by Liora Lebowitz, Jewish Farm School, Philadelphia, PA
Parashat V’zot Haberachah + Sukkot & Simchat Torah
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!
Together with the holiday of Simchat Torah, V’zot Haberacha, the final parsha of the Torah, marks the transition from the end of a cycle to beginning anew. From beginning to end, the readings of Torah follow the Jewish calendar, and there are strong parallels between the cycle of the Jewish calendar and the corresponding seasonal and agricultural cycles of the year. During Simchat Torah, we ready ourselves to read the final parsha of the Torah – to celebrate our accumulated knowledge and wisdom – just to launch back into a completely new cycle by starting back at the beginning of the Torah. In the parsha, we witness the final moments of Moshe before his death as he gives blessings to each individual tribe, who as a whole make up the nation of Israel. I find it beautiful that in this text each tribe is given its own unique blessing. For example, the tribe of Joseph (sometimes broken into the “half” tribes of Ephraim and Menasheh) is associated with Tishrei and Chesvan, the rainy winter months of the Hebrew calendar, and is blessed with the bounty of rain. The tribe of Issachar, associated with the month of Iyar (mid-spring), is blessed with success in Torah studies.
At Jewish Farm School, we are now harvesting the final fruits and vegetables of the fall and readying the land for the next season of growing and abundance. As each of the twelve tribes offers a unique strength and characteristic to the nation of Israel, Jewish Farm School attempts to honor each of the twelve months of our year and the agricultural landmarks that occur over this cycle. Much like each tribe receives a blessing based on its individual characteristics, each of Jewish Farm School’s different programs seek to feed a different part of our mission as a nonprofit organization. We celebrate the parallels and intertwining of the Jewish and agricultural cycle with programmatic abundance. Here are some highlights:
Our Philly Farm Crew program acts as a part of our mission to engage with the food justice system in Philadelphia. I have had the privilege of visiting and volunteering with a handful of local farms around Philadelphia, many of which I regularly coordinate volunteer times with. It has been amazing to get to know the farmers who run these spaces and to witness the growth and production over the season. I hope for the blessing of continuing to have volunteers who want to support these farms which are actively changing the food system in Philadelphia by providing fresh produce to local communities, sometimes in spaces where there are limited options.
Our Shtetl Skills programming encompasses Jewish Farm School’s mission of sustainability with workshops that teach skills to help us live more sustainably in our own homes. This fall alone we have hosted two urban medicinal plant walks, a mushroom growing workshop, and a seed saving workshop, with more to come. It has been wonderful to not only be able to participate in these workshops that attract and engage many different members of our local community, but also to have learned tangible new skills myself. I hope for the blessing of continued learning and the ability to make a shift in our lives that better benefits our earth.
The bulk of our Jewish holiday based programming has yet to happen, and in fact, this upcoming Sunday marks the first annual Sukkot Harvest Festival put on by Jewish Farm School. An event such as this represents our mission of engaging with earth-based Judaism, in this case by celebrating the holiday of Sukkot on a farm. This event is special for a number of reasons: first, it is always exciting to celebrate Sukkot. Second, this program reaches beyond our usual member base and invites participants of all ages and backgrounds to join us in this celebration. Third, this program is different because instead of taking an activity about food or farming and relating it to Judaism, we have the opportunity to take a Jewish holiday and place it on a farm to show the tangible Jewish connections to our fall harvest. I hope for the blessing of being able to impact and enhance the experience of Sukkot for the members of the community that join us this Sunday, and to begin a tradition that will continue to mark the end of the Torah and agricultural cycle for years to come.
With these final blessings we close this year’s cycle and ready ourselves to launch into the next one. Much like the plants in the ground, the cycle is always happening. Energy is stored in seeds and soil until a plant is ready to bloom and we are able to harvest its bounty. Similarly, we are always in our own cycle of life and Torah, reading another portion of the Torah each week until we too are ready to bloom and harvest – particularly during the pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot when we ready ourselves “to see and be seen before the face of G‑d.” Here at Jewish Farm School we will continue to connect the simultaneous cycles of which we are a part of and to honor the parallels of our earth and of our Torah.
Liora is a JOFEE Fellow and the Program Coordinator for Jewish Farm School. After a brief rejection of nature-related activities in her teen years, she reconnected with the Jewish eco-world through her work at Eden Village Camp and as a member of the 2015 Fall cohort of Teva educators. See her full bio here.