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Gratitude… and getting ready…

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 22 Av 5779

Dear All,

It’s summertime. This email is full of gratitude and the inspiration to strive to do good in the world.

Years ago I learned from Anna Hanau this line from one of her teachers – you know you’re on the right track when your solution to one problem solves a bunch of other ones.

That’s true of our work in Michigan, epitomized by the Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival – and last weekend we held our fourth, the largest and most successful yet, with over 7,000 people. We’re helping to drive change. We’re helping Jewish organizations to become more sustainable, including the now 20 who are in our Hazon Seal of Sustainability program from the Detroit region. We’re strengthening local food systems. We’re playing a not insignificant role in helping to reconnect the suburbs and the city, and the Jewish community and the African American community, and we’re especially proud of the work we’ve done in supporting Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. And we’re doing all this with love and celebration and Jewish groundedness and openness. So: real gratitude. Huge thanks to our staff and funders, to all our partner organizations, to our volunteers and helpers, to all the purveyors and local food suppliers, and thanks most of all to the people for whom the Food Festival is both the culmination of, and the springboard into, year-round change. You can view photos here.

And then a similar thanks and a similar story to everyone who came to our 14th annual Hazon Food Conference. The Food Conference is at Isabella Freedman (this year was our largest there, ever), and it is both a joyous and learningful event in its own right, and – again – a place of connection, relationship-building, a place where ideas are floated and new things start to come to life. The Food Conference, over the years, has been the starting point for really significant change across the country and the community. It’s where we first schechted (kosher slaughtered) a goat – and began a process to critique industrial meat production. It’s where our shmita work began. It’s where our work on the Farm Bill began. You can view photos from this year’s Conference here.

This year it was our first Food Conference since we landed our strategic plan. We’re maintaining our education, our celebration, our participation. But we’re explicating more clearly and more consistently the extent to which we want to drive real change in the Jewish community around food systems, and especially in relation to industrial meat, industrial dairy, and food waste. These are significant drivers of the climate crisis, pretty much co-equal to the impact of all transportation systems, worldwide. The current stories about burning the Amazon forests – those forests are being burned to graze land for cows, to turn to meat, to ship to the US, and to be served (in some instances) at our forthcoming Rosh Hashanah meals, or at Sukkot, or in our shuls. So this year should really be a year of environmental teshuva – and Rosh Chodesh Elul, next week, comes to remind us of that.

I get a good start to the period of teshuva because Rosh Chodesh Elul, the new month that inaugurates this whole period, is two days. The first of them is actually the last day of Av. So next weekend – Labor Day weekend – Shabbat is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, but then Saturday night and Sunday is the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul but, in fact, the first of Elul. That’s when we start to blow the shofar in the mornings, at Shacharit.

My grandma z”l died on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, 16 years ago, and so I always remember her yahrtzeit, her anniversary, in the form of “oh gosh, today’s grandma’s yahrtzeit, and tomorrow’s the start of the period of teshuva – this is my grandma [as it were] coming to remind me that it is time, once again, formally to commit to being one’s best self, my best self…”

And, as it happens, last year we learned [which I hadn’t actually known, before] that the first of Elul was in fact the day that my father was born.

So…. you have no excuse to not get ready for Rosh Hashanah! You have been warned!

For now – enjoy the summer. Enjoy – I hope – friends and family and good food.

But start to think about the lead up to Rosh Hashanah, which kicks off next weekend – and which includes, this year, the Climate Strike on Friday, September 20th. It will likely be the largest global demonstration, across the whole planet, calling for all of our governments and all of our organizations to really take action at this moment of true crisis. If you’re in any way involved in a school – a teacher, a parent, a board member and most especially a student – you should be planning to walk out that day and, as a Jewish community, come together to call for environmental teshuva for all of us.

One last thank you and invitation. All of our work is made possible by our incredibly generous community of funders. Thanks to each of you that make a gift to us each year. Our continued growth will be possible as this group expands, so please consider joining us again (or even better, for the first time) as you consider your year-end contributions. We’re going to do limited edition hot/cold Klean Kanteen water bottles. We will send a water bottle to the first 50 people who: (a) make a new gift of $180 or more; or (b) increase their annual gift by 10% or more between now and Rosh Hashanah. Best thing to take to shul on a hot day… You can donate here.

Shabbat Shalom,


Nigel