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Topic: Holidays

Utah wedding and portrait photography

Purim: Truths Revealed Over The Past Year by Melissa Hoffman

Many of us anticipated this Purim as the approximate year-marker since our lives changed unimaginably. There’s something apt about the holiday that highlights the topsy-turvy nature of life bookending the beginning — and hopefully the beginning of the end — of the coronavirus in the United States.  Purim represents a time of finding happiness and hopefulness amidst great existential uncertainty. It’s also about hidden truths being revealed to us. In the early months of the pandemic, many of us found joy, paradoxically, in hearing tales and seeing images of rejuvenation and rebirth occurring in nature due to the sharp drop in our own activity. With humans in temporary retreat, wildlife proliferated in formerly abandoned habitats and even occupied urban spaces. As motorway traffic plummeted, a dramatic decline in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions allowed all life to breathe more easily again. We got a glimpse of what it would look like to give the land a long-deserved Shabbat, a respite from our anthropocentric reign. Maybe we caught a glimpse of the truth that’s been drowned out by the busy-ness of our typical, frenetic day-to-day: that slowing down is a good look for the world.  A key lesson we can […]

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Rosh Chodesh Adar, and a preview of the Shmita Prizes

February 11, 2021 | Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar   Dear All, The Hebrew month of Adar, by tradition, “increases joy.” Those who are used to Jewish tradition may take this idea for granted. But underlying it are presumptions that are worth thinking about, not least because they run so counter to contemporary western presumptions. First amongst these is the Jewish idea that we can choose to determine how we feel. In Western life: don’t we just go with the flow? Isn’t it somehow unhealthy to squelch how I’m feeling? In this particular year – of death and sickness and disruption – aren’t we entitled not merely to feel (choose your words) tired / depressed / exhausted / unsettled / lonely / scared / confused or, indeed, just plain slogging-along-and-wondering-if-things-will-ever-get-better…? A contemporary Jewish response would be to say, yes, of course, we should feel what we feel. And in these times especially, it may be important to share how we feel with loved ones, indeed to let it out a little; not be trapped or further bowed down by our feelings. That’s part of it. But the other part is a different kind of Jewish response, sometimes rooted in chasidic tradition. […]

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Thoughts on this Tu B’Shvat

Thursday, January 28, 2021 | Tu B’Shvat 5781   Dear All, One of the questions underpinning the entire Jewish environmental movement is the question: to what end? If we want to make a difference in the world, can’t we – shouldn’t we – just support 350.org, or the Sierra Club? And my answer is that we should – and Hazon, over the years, has partnered with both organizations, and many others outside of the Jewish community. But we’re half way through an 8-part series, learning with Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair about masechet ta’anit, and reading ta’anit closely to develop from it a sense of what a contemporary Jewish climate theology might look like. And in this week’s class, I really did have a deep moment of clarity, which I want to share with you, on Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat, of course, is “the new year for trees.” This year we’re one of the anchor partners for the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, and we hope you’ll join us for one or more of the 160+ sessions that are happening from now through Sunday. One can talk – and we have, and we will – about the history of Tu B’Shvat, how […]

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Light In The Darkness

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 | 28th Tevet 5781   Dear All, Tomorrow night it’s Rosh Chodesh Shvat. The beginning of the beginnings. Next week a new president, a new government. The week after it’s Tu B’Shvat and the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. The almond trees will start to bloom. Then longer days, more sunlight, vaccines… it’s a whole new world. Well – not entirely. Of course we have lives lost, structural racism, pollution and environmental destruction, people still sick from long-Covid. The new president and vice-president are gonna have to clean up a heck of a mess. (Much of it, of course, predating these last four years; too much of it, of course, made worse these last four years.) In any case – we live poised between fear and hope. That is always part of life; it’s just that this last year it has been more so. But the whole point of this season – of all of our new beginnings – is that we actually believe in hope; in an almost theological sense we have the intuition that the first step to recovery, of any sort, is to imagine its possibility. “That’s why vision is so important. We need a […]

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hanukkah

Darkness, and light – from the United Nations

Wednesday, December 9, 2020 | Erev Chanukah   Dear All, First: a huge thank you to every single person who has supported us in 2020. A record number of people supported us on Giving Tuesday. I and we appreciate it. This year we survived, we thrived, we’ve touched people’s lives. And we hope to catapult into 2021 and beyond. If you want to be a stakeholder in Hazon, please click here to give a year-end gift. Second: practically the last thing I did, pre-Covid, was attend a superb Tu B’Shvat gathering in Seattle, organized by Lisa Colton and Rabbi Josh Weisman and a bunch of their friends.  Now with them and with a growing number of partners we’re happy to announce the launch of The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, over Tu B’Shvat in late January – one week after the inauguration. Go to the website for info or – better yet – to propose sessions you’d like to deliver. Third: Campus at Camp looks like it’s happening. Registration closes tomorrow. If you want to join us, click here. The remainder of this email I give over to António Guterres – the Secretary General of the UN. He gave a speech at Columbia University last week […]

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local lulav

Hazon Detroit: Shake Local

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 […]

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sign reading one world

The fires this time: public goods, the Jewish community, different time horizons

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 […]

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high holidays shofar

(A small number of) you are invited to join us for the chagim at Isabella Freedman

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 | 20 Elul 5780   Dear All, These of course will be unique chagim. The shuls and rabbis are preparing hard, and now is a time to send love to every rabbi, to every cantor, to every leader of a minyan, to every leader of a shul. Elbow hugs to everyone. Our own pivot has been parallel. Having trialed small Covid-safe retreats at Isabella Freedman, we are now planning to do small retreats for the chagim. Normally, as you know, part of the essence of Hazon and of retreats at Isabella Freedman is a deep commitment to inclusive community. At Sukkahfest, for instance, there will typically be davening in many different flavors – “orthodox”; “trad egal”; “renewal”; “meditation” and so on. (I use quote marks because each word is only a short-hand and an approximation – often not a very good one – for the davening itself. C’est ca.) This time around – for capacity reasons – we are stacking, as it were, horizontally rather than vertically. So Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuva/Yom Kippur will be liberal orthodox, led by Rabbi Avram Mlotek and Yael Kornfeld; the first yontef of Sukkot will be led by Rav […]

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food festival in a box team

Hazon Detroit: I Am To My Beloved

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 […]

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carly sugar holds a shofar

Rosh Chodesh Elul, the instinct for joy – and a great short video on blowing the shofar

Thursday, August 20, 2020 | 30 Av 5780 | Rosh Chodesh Elul   Dear All, Today is my grandma’s 17th yahrtzeit. Tomorrow, the first of Elul, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. To be honest, we didn’t realize that this was Dad’s birthday until after he died. But in my grandma’s case, her yahrtzeit has always been significant to me. This is because of the fascinating construction of Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s a two-day new moon – today and tomorrow – but today is the last day of Av, and tomorrow, which is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, is the first day of Elul. And so tomorrow is the day we start to blow shofar. To me, my grandma’s yahrtzeit comes to remind me, as it were – tomorrow it begins… And by “it” I mean this whole period, from now through to the end of Simchat Torah, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the twin apex points, in the middle. “It” is a shorthand for “teshuvah, u’tefillah u’tzedakah” – teshuvah, striving to return to our best selves; tefillah, something about looking both within and beyond, for guidance and with gratitude; and tzedakah, not just in the broader sense […]

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cole produce vegetable basket adamah sq

Food, then and now

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 […]

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cedars

Mourning Eternity in the Cedars of Lebanon

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 […]

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Cancel culture & Tisha B’Av

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 […]

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Out of the Crash

Dear Friends, R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av. You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril? […]

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Shiva Asar B’Tammuz

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 […]

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