ideas – let us know. We’re liaising with 350.org, which, along with dozens of other partner organizations, is coordinating the marches. There are local 350.org chapters around the country, and we warmly invite you to join one, and to do so – if you’re Jewish – as an active member of the Jewish community.
Amidst all this activity I was at a conference last weekend with, amongst others, Father Jeffrey von Arx, one of the (many) Jesuit priests who gives religion a good name and Wes Granberg-Michaelson, for 17 years the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. Apropos of nothing and everything Wes said, “my motto at the moment is: when they go low, we go deep.”
When they go low, we go deep.
I thought it was a lovely phrase, and it captured for me a piece of this moment. We’re part of multiple overlapping eco-systems, and no one person and no one organization can change the world by ourselves. But to the extent that we live in an imperfect world the onus is on each one of us to do all that we can to make things better. As citizens we have the right and perhaps the obligation to engage in the political realm. As human beings we have multiple frames, of which politics is just one. “Going deep” I take to be an injunction to be our best selves; somehow to step up and slow down, at the same time.
A few last words:
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This weekend we have a kabbalah retreat with Rabbi David Ingber and Shir Yaakov Feit. It will be a very special weekend, and if you want to come up at the last minute, we still have a few slots available.
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One last thought. This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim (“laws”): Shmot (Exodus) 21:1 to 24.18. It’s one of the great parshiot. You could spend a lifetime happily and productively studying this parsha and its commentaries. It contains injunctions about shmita. It contains “an eye for an eye..” (which Herman Wouk rightly describes as an ultimate liability clause, seeking to limit liability and end blood feuds). It includes “love the stranger, because you were strangers…”
It contains an injunction to help your enemy’s donkey. I spent many months learning the commentaries on this with Rabbi Mickey Rosen z”l. If you want to understand the radical commitment on the part of the Torah to acting on the notion that each person is uniquely endowed with inalienable rights, just try translating your enemy’s donkey into 2017: imagine that you’re (for instance) a Democrat, and you see up ahead of you a car, pulled over, hood up, it’s broken down, looks like the driver needs some help, and you slow down… and the car is festooned with Trump stickers. Do you stop to help out?
And – no – Republicans are not or should not be the enemy of Democrats, and vice versa. I’m simply making the point that the Torah insists – over and over – that we accord respect and help to those with whom we disagree. Helping your enemy’s donkey is as much about the relationship with the person as much as it is with the donkey. The challenge of a healthy community is not how we relate to our friends but how we relate to those who are not our friends.
So… when they go low, we go deep. Or we try to. Shabbat shalom.
PS I met someone recently who’s been on a news fast for several years. No NPR, no newspapers, no magazines, no Facebook. He’s not an ascetic: he has a busy career and a wife and two kids. His view was: “If something’s important enough, I’ll hear about it.”
I was fascinated. Even on Shabbat we get a newspaper delivered. If, as planned, I take a summer sabbatical later this year, I’d like to try to be offline for a while. We shall see whether I can really do that.
But that’s an amazing idea, right? If you’ve tried a news fast for any length of time, let me know how that was for you.