Thursday, October 15, 2020 | 27 Tishrei 5781 Dear All, The Jewish holidays are over, and the rest of our lives now proceeds. I’ve been thinking about one particular future date that should be in our calendars – and why it should be in our calendars, and how and why we might work backwards from it. September 9, 2029 It’s about nine years from now. That’s a long time for most of us. But not that long. Kids born this year will be starting fourth grade? Bar and bat mitzvah kids this year may be in college. Some of us will be retired, or in new jobs, or new relationships, new cities. And some of us will no longer be here. But Jewish tradition runs long. We sing lecha dodi on Friday nights, and that dates back a few hundred years, to the kabbalists of Tzfat. We learn from the Rambam and Rashi, each living centuries before Shakespeare. We learn about and from the rabbis of the Talmud, and they lived sixteen centuries ago or more. And when we say kiddush on Friday night, or recite the sh’ma, we’re reciting words that have been said continuously for close on twenty five centuries, give or […]
Topic: Climate Change
Dear Friends, Our rabbis say (Tosafot, Suk. 37b) that when we shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, “the trees of the forest sing with joy.” So that got us to wondering, what are the conditions that might allow the trees around us to sing with the greatest amount of joy during this holiday season that just passed? Every year on Sukkot, the US imports upwards of 500,000 lulavim from Israel and Egypt so that we can construct our traditional lulavim bundles using the familiar palm fronds, willow, myrtle, and citron. This combination of species has become so definitional that most of us probably don’t even consider that a lulav could be constructed any other way. But the original text is not so clear. In Torah (Lev 23.40), where we’re first told about the four species, the text simply says: לְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃ On the first day you shall take the fruit of beautiful trees, fronds of palm-shaped trees, branches of woven trees, and valley-willows, and you shall rejoice before YHVH your God for seven days. Nowhere does it determine, at its linguistic core, the […]
By Becky O’Brien and Janna Siller “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” These words are from the same sage, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Z”L, who taught us to wake up in the morning and feel the radical amazement of being alive, to seek happiness through wonder. It is hard to know which is more elusive: wonder or a means for taking action against terrible wrongs this high holiday season. If we peek around the thick weeds that obscure, both are available to us, even now. Perhaps we can even combine the two, as Heschel described when he spoke of his march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It felt like my legs were praying.” So, what can you do? VOTE! Go to the National Association of Secretaries of State’s “Can I Vote?” page, or do an internet search for “[your county] voter registration,” to ensure that your voter status is what you think it is and what you want it to be. Update if needed. Ballot and election options and details vary across […]
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 | 26 Elul 5780 Dear All, We weren’t going to send an email this week. We figured there’d be enough in your inbox in the days before Rosh Hashanah. But I am prompted by the fires out West to write something I have been thinking about for some while. This isn’t an appeal email, it’s not really a “shana tova” email, but I hope you’ll take a few moments to read it. The fires out west go to the heart of so many of the challenges we presently face, and Covid has provoked its own further re-assessment for us as an organization. We intend that Hazon will come out of this stronger and more focused. But part of that focus is striving to be as truthful as we can about what is possible, what is necessary, and the relationship between the two – for the Jewish community institutionally and for each of us as individuals. What is possible: every single thing we do to help create a more sustainable world is arithmetically close to meaningless. One change in behavior. One fewer plane trip. One donation to NRDC, one vote for the more sustainable candidate. Individually […]
Dear Friends, When this pandemic began it was winter. You may remember it snowing while we were Safer At Home. Winter eventually gave way to spring, as it does, and life bloomed bright while we remained in quarantine. As the months rolled by, the heat quickly picked up and summer kicked into high gear. And now, with Coronavirus still present as ever, fall is here. Our days are getting shorter while the golden hued sunlight mimics the bashful change of leaves. On the Jewish calendar, these subtle changes in light and leaf mean that the High Holidays are just around the corner. Today we find ourselves squarely in the Jewish month of Elul, a month of introspection and penitence that leads up to Rosh HaShanah. We know that this period is one of intensity and spiritual work. We’re reminded of that each day of Elul, when the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown. We know it’s a time of teshuvah (return) and selichot (repentance), illustrated by the cheshbon ha’nefesh (soul accounting) that we’re instructed to do all month. And many of us attend religious services (virtually, of course, this year) more in the weeks ahead than we do the rest of […]
Thursday, August 6, 2020 | 16 Av 5780 Dear All, This week’s sidra, Eikev, is the week that introduced into English (via the King James version) “man does not live by bread alone” and “a land flowing with milk and honey.” It’s the week that lists the seven species – shivat haminim – that are indigenous to the land of Israel, which Bill Slott points out to me every few years as we ride from Jerusalem to Ashkelon on the first day of the Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride. And it includes the second paragraph of the shm’a, linking our behavior to the climate of the world. Food is a recurring motif. Perhaps that was why Ruby Rivlin, President of Israel, chose this week to spend the day helping Leket pack food for people in need. As Joe Gitler subsequently wrote, President Rivlin wasn’t just doing a photo-op. He’s seriously engaged by the topic and thinking hard – and striving to put the weight of his office – behind new ways to help get food to people who are food insecure. But you don’t have to be President of Israel to make a difference. “Pivot” and “swivel” are words-of-this-year, and they encapsulate […]
By Jessica Haller There is one place in the world today where you can touch the grandchildren or perhaps even the sibling trees of the actual trees King Solomon ordered to build the First Temple. The Cedars of Lebanon still stand in Barouk forest, Shouf Biosphere Reserve South of Beirut – a UNESCO World Heritage site. The last 17 square miles remain of the Cedars of Lebanon. They are ancient, tall, wide, amazing specimens. Scientists report that the stand will be extinct by the end of this century. Cutting those trees was Solomon’s first command in Kings 1 when he began instruction to build the Temple. King Solomon knew the trees – as the wisest man in the world, the Navi says he “discoursed” on the trees – and knew their powers. Cedars of Lebanon live for thousands of years. Their wood does not rot, it resists fire, smells wonderful, conducts sound in wonderful ways, and is extremely strong. The Phoenicians used the Cedars of Lebanon to build their ships, and the Egyptians used it for paper. Solomon knew the Cedars of Lebanon would stand forever and chose their wood as the floor and walls of the Temple. Walking through […]
Monday, July 27, 2020 | 6 Av 5780 Dear All, First: 2020 Vision Rides are proceeding; our first Adamah At Home has just completed, very successfully indeed, and two more cohorts are now planned; and you can book an Isabella Freedman Getaway (again, to our delight, the first guests we have had have really loved it.) And in Detroit our work on the ground to get food to people who need it is proceeding apace, and we were gratified to get a grant from the Oakland County Community Response & Recovery Fund to support this work. Beyond these headlines I want to take this moment, in the lead up to Tisha B’Av (this Wednesday night and Thursday), to say a few words on “cancel culture.” But first, a brief digression: rarely across Hazon’s printed materials will you find the word “Judaism.” It’s a word I strive personally never to use. In its place I almost always speak of “Jewish tradition.” This is because “Judaism,” in its very singularity, seems to suggest one thing – one religion, one perspective, one answer. What we are heir to, in fact, is an almost incomprehensibly huge history. Ten years or more for every year […]
Thursday, July 16, 2020 | 24 Tammuz 5780 Dear All, Wave upon wave of change and challenge. For the Jewish community, as for the world, there have been overlapping responses since early March. Understanding what this thing was. Changes in behavior, in what you could do, where you could go. A focus on kids, and on parents. A whole series of organizational pivots. Health and human services, people in need. Schools, and what should they do? Summer camps, and could they open? Funding challenges and choices and decisions. Then Black Lives Matter. (Just as the coronavirus didn’t come out of thin air, “BLM” is short-hand for four centuries’ of inequity that needs to be addressed.) I start with this because I want to reiterate a stark omission in this list of priorities. “The climate crisis,” which very few people, and very few institutions, have any bandwidth to think about right now, remains the defining – chronic, life-threatening – issue of our time. We care about the coronavirus because it threatens life and health, and because it challenges our normal life. And we care about BLM because we want to live in a world of equity and justice, and BLM makes clear that […]
Today is a fast day on the Jewish calendar, known as Shiva Assar B’Tammuz. The Mishnah (a compendium of Jewish oral traditions compiled in the third century) provides five tragedies that happened on this day in Jewish history: It was on this day that Moshe broke the two tablets; the day the tamid, or daily, animal offering was suspended; Jerusalem’s city walls were breached during the Roman siege; a man called Apostumos burned a Torah scroll; and an idol was erected in the Temple. The second “tragedy” – the cessation of the tamid animal sacrifice – is sitting with me this year more than ever as I complete my first year working at Hazon. As I dedicate more and more of my life to asking people to think carefully about the animal products they consume, it’s hard to feel terribly sad commemorating the inability to sacrifice an animal, to see the cessation of animal sacrifice as a tragedy. The name of this particular sacrifice – Tamid – is an important one. The word tamid in Hebrew can mean “forever”, “constantly”, or “routine.” The tamid offering was the mundane sacrifice, the routine one, the one that happened twice a day, every […]
Thursday, May 14th | 35th day of the omer – malchut she’b’hod Dear All, We’re ending the fifth week of this seven-week journey towards the giving of the Torah, and choosing a different kind of freedom. In the world of the kabbalists, today is associated with “malchut she’b’hod.” Hod is about beauty and simplicity and malchut is about getting out into the world and making things happen. So it’s a day to introduce the new Jewish Youth Climate Movement. Anyone under the age of twenty today could reasonably hope to be alive in 2100. What will the world look like then? We don’t know, but the decisions and choices of those of us who are older will decisively impact, for good or for ill, those who are younger. (If you want to see a very intense example of that, check out this chart, showing opinions on Brexit, by age, in the UK, in 2018.) This grows out of our long-term work at Teva, and out of the sense that an organization like Hazon ought to be trying, as much as we can, to support and empower and network the best of our young people. So… I hand you over now to a message from the teen board members of JYCM… […]
Friday, April 3, 2020 | 9th Nissan 5780 Dear All, Seder is one night – in Israel. In chutz la’aretz – ie, outside of Israel – it’s two nights, so next Thursday night is the second night of seder. And for most of the Jewish world, as we know, these two nights are indeed going to be different nights, as we figure out how to do seders by Zoom, or in small (very small) groups, and so on. It will be weird. And there will be lots of riffs on plagues, lots of haggadah supplements to download, and so on. Hazon’s gift to you is a frame for the second night, for Thursday night. Normally, at the end of the evening – with kids running wild, the table in chaos, the meal just finishing, various people conked out because it is so late or they’ve eaten so much or drank so much – right then, we count the omer. No wonder we don’t properly pay attention to it. So our gift to you this year is – don’t bury it. Make it a conceptual focus of your second night seder. The first night – celebrate that you’re alive. That your family made […]
by Renee Ghert-Zand Every year, Ramah campers leave at the end of the summer having learned new things that they can incorporate into their lives at home. It could be more Hebrew, how to chant Torah, or how to do a layup on the basketball court. In the last decade, campers have also been coming away with a heightened awareness and deeper understanding about where their food comes from, and how their eating choices impact their bodies and the environment. “We are trying to lift the veil on where our food comes from,” said Rabbi Eliav Bock, director of Ramah in the Rockies, one of the Ramah camps at the forefront of making its food sourcing more transparent and helping children and young adults make more informed decisions in nurturing themselves and taking care of the earth. Ramah camps, as well as the USY on Wheels summer program, are increasingly incorporating experiential educational opportunities for learning about concepts like organic farming, ethically sourced meat, fair trade practices, farm to table eating, waste reduction, and composting — all couched within the outstanding Conservative Jewish educational framework for which these summer programs are known. A number of the Ramah camps have […]
I get older and my Jewish journey evolves, but almost the only constant is a constantly deepening sense of how amazing the tradition is and how the pieces fit together. I say that because I felt, this year, that I understood – and felt – Sukkot better than I ever have before.
This is our last formal email before Rosh Hashanah. The year ends, the year begins. For Hazon, the year just ending is one of immense gratitude. One says that so lightly, as if it were obvious, but it is absolutely genuine.