Put the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year on Your Calendar

Have you ever dreamed about taking a sabbatical? Well now is your chance. Next year is the Sabbatical year, the Shmita, that the Torah commands us to observe every seventh year. But before you sign up for a cruise, take note that the Shmita of the Torah is not a year off. It is a year to reset our relationship to the earth and to each other. It is the original prescription for sustainability. Shmita calls on us to build communities that are healthy and just in three ways – socially, environmentally, and economically.

With just a few more months until Rosh Hashanah 5775, now is the time to start thinking about how your community will observe the Shmita year. Here are seven ways to get started:

1. Let everyone know that Shmita is coming. A countdown clock is ticking in the main lodge at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

2. Start learning with your leaders. Bring a text about Shmita to your next Green Team, staff, or social action committee meeting. Go to ShmitaProject.org for resources.

3. Introduce Shmita to your community. At Solomon Schechter of Long Island, Rabbi Joshua Rabin prepared a Tu B’shvat seder on the theme of Shmita. Student members of the Environmental Club led their classmates in learning about annual and perennial plants, and the importance of sustainability in agriculture. In February, students and faculty at the Jewish Theological Seminary will participate in a Day of Learning about Shmita.

4. To give the land a rest, the Torah calls for Shmitat Ha’adamah (the sabbatical of the land.) During Shmita no crops are planted. If you don’t have any fields to fallow, what else can you do to care for the earth? Kane Street Synagogue held a kiddush lunch & learn on the topic of Shmita and fracking, the controversial method of drilling for natural gas and oil.

5. Shmitat Ksafim (the sabbatical of money) is the commandment that lenders must cancel all debts in the Shmita year. With no crops to harvest, farmers have no income and can’t pay their debts. Shmitat Ksafim teaches us that a healthy economy depends on a healthy planet and healthy people. What can you do? Slow Money can help you invest in sustainable agriculture, timebanking enables community members to share skills and talents without exchanging money, and Green America helps you support sustainable businesses.

6. To survive the Shmita year, our ancestors had to live on wild and perennial foods. Is there wild food going to waste in your neighborhood? You can harvest that fig tree in the backyard to provide food for needy neighbors. Green Map provides everything you need to map untapped food resources, including a curriculum for teens.

7. The Shmita of the Torah can only be observed in community. For this reason, the Torah assumes it will be applied only in the Land of Israel. In our globalized age, Shmita is an opportunity to build ties with the social justice and environmental movement in Israel. MK Ruth Calderon recently chaired a discussion about Shmita in the Knesset. And the Israeli Shmita Project released an inspiring video. The 14th Street Y invited Dr. Jeremy Benstein, an Israeli environmental leader, to speak about Shmita and Israel’s environmental movement. How can your community partner with Israel to celebrate the Shmita year?

Don’t wait. Now is the time to put the Shmita year on your calendar.

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