One of the great privileges of leading Hazon is that I get to come to Israel with some regularity. This country is a miracle in so many ways. My ancestors prayed towards Jerusalem yet never had the chance to visit Israel, much less to see a third Jewish commonwealth come into existence. Even as the country changes and evolves, I do not take this miraculousness for granted.
But of all the times that I have spent in Israel this trip has been amongst the most remarkable. I have never been so clearly aware of changes in Israel and in the Jewish world as I have these last ten days.
Yesterday and today I’ve been at a gathering convened jointly by leaders of Israel’s government (Bibi Netanyahu & Naftali Bennett) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (Natan Sharansky & Alan Hoffman). It’s been a relatively small group – a little over a hundred people – and quite surprisingly (given the historically stodgy reputation of both sponsoring institutions) the best-facilitated gathering of any sort that I have ever attended.
The freshness in facilitation was more than matched by the content. The historic Israel/diaspora relationship has been imbalanced and, in certain ways, unhealthy. Diaspora Jews derived identity from “support for Israel” and gained meaning in their lives – and to some extent assuaged guilt – by giving money. Israelis welcomed the support financially but in other ways looked down on diaspora Jewish life. (I generalize and simplify, of course, but not wholly inaccurately.)
The purpose of this gathering – to develop a joint Israel/diaspora project, initiated and co-funded by the government of Israel, to strengthen Jewish life and identity around the world – is new and deeply significant. It heralds maturity on all sides, and a deeper willingness to understand that, in the words that precede the sh’ma in the daily davening, we all need both to build and to be built.
It will give you a measure of the tenor of the gathering if I tell you that Bennett – the minister for Jerusalem and for Diaspora Affairs – began his conversation with the group by saying “Israelis have historically seen the diaspora as a source for aliyah, and a big fat wallet. That’s got to change…” Then he talked about how a minyan in Manhattan (George Rohr’s beginner’s minyan at KJ, for those who know it; for those who don’t, you should go…) had a huge impact on him and his wife when they lived in New York. He was, in short, addressing issues of Israel/diaspora relationship in a way very different from the norm, from Israeli ministers, until very recently. Equally unvarnished were the remarks, a few minutes later, from Dr Jonathan Boyd, head of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London. “Many young European Jews,” he said, “feel that Israel has lost its moral compass. But the Jewish people – if we are known for anything – are known precisely for having a moral compass. This problem can’t be addressed via rhetoric; the only way to fix this problem is for Israel indeed to be seen to have a strong moral compass…” And Jon then went on to make his own suggestions for change.
As the two representative quotes above attest, this was a thoughtful and no-bullshit conversation, attended equally by leaders from around the Jewish world and from the senior ranks of Israel’s government. I come away from it inspired, provoked, and more hopeful about the possibilities for change within the Jewish world than for a very long time indeed
And that’s just the last two days. Before that I had a really inspirational time, participating in our Israel Ride. Quite remarkably it was our 13th Ride since the first one in May 2013. In our first ten years we’ve brought well over a thousand people to Israel, and our riders (as well as supporting Hazon) have raised over $2m for the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. If you’re ever feeling down or gloomy about anything – certainly about prospects for the world, or the Middle East – then just go visit Kibbutz Ketura and spend half a day or so with a bunch of AIES students. They are an antidote to almost anything that might ail you: cynicism, bad headlines on the news, economic downturns, boils, blisters, locusts. Ok – maybe not locusts. But pretty much anything else. They come from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the US; Copts, Christians, Moslems and Jews. They disagree with each other spiritedly, but they live together, learn together, sing together, dance together, struggle to cross borders together, and not infrequently attend each other’s simchas. If there were a thousand more of them Israel would be in much better shape. If there were a million more of them the world would be in much better shape. Huge huge thanks to our amazing riders and crew, and to the many of you who have sponsored our riders this year. Your money is doing a great deal of good in the world; but feel free not to take my word for that but rather come to AIES to see for yourself. You are warmly invited. (And you are very warmly invited to join us on next year’s Israel Ride, November 4 – 11 2014, for which registration is now open.)
And before the Ride, I had a series of meetings with key partners of Hazon – the Jewish Agency; Teva Ivri; the Heschel Center; Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair – to talk about different aspects of our work on shmita, the sabbatical year in Jewish life. 18 months ago, Dr Jeremy Benstein and I led a beit midrash about shmita at our Siach conference in the Galil. The ripples of that session continue to spread outwards, in fascinating ways. This next shmita year – the one that begins at Rosh Hashanah in September 2014 – will be a significant one in Jewish life. There is more thought going into it, more questions, more issues, more ideas, than in any previous cycle. For the first time we will go into a full 7-year cycle with real consciousness about shmita through the whole period. People from Siach have met in recent weeks both with Israel’s Education Minister, Shai Peron and the Environment Minister, Amir Peretz. Task forces within the education system to plan for shmita are underway. Conferences are being planned. Ruth Calderon is hosting a gathering of MKs in January to talk about shmita. Kolot hosted a retreat for senior business leaders on shmita. (In New York we’re doing a yom iyyun – a day of learning – on shmita on Christmas Day; save the date.) “Thought-leadership” means, in essence, changing the world through the force of good ideas. Seeing shmita start to come off a dusty shelf and back into the beginnings of day-to-day – certainly year-to-year – Jewish life is profoundly exciting.
So I’m leaving Israel, truthfully, exhausted – but also exhilarated. There has never been a better time to visit this country. There has never been a better time to get involved in an almost infinite number of ways. Jewish identity is changing here quite profoundly. The old/new Hebrew language comes to life in beautiful ways. New bike paths are sprouting everywhere. An indigenous Israeli non-orthodox Judaism is starting to arise. The haredi world is undergoing profound change, to some extent whether it likes it or not. The old train station in Jerusalem has been restored quite beautifully. Arts and culture are thriving – we arrived in Jerusalem to a great new festival I’d never even heard of. Separation of synagogue and state is strongly in the air. In Yerucham, on our Ride, we met the mayor – Michael Biton – who is himself a quite incredible exemplar of the new Israel. (Check out this short video of Michael Biton, Mayor of Yerucham, who spoke to us during the ride about the opportunities for innovative discussions about what shmita can mean in modern Jewish life.) And for various reasons while I was here I ended up visiting two different hospitals, plus a Palestinian (East Jerusalem) kupat cholim: all were outstanding. The Israeli hospital system is an integrated kaleidoscope of languages, clothes and religions, with patients of all backgrounds served by an equivalent kaleidoscope of doctors and nurses.
So, as always, I am sad to leave. It has been utterly remarkable to be here. Thank you to all the people I have met with, ridden with, talked to, learned from. And as we move towards Shabbat, I leave you with these famous and I think prescient words from Rav Kook: “The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified; together, they will become torches that illuminate Zion.” Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so…
Executive Director, Hazon
Leah is going to be one of the featured presenters at this year’s Hazon Food Conference (December 29, 2013 – January 1, 2014) at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the CT Berkshires.
At the conference, you’ll be able to schmooze and learn recipes, cooking tips, and DIY techniques from Leah and other notable chefs and cookbook authors, including Joan Nathan, Gil Marks, and Itta Werdiger-Roth.
Adamah Gift Baskets are now available!
Thanks to support from the Gottesman Fund we are now offering Adamah jams, salve, herbs and artistic goat cards at the Isabella Freedman store and on our website.
Raspberry jam on latkes anyone?
Country mouse or city mouse? Learn and grow and build community at Adamah or Urban Adamah in 2014. Both Adamah Fellowships are three-month residential training programs for young adults (ages 21–31) that combine organic farming, social justice training and progressive Jewish learning and living within the setting of an intentional community. Applications for 2014 Fellowships are accepted and processed on a rolling basis.
A lecture by Dr. Jeremy Benstein, Deputy Director of The Heschel Center for Sustainability.
Join us to learn a visioning process that engages people of all ages in interpreting Shmita for themselves. Hear about existing programs that can be adapted to put the values of
Shmita into action — donating produce from community gardens, creating
local money that keeps resources in the community, co-ops for sharing
expensive equipment, bartering, swap meets, and more.
Sunday, November 17th at 12pm
14th Street Y
– 344 E. 14th Street, NYC
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Greening Fellowship and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
The Creation Care Conference, hosted by Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, features presenters David Wann, Michael Schut, and Bill McKibben, plus a variety of sessions and exhibits over two amazing days. Don’t miss “Adam, Noah and Your Pantry: Judaism and Climate Change” with Hazon and Rabbi Bernard Gerson.
Saturday, April 14, 5-9 pm and Sunday, April 15, 11:30-5:30 pm
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
4500 N. Wadsworth Boulevard, Wheat Ridge, CO
Hazon Philadelphia will be hanging out at the Philly Bike Expo to talk about Hazon’s destination bike rides and the future of biking in Philadelphia. Come say hello and find out how you can get involved in a new, vibrant, Jewish Philadelphia community.
November 9th & 10th
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street,
CA: Hodaya Hoedown
Hodaya means Gratitude… Come enjoy Jewgrass and dancing with super fun band Shamati, scrumptious dessert and drinks, a righteous raffle, and wonderful community, at Wilderness Torah’s year-end fundraising (and barn-raising) party!