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Topic: Reflections

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Beginning a new chapter, together

Friends,  I step into the Hazon CEO role with deep gratitude for everything that has been built over the past 21 years, and with great appreciation for the amazing staff, boards, and supporters of Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Pearlstone. Together, we have helped spark a transformative movement with powerful potential. The Jewish Environmental Movement is clearly one of the strongest, most vibrant streams in Jewish life today. We now have further reach than ever before, so as we face the global climate crisis, together we are poised to multiply our impact and catalyze social, environmental, and spiritual change across the Jewish world and beyond. Like a havdalah candle, our movement weaves together multiple interrelated strands: JOFEE, Jewish Retreating, the Jewish Food Movement, Jewish Community Farming, Climate Activism & Advocacy, the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, Jewish Intentional Communities, and more. Each strand has had tremendous impact already, and now we have a profound opportunity to manifest our ambitious mission: to lead a transformative movement deeply weaving sustainability into the fabric of Jewish life, in order to create a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable world for all. As we embark upon this new chapter and awesome task ahead, I want you to […]

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An Ending, and Two Beginnings (7 of 7)

Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 18 Elul 5781   Nigel: Hi! Jakir: Shalom!  You did it!  I’m not sure how you pulled it off, but you made it to the holy land! N: Yep. I’m now in bidud, the word the Israelis use for “quarantine” or “self-isolation.” It’s from the same root as hitbodedut, a type of personal meditation that traces back to Reb Nachman of Bratslav.  And bidud does feel like a kind of hitbodedut. Getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and for the shmita year – getting organized, getting clean.  J: Getting clean? N: Bidud-enforced cold turkey! Before I arrived, a friend brought to the apartment fruits, vegetables, some fish, some eggs. But: no booze, no caffeine, no sugar, no chocolate, no wheat; no dairy except for some goat yoghurt. And I’m not allowed to leave the apartment for seven days, so I’m committed, whether I like it or not. 🙂 J: That sounds…fun…I guess?!  Of course I have four kids, an incredible partner, and now two organizations to run, in the process of merging. So probably not a lot of bidud-self-isolation in my near future… N: Well, that’s true. But this is not your bidud moment. You’re in a […]

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Why does shmita matter? (6 of 7)

Friday, August 20, 2021 | 12 Elul 5781   Dear All, I admit that I am baffled by Jeopardy!, and why people care about it. (What’s wrong with University Challenge?) But Jeopardy does remind us to ask this: what questions does shmita come to answer?This led me, a couple of years ago, to amend my own observance. It is true that last time I didn’t buy any books, or any liquor, for the whole year. Doing this reminded me that it was the shmita year, and that I had enough.But then I realized that this failed, even metaphorically, even as just one individual, to address one of the central questions that shmita comes to answer: how do we reduce inequality?  Because shmita is not just about “letting the land go, letting it be.” (Shmot 23:11). It’s about doing this “that the needy of the people may eat.” (same verse).  So for this forthcoming shmita year I’ve decided, bli neder, to  Not buy books, not buy liquor, and (after the last 17 months of covid-wear) not buy any clothes, but then also  To figure out roughly what I spend on these three things, in a normal year, and give that money to […]

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Climate at a tipping point: What do we do? (4 of 7)

Friday, August 6, 2021 | 28 Av 5781   Dear All, You might think this email would for me be easy and obvious. But it has been the hardest one to write. I want to convey some seemingly contradictory ideas.  It has been right for the environmental movement not to overstate things (i.e. not to make wild claims beyond what we already know). But it’s been clear for some while that the numbers and the projected negative impact, in terms of temperature rise and concomitant impacts, were and are more likely to be worse, rather than better, than our median projections. And this summer has felt like a tipping point. 116 degrees in cool temperate Canada. People suddenly wanting air conditioners in Seattle. Flood deaths in Germany. Wildfires in California, Greece, Turkey. Here’s the Guardian today – 14 separate stories, led by “Last Month Was Worst July For Wildfires On Record.” The Covid pandemic is a parallel cautionary tale.  A lesson about how something out of kilter in one part of the planet can have impacts the whole world over. A reminder of the fragility of systems – and of human beings. An object lesson in the necessity of good […]

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Does Jewish tradition support my politics? (3 of 7)

Thursday, July 29, 2021 | 20 Av 5781   Dear All, There was the first time I went on this thing called Facebook. It asked my religion, so I wrote “Manchester United.” It asked my politics, so I wrote “Jewish.” We can talk some other time about commitment to Manchester United as an ancient familial tribal religion.  But in this email, I want to reflect a little about Jewish tradition and politics. Is Jewish tradition conservative? Well, yes. It’s a slow-moving tradition, it’s generally against change, its strong instinct is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Is Jewish tradition moderate? Yes, strongly it is. It’s a very on the one hand / on the other hand tradition, almost definitionally so. Well then, is it liberal? Yes, of course it is, in a few senses of the word. It’s strongly open to new ideas. And Jewish thinking has been deeply interwoven with the evolution of civil liberties, democracy, the rights of the individual, and free enterprise.  Is it radical? Yes, strongly so. The notion that every human being is made in the image of (this unimaginably powerful) G!d –  is in and of itself, in a fundamentally unequal world, incredibly […]

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Some thoughts for funders (2 of 7)

Thursday, July 22, 2021 | 13 Av 5781  One big idea – and a few smaller ones. Dear All, First: gratitude. I don’t take anyone’s gift to Hazon for granted. (If it ever seemed like I did, I apologize.) We’re an imperfect organization, but as each year has gone by our impact has increased. Your support enables this. Whether you have given $36, or $3,600, or six and even seven-figure gifts and grants – thank you. When I started Hazon I had never fundraised, nor thought about it. But I have now spent 21 years (worrying about) fundraising, and so in the second of these stepping-down-as-CEO reflections, I want to share a few thoughts for funders. (Most of these comments are for foundations, federations, and the largest individual funders – though not all.) I don’t claim unique insight; I merely wish to add my voice to the weight of some of these arguments. These are, in many cases, things I’ve been thinking about for a while, but haven’t yet said publicly. 1. Please increase payout ratios. Most “normal” foundations have too low a payout ratio. 5% is a legal minimum, not a guideline. If you’re a foundation trustee or CEO and […]

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Leadership and failure (1 of 7)

Thursday, July 15, 2021 | 6 Av 5781    Dear All, As I step down as CEO, this is the first of seven emails, reflecting on a range of different topics, to the Hazon list, roughly weekly from today. That’ll take us from now through August 26th – and it will give Jakir a chunk of August to settle in, before he starts to share some of his own opening reflections. Thank you to the many, many people who sent gracious messages after the announcement last week. People said kind things about Hazon, about Pearlstone, about Jakir, about the merger; and about me. It was proverbially like hearing parts of your own funeral eulogy. (The analogy may be especially apt because funeral eulogies, I note, skew to the generous.) I’m proud of Hazon. I’m proud to have worked hard to bring it into existence; and proud also that, despite bumps along the way, we are still in existence, and Isabella Freedman too. This should not be taken for granted. I’m delighted at so many of the things that, together, we have accomplished. I feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to have vision and to bring fresh ideas to […]

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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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