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Topic: Holidays

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The British general election, Tu B’Shvat and Richard Powers

By Nigel Savage Tuesday, January 28, 2020 | 2nd Shvat 5780 Dear All, What does Tu B’Shvat mean in 2020? It’s a deeper question than it may at first seem. It’s the “new year for trees.” And we indeed associate it with trees and fruits and perhaps a Tu B’Shvat seder. Ok – but beyond that? Answering this involves a certain kind of leap of faith. (It is not for me a theological leap. If I had to make a theological leap I’d barely get across a little puddle…) It’s a leap of faith in relation to the deep wisdom of an ancient tradition, in our unsettled post-postmodern age. We have to assume – and trust – and somehow really believe – that Jewish tradition isn’t just for kids. It’s not about the formal structures of Jewish life or responding to antisemitism or leaning in to Israel or any of those things. Such things may come from faith in the wisdom of Jewish tradition, but they can’t drive it. When they do our soil becomes depleted and we use the equivalent of pesticides or other interventions as a quick fix; and, as we are all learning, quick fixes like that […]

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Ora Weiss

The Month of Tivet: Miracles Large and Small

By Rabbi Ora Weiss The Hebrew month of Tivet, so dark.  Even though the longest night has recently passed, the small increments of light are not yet discernable to us.  The sense of the month is just ongoing darkness, and the cumulative effect is hard for some. Difficult times often push us to change, to seek ways of understanding, or of coping, that in easier times would be rejected outright.  As Hanukah continues into the first days of Tivet, it brings just such a message of change, one which we haven’t fully acknowledged.     Let’s start with a story, my story.  I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that shows up only in the darkest months.  Many people in northern latitudes have some reaction to the loss of light when the nights grow longer: increased eating, increased sleeping, grouchiness.  With SAD, these symptoms are intensified. 20 years ago, for a couple of years, I took antidepressants in the winter months. They worked, but I hated taking them.   The next year, upon mentioning to my spiritual director that I was starting to need the medicine again, she suggested that I first try adding to my morning meditation […]

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Sukkahfest Reflections

By Toby Shulruff My family and I live in Portland, Oregon – which is both geographically and symbolically out on the edges of American Jewish life. My husband and I work outside of Jewish community. Our neighborhood is a little oasis of diversity in the very white northwest –our neighbors are from all over the world, often recent immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. I love raising my kids to know all our neighbors, and at the same time, it makes our connection to Jewish life all the more precious. Finding a Jewish community for our family took a long time. Though Portland might sound like the frontier, it actually has more than eight shuls, a Jewish museum, and even an Unshul! But for my family, we want the Torah learning of the Chasidim, with the social justice of Heschel, with a heavy dose of Earth-based mysticism, gender equality and pluralism, interfaith connection, and lots of kids, all in an atmosphere of profound joy and ecstatic music. We have a hard time finding a home even when we are at home. Coming to Sukkahfest at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut is a return to […]

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What Sukkahfest Means to Me

By Rhonda Greif Upon entering Isabella Freedman you are greeted by a warm welcoming wooden sign “We are blessed by your arrival.” This just about sums up the overall feeling of good cheer that surrounds Sukkahfest from beginning to end and stays with you long after you have physically left the grounds. Sukkahfest is truly a unique experience. After having just returned from #5, I’m excited to share what Sukkahfest means to me and my family.  Five (5) focuses for Five (5) Sukkahfest celebrations: Sukkat Shalom. This is the focal point of the entire stay and is decorated simply but beautifully. From that first evening, you are enveloped by the soft lighting which invites you in and makes you feel right at home.  Farm-to-Table. Food at Isabella Freedman is incredible. A delicious variety of meat, chicken and fish (and vegetarian), tons of amazing vegetables, great soups plus seemingly endless bottles of both red and white wines and yummy challah (don’t forget the honey).  Fall Foliage. The natural beauty of the area enhances the Sukkahfest experience tenfold. One of my favorite activities is just walking on the road towards the Adama farm and the small quaint town nearby admiring the gorgeous […]

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leah palmer

The Ashamnu Prayer in the Year of Environmental Teshuva

Yom Kippur 5780 An Invitation by Leah Palmer, Hakhel Administrative Director The “ashamnu” prayer from the Ashkenazic Yom Kippur service is once of the most iconic moments of the High Holiday prayers. The congregation stands in silence, beating their chests in regret for a list of sins which appear in the book in front of them. A list canonized several centuries ago. A list containing a number of words I’d need to look up in a dictionary- which themselves are a translation of Hebrew words normally considered to be synonyms of each other. Many a rabbi has explained that even if you personally have not committed each of these sins (personally, I’ve not spent a lot of time trespassing this last year, but that’s just me), we are repenting for the Jewish people as a whole. Whilst this is a nice explanation, I know that I’m far from perfect, and would like to spend some time on Yom Kippur repenting for the things that I actually have done.  Whilst reading this prayer in preparation of Yom Kippur I was surprised to find myself relating line after line to by regrets over my poor stewardship of the environment, so I started […]

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L’dor Va’dor: Important Hazon Seal News for Elul

Dear Hazon Seal sites, This month of Elul, as you reflect back, wrestle with personal and communal accounting, and contemplate the future, Hazon is here to support your personal and communal goals for environmental teshuva. What is teshuva? What is environmental teshuva??  All good questions. Read about it here. And don’t miss Nigel’s message at this important time of the year, and at this critical moment in human existence. There’s so much coming up, multiple opportunities to bring your home, your immediate circles, and your communities closer and more connected. We invite you to walk more gently on this earth with respect and appreciation for its fragile balance – and to inspire others to follow you. So ask yourself, and your neighbor: How will your community make 5780 the year of environmental teshuva? Here are some suggestions, and stay tuned for more to come this month. Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom, Merav P.S. Please remember to log into the Hazon Seal Portal at seal.hazon.org to explore resources, make sure you are on top of the program deadlines, and find all program related information.  For any questions email us seal@hazon.org.  September 20: Global Climate March L’dor va’dor: Generation to Generation Protecting Creation Young people around the world have been striking […]

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leah palmer

Hakhel Blog: Leah Palmer

Several years ago, I was in shul on the morning of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the Rabbi stood up to speak. They opened with: “What is the difference between the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, and the New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December?” This was apparently the opening to a Jewish joke, but I never caught the punchline because the question itself landed me deep in thought. On both occasions, we reflect on the year gone by, gather with friends or family, overindulge and promise that next year will be better. In my eyes, the crucial difference is that on the 31st of December, we promise ourselves to do better, to make better decisions, to think about others, whatever it might be. On Rosh Hashanah, we promise these things to someone who will hold us accountable. And I think that is a great thing. The days after Rosh Hashanah are Judaism’s response to the January ritual of taking out a gym membership only to never actually rock up. To buying all the gear for starting a new hobby, but never getting around to taking it out of the box. To buying a bespoke planner […]

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Rosh HaShanah for Animals by Rabbi Aaron Philmus

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5779 By Rabbi Aaron Philmus Temple Torat Yisrael, Rhode Island Sheep, goats, cows, camels and donkeys… Domesticated animals get almost as much air-time in the Torah as people do, yet we so rarely reflect on our relationship with them. We may have a soft spot for dogs and cats, but what about the animals that feed us and clothe us every day? What about the animals that give us parchment for Torah, wool for Tallit, and skin for tefillin? The Mishna tells us that along with Rosh Hashanah for the people and the trees, there is also a New Year for the tithing of animals on the 1st of Elul called Rosh HaShanah La-Behemah. Elul is also a time of cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), so when we hear the blast of the ram’s horn, let us attune ourselves to the cries of the animals who cannot advocate for their own welfare. As I type these words, my goats are crying out for me to take them on a walk in the woods. I can hear my chickens alarming, “buk buk buk buh-GAHK!” When I look out the window, there is a mob of crows dive-bombing […]

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Inner and Outer Climate Change by Rabbi Robin Damsky

Earth Etudes 2019 Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5779 By Rabbi Robin Damsky inthegardens.org Durham, NC It’s been a year of change. Not just a move, but a move to a new climate zone and a very new culture. I moved from outside Chicago to Durham, NC – the South. The trees here are glorious – pines everywhere, wisteria in April blooming in the wild, crepe myrtle in vivid fuchsia and pale pastels just now. It’s hot. Average days are in the 90s and one can almost swim in the humidity. A long growing season brought daffodils in February, while I just set my second planting of pole beans. I’ve been graced by many a critter – my welcome basket was in the form of a 10-inch turtle on my front steps. I see many toads, frogs, and praying mantises. The hawk that sits in my front tree visits regularly; as do so many species of birds that I hear and see living within the forest in my backyard. In a Dorothy moment, I would say to Toto: “We are definitely not in Kansas (Chicago) anymore.” Being in this location with so much nature around me is a balm down deep. Yet […]

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Getting in Sync with the Treasure of Elul by Rabbi Ora Weiss

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5779 By Rabbi Ora Weiss Restorative Judaism Boston, MA One of the great gifts of Judaism is its exquisite ability to teach us to tune in and use the energy of each month. The energy of Elul offers us unique support. But, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when we speak of energy – so, a short explanation: Everything – and I mean everything – is energy. Just in different forms, and different frequencies. When I say frequency, it is that everything is vibrating at different rates. The different forms of energy include matter – such as the earth (remember E=mc2? – matter is just densed-down energy), light, humans and thoughts. Time itself is not homogeneous, but rather flows with different qualities of energy, different frequencies, at different times. Judaism recognizes that each month has different energies and qualities. The Bnei Yissaschar notes that chodesh – month – can be understood as chidush – renewal, (or, even entirely new!) That is, something new comes into being with each month, different flows of energy from God given to us to affect change and growth. Elul has a very special energy: it gifts us with a […]

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Gratitude… and getting ready…

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 22 Av 5779Dear All,It’s summertime. This email is full of gratitude and the inspiration to strive to do good in the world.Years ago I learned from Anna Hanau this line from one of her teachers – you know you’re on the right track when your solution to one problem solves a bunch of other ones.That’s true of our work in Michigan, epitomized by the Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival – and last weekend we held our fourth, the largest and most successful yet, with over 7,000 people. We’re helping to drive change. We’re helping Jewish organizations to become more sustainable, including the now 20 who are in our Hazon Seal of Sustainability program from the Detroit region. We’re strengthening local food systems. We’re playing a not insignificant role in helping to reconnect the suburbs and the city, and the Jewish community and the African American community, and we’re especially proud of the work we’ve done in supporting Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. And we’re doing all this with love and celebration and Jewish groundedness and openness. So: real gratitude. Huge thanks to our staff and funders, to all our partner organizations, to our volunteers and helpers, to all the purveyors and […]

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A Real Question

by Nigel Savage Thursday, June 13, 2019 | 10th Sivan 5779 Dear All, Do we strive to change the world through fear or through a positive vision? This is not a fake question, or the set-up for an obvious answer. I’m more confused by this question, at the moment, than at any time in my life. I used to feel that the answer was “through a positive vision.” The word hazon is Hebrew for vision, and our name symbolized this view. Yes, we needed to tackle complex and depressing issues; but we would do this by inspiring people, and by sharing a positive vision for change. And now I’m not so sure. Most people most of the day simply get on with our lives. This is the nature of being human. It’s rare that there is an acute incident – a heart attack, a traffic accident, a major fire, an act of terrorism in our own community – that really cuts through normal daily life. Other than that we toggle between obligations and celebrations, work and play, family and friends and work and study. But the climate challenge that faces the world right now is absolutely real, and it is worsening. A report from […]

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Hakhel Blog: Aharon Ariel Lavi

by Aharon Ariel Lavi This week we start reading Sefer Bamidbar, also known as “The Book of Numbers.” A strange name for a book, is it not? It derives from the fact that the first portion of the book, as well as other parts later on, deal primarily with counting, classifying and organizing the People of Israel back in the Sinai desert. The text gives a pretty detailed account of the numbers of men in each tribe, and using some simple calculations we can estimate that anywhere between 4-6 million Hebrews lived in the world at the time. The funny thing is that after this general census it was actually forbidden to count the People of Israel again, so the exact number of Hebrews, and later Jews, will remain a mystery. However, Jews don’t always do as they’re told, right? About 500 years later, King David made another census and was severely punished for violating this law (Chronicles I, 21). If we use the same kind of calculation we will find that the nation has pretty much multiplied itself, to 8-9 million people. Do the math, and you will discover that under normal conditions the Jewish people should have been […]

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