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Topic: Reflections

Getting down to bedrock

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 14 Sivan 5781   Dear All, Many of the arguments that divide contemporary Jewish life come down to different readings of what it means to be Jewish. I want to offer some of my own thoughts on this. Before I do, let me preface these remarks with the reminder that Hazon, institutionally, doesn’t take “positions” on things. You can support Hazon, or work for Hazon, or attend any of our programs, whether you agree with what I write here, or disagree, or for that matter are baffled by what I write. In these emails I am thinking through some of the things that animate my own work, and sometimes providing context for things we do or don’t do, but you’re entirely free to disagree with anything I write. I strive to respond politely and thoughtfully to every person who replies to one of these emails, and I know from that experience that the range of views on a list as long as Hazon’s is considerable. Which is as it should be. And so to our current struggles. It may be that to be Jewish is to (a) strive never to distinguish between one human being […]

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Shmita & Parshat Behar Bechukotai 5781

Please enjoy this week’s video newsletter message. Full text transcript is below.  We were thinking we might try and send out some videos as well as just written words, and this week’s parsha seemed like a great time to begin. (Leviticus 25:1) “Vayedaber adonai el moshe behar sinai leymor,” “And God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai saying” “Daber el bnai yisrael”, “Speak to the children of Israel,” “V’amarta elehem,” “and say to them,” “Ki tavo el haaretz asher ani noten lachem,” “When you come to the land which I give to you,” “Veshavta haaretz shabbat laadonai,” “The land should be at rest, a shabbat for God,” “Shesh shanim tizra sadecha,” “six years sow your field,” “V’shesh shanim tizmor carmecha,” “Six years gather from your vineyard,” “V’asafta el tvuata,” “And harvest your produce,” “U’v’shana hashviit,” “And in the seventh year,” “Shabbat shabbaton,” “It should be a full shabbat,” “Shabbat shabbaton yihiyeh la’aretz,” “for the land,” “Shabbat ladonai,” “And a Shabbat for God,” “Sadcha lo tizra,” “Don’t plant your fields,” “V’charmcha lo tizmor,” “Don’t prune your vineyard.” Later on, by the way, in the same parsha, famously, we’ve got (Lev. 25:10) “V’kidashtam at shnat ha’chamishim shana” “You should sanctify the fiftieth year,” “U’kratem dror […]

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Different Jewish narratives in relation to place

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 | 24th day of the omer – tiferet she’b’netzach   Dear All, Tomorrow is Earth Day, and there’s lots happening. I hope you will attend some of the many events that are taking place, including our second annual #SoundTheCall. And tune in this Friday for the first episode of a new 6-part series that we’ve produced with EarthX – Jewish Life & Planet Earth. I wrote two weeks ago about Earth Day as a “secular chag.” My point was that it makes sense for us to use ritual, and to leverage the calendar, to really think about how we live on this planet – and how we change how we live upon it. Last week at our staff meeting I took this in a different direction. There are essentially three different contemporary narratives for someone who (for instance) is Jewish and thinking about relationships to ha’aretz – to the earth. I want to sketch these out, for us all to think about. One is Israel – the land of Israel, and nowadays the state of Israel. It’s where we entered human history. Our synagogues face towards it. Three times a day, we point ourselves in its direction – […]

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Earth Day as a secular chag

Thursday, April 8, 2021 | netzach she’b’gevurah    Dear All, It’s Earth Day two weeks from today. This prompts me to think about Earth Day as the secular equivalent of one of the festivals of Jewish life. Doing so helps us to better understand both Earth Day and the Jewish calendar. In a theological sense I’m not a believer. If emunah is translated as faithfulness, then I strive to be a faithful Jew; but if it signifies actual faith, then I am a doubter, to put it mildly. (If I had to describe my theological orientation it would be in a phrase that Rabbi Art Green used many years ago – a spiritual humanist. This was a riff on the notion of a secular humanist – which I’m not, despite my absence of emunah. Art himself, a few years after he introduced this phrase, published Radical Judaism. In a marvelous moment, I was chairing a session, I think at Limmud, where he was speaking. In the Q&A I said to him, “Art, you wrote this great essay on spiritual humanism a few years ago, which had a big impact on me. But now you don’t sound like a spiritual humanist, you […]

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The Economy, Krugman, Healthcare, Pesach – and Power, Ethics & Ecology in Late Jewish Antiquity

March 18, 2021 | 5 Nissan 5781    Dear All, The whole world we live in, right now, is “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Everything happens simultaneously. Everything and its opposite is true. Things overlap and repeat, fold in upon themselves. I feel this strongly in relation to the economy, as well as so much else. It is good that the federal government has learned some of the (negative) lessons of 2008, and before that of Herbert Hoover. Paul Krugman has argued repeatedly that it’s wrong to fear inflation in a deflationary environment. If the government were not printing money – had not printed money this last year – then millions and perhaps tens of millions would be out of work, perhaps homeless, perhaps hungry. And it is always those who already have the least who suffer the most. So: printing money is good. And the American Rescue Plan is especially commendable because, for the first time since perhaps Lyndon Johnson, there’s a (somewhat) focused attempt to get the most help to those who are poorest. This is what the Torah enjoins. And yet one other consequence of this is that all sorts of bubbles are developing. From GameStop to the […]

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Blessing for a Wounded Earth

by Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses O Holy Earth! We live on your sacred ground. We were placed here to guard you and tend you to bless, respect and protect your overflowing goodness sustaining maintaining life. But we– we misunderstood. Our growth, our strife went unchecked. We pollute you instead of salute you. We reject your diversity dissect your totality disconnect from your sanctity and our own morality until nothing is left and we stand here bereft. Deforestation. Degradation. Discrimination. Manipulation. Over-administration of what is pure and simple and wild. We’re killing what is wild in you and in us. We impoverish your soil, despoil your oceans. We are left with rivers of tears and fears, the searing truth that we just can’t go on living this way. It’s time to pay. O Great Mother! We treat you like a stranger, an other, when truth is — we are you and you are us. In our lust we avert our eyes from you from our own reflection in your holy waters. We’ve stripped your royal seal. We can’t see beyond our greed our endless need. We refused to kneel. It’s time to offer a prayer for your welfare- to reduce our speed- […]

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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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Food Rescue Hero: Darraugh Collins

After the completion of ten weeks of exposure, enlightenment, and heavy back breaking work, Tania and I find ourselves longing for our internship to continue on into 2021. By working with Hazon and other partner organizations and leaders in the community, we have become a part of a community of compassion — centering the needs of hundreds above their own. In this work across the city of Detroit, we’ve met individuals who consistently leave us in awe with their unwavering dedication to food rescue. This week we want to highlight the gift of Darraugh Collins. Despite only residing in Detroit for several years, she has made an enormous impact on the community. Darraugh was not always a leader in the work of food rescue; after attending a banquet at her fiance’s hotel in St. Louis, she noticed the immense amount of leftover food. She was shocked that it was all going to be thrown away. This made her wonder: How many people had she passed on the street who could have benefitted from this food? How many hotels and businesses in the area also disposed of surplus food? It soon became clear to Darraugh what the next step must be: […]

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Food Rescue Hero: April Roe Agosta

For our second edition of Food Rescue Hero of the Week, Tania and I instantly knew the exact woman we needed to highlight. For years, April Roe Agosta has fed those in need — from her backyard to the back of Thurston High School —  nothing stops her mission. Since the pandemic hit, April and her  team of volunteers have taken lead in a constantly growing food rescue and distribution mission. Every week, Hazon Detroit partners with April to feed our food insecure neighbors  in Redford, MI.    April grew up and lived much of her life in Scotland, moving to America in 1983. She speaks of her home fondly, longing to go back when our world allows for families to once again reunite across the globe. April told us that she has always been a helper, a trait passed down from her father, a man who made sure every person was fed, whether they were his own or not. In a country like Scotland where the government provides extensive housing and medical assistance, money can be secured solely for food.  In Scotland, help is given to all — not divided up by race, religion, or class.  Hence, April faced […]

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detroit food rescue

Hazon Detroit: Tragic Hope & Meaningful Action

by Rebecca Levy   Dear Friends, Since the summer, we have had the incredible fortune of having six wonderful interns supporting and enriching our work. Much gratitude to Repair the World Serve the Moment, the Applebaum Internship Program, JOIN, and the Hornstein Program For Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University. One of these interns, Rebecca Levy, has written the piece below and we are thrilled to be able to share her words with you. In loving community, Wren, Rabbi Nate, Marla, and Hannah   When sitting in shul, my favorite part of most sermons is the speaker’s call to action, which typically comes towards the end. Yes, it is important to learn and the lessons that we draw from the Torah and from life are beneficial, but as one of my English-teachers always said, “so what – who cares?” – English-teacher code for “why is this important and what can we take away from it?” Especially in days like these, when the feeling of loss and uncertainty can be overwhelming, I like to know what I can do moving forward. Do not get me wrong, I love to learn and learning is necessary if you want to act meaningfully, but […]

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Light, and the amplitude of life

Thursday, November 19, 2020 | 3 Kislev 5781   And announcing a new initiative for college students: Campus-at-Camp – at Isabella Freedman – spring ’21. Applications opened today and close December 4th.   Dear All, I’m feeling intensely the amplitude of life right now. One of the things that I learned from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – z”l; who died since last I wrote to this list – is the distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism, he taught, is the expectation that things will get better. Hope, by contrast, lacks that certitude or even that expectation – but it consists of a vision of a better future, and a determination to work to create it. And that is this pregnant moment in human history and in American history. So much that is broken, scary, messed-up, pointed in the wrong direction, alarming. And so much that is good, that presages new possibilities, new building from the wreckage, new structures, new ideas. This is what the Hebrew month of Kislev is. Kislev began two days ago, and it heralds Chanukah, which starts three weeks from tonight. I was talking to a journalist yesterday who wanted to know what the significance of Chanukah was or could be […]

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minister antonio

Food Rescue Hero: Minister Antonio

Over the next few months, Tania and myself, Lily, will be highlighting our local food rescue heroes. In doing this work only briefly, we have been struck with the profound recognition of our own privilege, of our ability to go to the market and get as much food as we not only need, but want. Yet so many do not have the means to do so by no fault of their own. Through working with Hazon and other partner organizations, we have met those who have turned their lives into helping others, ensuring as many families can be fed as possible. For food insecurity is not a problem with lack of food per se, but with food distribution. These are people who have welcomed strangers into their home, put food on their plates, and in doing so have created a community that stands up for one another and helps with no questions asked. It is truly an honor to work alongside these heroes. When thinking about a food rescue hero to write about, we immediately knew the top candidate, a man we’ve known only briefly but whose words and spirit have begun to fuel us in our everyday work. Minister […]

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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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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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