The Hazon Rabbinic Advisory Board is a board of rabbis and spiritual leaders who have exemplified their commitment to Hazon, and the mission of building a healthier and more sustainable world for all. These individuals serve on a committee of thought partners for Hazon as it relates to their work with Rabbis and will be the first in touch point for all current and new ideas as it relates to our work with clergy.
- participating in monthly calls
- weighing in periodically on key decisions as it relates to their work with rabbis
- being an active ambassador of Hazon’s work
Advisory Board Co-chairs:
Rabbi Robin Damsky — Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Advisory Board Members:
Letter From Co-Chairs
Shalom and welcome to Hazon’s Rabbinical Advisory Board! We believe that by cultivating nature connection and earth stewardship skills in others we can inspire new advocates and activists for the earth. If you are like us, then you have been worried about the health of our planet for a long time. Now that the climate crisis is in our daily reality, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and give up. The Rabbinical Advisory Board is a place of safety and support that can help us out of overwhelm and into action and community.
We invite you to step forward and join the Hazon Rabbinical Advisory Board to ensure that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren down the line for millennia can share in Earth’s bounty and wonder. We, your co-chairs, Robin Damsky and Aaron Philmus, look forward to walking this journey with you.
I am honored to co-chair Hazon’s rabbinical council. My journey began as a wildlife ecologist and naturalist educator in New Jersey and now I am a homesteading rabbi living on the parsonage by the shul. In my early years I spent countless hours observing nature, journaling, and opening up to the power of Spirit that moves through all things. I felt very close to Native American traditions and also studied in Australia with Aborigines. But eventually, I longed to know about my own ancestral traditions.
At the Arava institute in Israel (another Hazon affiliate), I studied ecology and environmental science with Christians and Muslims during the 2nd intifada. It gave us hope in a dark time to share our love and concern for the earth as fellow human beings. At the Teva Learning Center I was thrilled to be part of a group of spiritually orientated Jews who used experiential education as a form of eco-activism. A few years later, I was a rabbinical student in NYC and participated in the Hazon Food Beit Midrash with my wife (a professional chef and foodie). We participated in Hazon food conferences, bike rides, and Sukkahfests. I have also partnered with the Jewish Initiative for Animals to bring my perspective as a rabbi/homesteader to JOFFEE gatherings.
Living in front of the shul has afforded me the land and location to raise chickens ducks and goats so that my family and community can learn more about where food comes from. Last year I worked with Teva educators to pilot a monthly program for teens. Our synagogue also has a little mitzvah garden to grow produce for tzedaka. Congregants often help me herd the goats around the shul and out to pasture. Shepherding was the original way Yaakov, Moshe, David, and so many other great leaders learned empathy, responsibility, spirituality, and wonder. Raising animals brings us up close and personal with life’s greatest mysteries: birth, reproduction, and death.
It is an honor to be serving as co-chair of Hazon’s Rabbinical Advisory Board. It is a next step that embodies my commitment to our earth and to those of us, whether rock, soil, water, plant or animal, that reside in and upon it. My connection to the earth started young. I started growing plants when I was in junior high. This led to studies in botany with the National Science Foundation, through the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Yonkers, New York. Meanwhile, my mother, at my sister’s and my urging, began the first newspaper recycling facility on Long Island. In time I would bring this work to my rabbinate, fostering green committees, addressing hunger, food justice and climate change, and growing food in and with my congregations.
In 2012 I turned my property into an edible, organic, permaculture landscape. This was the beginning of the nonprofit, In the Gardens, that designs gardens in both faith-based and secular communities throughout greater Chicagoland, North Carolina’s Triangle and beyond. ITG’s purpose is to diminish hunger, employ interns to educate and provide potential career paths, donate food to the hungry, teach the spirituality and sacredness inherent in tending the Garden, and teach meditation, all to increase our connection to this amazing planet that sustains our well being, and simultaneously, enhance our relationships with others to foster the unity that will help us address and respond to the mounting changes in our climate.
As a graduate of the Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training offered by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, I have designed curricular material for retreats and classes that I offer to congregations and communities to assist in fostering/evolving their connection to the earth and social justice initiatives. Through the means of scholar-in-residence programming, the propagation of l’ovda ul’shomrah – to till and to tend – is additionally fostered.
I have been blessed to attend numerous retreats at Isabella Freedman, including one at its early site. Studies with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in its Clergy Leadership Program, the Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training, Hazon’s Rabbis Retreat and more have given me the opportunity to tend the farm, visit the goats, work in the greenhouse, partake of its earth-wise dining experiences as well as experience its caring use of resources and energy. My love of our planet and my concern for its future make me happy to serve as Hazon’s Rabbinical Advisory Board Co-chair.
If you are drawn to this site, Hazon’s mission is likely aligned with yours: to be “tillers and tenders” of the earth based on our original instructions in Bereishit 2:15. Growing food for our communities and for the poor is not just a nice hobby, it is the purest and most direct path to healing ourselves and our planet. Serving as as activists locally and globally is what will preserve our future. By creating more sustainable Jewish institutions we serve as role models for the larger community. The Jewish people are like a keystone species who have had a disproportionate impact on the course of history. Now more than ever, we need rabbis to teach Torah “letaken olam” – in a way that builds nature connection and helps to regenerate our world.
We invite you in as partners in this mission. By joining hands, minds, and hearts, sharing our wisdom and our projects, our successes and disappointments, we can trust in this network to hold us up and boost us forward. Our planet is at a critical juncture. This council serves as a resource for creating classes, sermons, conversations and activism so that we can, in community, protect our future. In the words of Theodor Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream.”