Walking Behind Kindess: Parashat Naso | D’Varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jaclyn Kellner – Coastal Roots Farm; Encinitas, CA

“I’d like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain behind someone who may show me kindness.”

Professional Storyteller Mindy Donner tells the story of Ruth, kiddos help with percussion instrument | photo: Annelise Jolley, Coastal Roots Farm

This statement, from Ruth to Naomi in the Book of Ruth, holds so many aspects of what a Jewish Community Farm can provide. This week’s parsha, Naso, spells out the different functions distinct groups and structures had while traveling in the desert. Naso begins by taking census of and detailing the specific duties assigned to each family line of Levites and ends by listing each tribe’s offering for the inauguration of the alter in the Mishkan.

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of co-organizing a Shavuot Festival at Coastal Roots Farm. Over 300 people attended, of all ages, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It was incredible to see an event have such strong Jewish content and influence while remaining a welcoming and accessible festival to all.

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Shavuot at Coastal Roots Farm

The festival focused on exploring the story of Ruth and on Shavuot’s agricultural roots celebrating the start of the summer harvest.

Participants danced to live klezmer music; learned how to make cheese and tend to their tomato plants; and painted, created, and wore exquisite flower crowns in celebration of the harvest.

Children listened to a storytelling of the Book of Ruth, adults listened to conversation about modern iterations of gleaning and other values from the Book of Ruth and folks of all ages walked our Labyrinth garden, stopping to read cards along the way that told the story of Ruth and gave prompts to help participants think about how the story can relate to their lives. The festival culminated in a parade where we marched with summer fruits and then did a short bikkurim (first fruits) ceremony where everyone fed their neighbor a piece of cucumber!

So what is the story of Ruth? The Book of Ruth, traditionally read by many Jewish communities on Shavuot, tells the story of a family living in ancient Israel. Famine strikes their city and they move to the neighboring country of Moab. The sons marry, then die along with their father, leaving behind Naomi, the matriarch of the family, and her daughter-in-law Ruth. The two then return to Bethlehem. In order to get by as landless returners, Ruth taps into the many systems in place to ensure the disenfranchised are cared for.

Ruth was born and raised in Moab, yet in her time with Naomi and her family Ruth must have learned about all of the Jewish agricultural practices. When they arrive in Bethlehem, it is Ruth, the newcomer and recent convert, who brings up the idea of gleaning.

Painting a still-life of CRF Produce, in partnership with Encinitas Friends of the Arts, using local non-toxic paint | photo: Naimeh Tanha Woodward (Encinitas Friends of the Arts)

I love this book because rather than listing all of the different ancient agricultural practices, as Leviticus and Deuteronomy do, The Book of Ruth tells a story which takes place at a time when all of these practices were in use. One jam-packed quote contains many different practices:

“I’d like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain behind someone who may show me kindness.”

  1. I’d like to go to the fields … Ancient Jewish agricultural practices balance donating food to those in need with equipping those people to harvest their own produce. This provides access not only to food, but to the act of farming and harvesting itself, and gives people the gift of eating food they helped bring to the table. By inviting community members to volunteer or pick their own food, and by bringing groups to the farm for field trips, events, workshops and festivals, Jewish community farms play a significant role in providing access to food and farming.
  2. … and glean among the ears of grain … Gleaning, along with Peah (leaving the corners of one’s field), provide opportunities for folks who are in food insecure situations to have access to food they had a hand in preparing. Community farms are poised to address issues of food access and insecurity. They also empower people to eat food they harvested themselves in a time when the majority of Americans are disconnected from their food’s sourcing.
  3. … behind someone who may show me kindness. In this story, the kindness that Ruth finds while gleaning is related to the Jewish concept of  Oshek, or ethical business practices. Boaz, the landowner, treats Ruth with kindness by caring for her well-being, making sure she has a place to rest, water to drink, food to eat, and a safe work environment.

Wearing a flower crown, shopping at CRF’s Pay-What-You-Can Farmstand | photo: Annelise Jolley, Coastal Roots Farm

Jewish Community Farms are in a particularly unique position within Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education (JOFEE) to infuse kindness and Oshek into both internal and external business practices. As a relatively new movement which is still determining its identity, Jewish Community Farms can decide to identify themselves through treating employees and customers, as well as the earth, with radical kindness.

Jaclyn Kellner is Jewish Farm Educator and JOFEE Fellow at Coastal Roots Farm, where she is responsible for Jewish and other educational programming. Prior to joining Coastal Roots Farm, Jaclyn taught residential Outdoor Education to 4th through 6th graders in Calabasas and Livermore, California. She enjoys spending as much time as possible outdoors getting really excited about things and then getting other people excited about them as well. Check out Jaclyn’s full bio, alongside the rest of the 2017-18 JOFEE Fellows cohort, here

Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly!