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Hakhel Israel Trip – Communities of Israel

Reflections from Hakhel’s Israel Tour by Sephirah Stacey Oshkello

At the beginning of November, members of Living Tree Alliance traveled to Israel with 20 other leaders of Jewish intentional communities in North America as part of Hazon’s Hakhel Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator Program. In the seven glorious days of our seminar we visited about 11 mission-driven communities and 6 projects, across Israel (map here) to learn from their successes and challenges.

Through this journey, it has become evident that Living Tree Alliance is part of a growing movement of Jewish organizations around the world that are inspired to Redefine Community, Rejuvenate Land, and Revitalize Culture.

This movement is about re-connecting people to the ancient teachings and traditions of Judaism that allows for a more meaningful life embedded in community filled with a deepening of relationships, creative expression, and connection. This movement provides innovative antidotes to modern society’s isolated individualism. With your incredible support through the years, and the collaboration of many local and international organizations, Living Tree Alliance has grown from a concept in 2010 to serving as a leader in this movement at home and abroad.

Building meaningful, intentional Jewish community, connected to the land, inspired me to pilgrimage to Israel in 1994 to explore and learn from Kibbutz life. At that time many kibbutzim were going through changes with lots to glean from what historically worked and what needed updating. What a blessing to be back in Israel 25 years later, to learn more about the history of this movement and it’s evolution through innovative community organization and the emergence of urban Kibbutzim. Many Kibbutz share cars, shopping, and child minding which allows for deeper connection to one another as well as time saving and ecological benefits. Living Tree Alliance is deeply influenced by this way of life which is filled with interconnectedness and support. Below are a few highlights of our journey as they relate to the mission of Living Tree Alliance – to Redefine Community, Regenerate Land, and Revitalize Culture.

Redefining Community – Non-Violent Communication – With inspiration, we had the privilege to meet with a group called Roots that is looking at new ways to manage the overwhelmingly complicated Israel-Palestine issues. The organization, Roots, gives me great hope for humanity. Individuals from Jewish settlements in Gush Etzion and Palestinian refugee camps in Bethlehem are meeting to build relations among each other, by learning to listen and understand one another. They each shared their connection to this historical piece of land, and agreement that there is no easy answer to this problem. I left this meeting with tears and a full heart! I am impressed with the wisdom we can all glean from learning how to BE together and understand one another, before coming up with solutions. The lessons of learning to truly listen to and understand one another are valuable for all types of community, and affirm Living Tree Alliance’s commitment to non-violent communication and the value of deeply listening to one another.

Regenerating Land – Earth Based Spirituality –Another community that we visited that deeply touched me was the Ethiopian community in a town called Gedera. A beautiful young man shared his people’s history of living in Ethiopia for 2500 years. I am overcome by the yearning that runs through so many Jewish cultures and traditions for dwelling in Jerusalem and yet identify with the current yearning to bring back the ways of the traditional villages they left. The Israeli government welcomed the Ethiopian Jewish community with open arms but did not provide them with opportunities to reproduce the lifestyle they were used to in Ethiopia for so many generations. Ethiopian Jews were encouraged to assimilate into Israeli culture and this did not work out well for many. Thirty years later the Ethiopian youth understand the current issues in their communities and are taking it upon themselves to bring back their holistic cultural, traditional ways. Building community vibrancy with connection to one another, land, food, rituals, and tradition is important work for this Ethiopian community, as well as for Living Tree Alliance. Both our communities are motivated to regenerate land with traditional foodways and cultural rites that bring a more meaningful and nourishing life.

Revitalizing Culture – Arts and Education Activism – On the social and economic periphery of Israel, we witnessed young people motivated to add vibrancy and culture to places outside of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These areas of the country are in need of culture, jobs, and revitalization. They are being settled by young artists and entrepreneurs who understand new models of bringing life to place through connection, art, and tradition. One example is the group called Tarbut in Afula, where a group of inspired young artists is revamping the town by bringing cultural events to the dilapidated old market. These young artists are connecting with the local people (young and elder) to understand what the community believes will help revitalize their village. They are finding ways to collaborate and are fixing up the city center by bringing art, positive messages, locally crafted merchandise, and exciting cultural events. These efforts have led to decreasing crime, increasing jobs and providing meaningful avenues for people to gather together. Living Tree Alliance is excited to emulate their ways by working with local artists in our community and to continue to engage the community in meaningful events that bring people together and add to a local revitalization of culture.

Like the braids of a challah, the three strands of Living Tree’s mission create a unified whole that is at once inclusive and unique. As we realize the incredible successes of our first phase of work in establishing our non-profit education and festival initiatives, we are presently launching into focused effort on building our cohousing community. We are creating a life together where we share resources and support, and where, together, we can explore the rhythms of Jewish life within a modern world. With the environmental, social, and sustainable impacts of co-housing, we look forward to welcoming people to engage in this way of life with us. The permitting is complete, three of our seven units have sold and we have four units available for sale on our modern kibbutz in Vermont. We invite you to become a partner in our initiative by contributing financial support to our engaging programs, becoming a resident member of the co-housing community, volunteering on our community farm, or participating in our enrichment programs. For those of you who have supported us to date, it has become evident that your support is having a sort of butterfly effect where the values that we share are resonating throughout the Jewish community.