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Topic: Reflections

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Hakhel Blog: Craig Oshkello

The local farm supply store, a seventh generation family business, left a message for me on Shabbat. Probably not aware that it was the fourteenth day of the counting of the Omer, they let me know the barley has arrived. I am one of a growing number of Jews that are leading a lifestyle based on environmental stewardship and social justice. As a Jew in the diaspora this path had yielded deeper meaning in my spiritual growth and a stronger connection to/ longing for the land of Israel. It is now Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) and there is a buzz on the farm. Although the north faces of the 4000 foot mountains on the horizon are still under 65” of snow, the first flowers are blooming here at 800 feet above sea level at our home in the valley. Colts foot, Trout Lily, Marsh Marigold, Trillium, Lady’s Slipper and Blood Root are all of the first to bloom. They are “ephemeral” species whose bloom and foliage will disappear in a month. First to flower among the trees, the White Poplar, has a distinctly hairy looking flower locally referred to as “Popple Fuzz”, is now joined in a subtle symphony of […]

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Hazon Detroit: The Wheat Harvest

Dear Friends, According to our biblical calendar, we are in the midst of the grain harvest, a season of gladness and growth which lasted seven weeks of seven days. It began with harvesting barley during Passover and ended with harvesting wheat at Shavuot. Forty-nine days the wheat would grow and grow, until it was ready to be cut and harvested just in time for Shavuot, when two loaves of bread would be offered at the Temple. According to our Torah, this honoring and culmination of the growing season is the reason we celebrate Shavuot, and only later did the slightly more mythical aspects of receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai come to coincide with the holiday’s significance. At one time, the flour was the revelation. Nowadays, for each of those forty-nine days, Jews around the world engage in a practice called “Sefirat haOmer/Counting the Omer,” where we verbally bless and count each day that passes. While we may not be carefully watching our wheat crops grow, tending to their needs and supporting their health, we do have an opportunity to do just that for own spirits and souls. We once were slaves and now we’re free. But in order to truly […]

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Personal Reflection: Hazon Food Conference

By Daphne Steinberg Can one’s life change in the course of three days? I think so. I wasn’t really sure what I’d signed up for when I registered for the 2018 Hazon Food Conference. But I’m confident that I didn’t expect to have the transformation/awakening I ended up having. In that short period spent at Isabella Freedman, I encountered a greater array of Jews than I ever have before, even having lived in Israel. White, black, and Hispanic Jews. Straight, gay, transgender, and non-binary Jews. Orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist; young, middle-aged, and elderly Jews. And any number of combinations thereof. It was eye-opening. Not that I didn’t think they *could* exist, I just wasn’t accustomed to thinking outside my box. The Jewish community is bigger and more diverse than I ever imagined. What touched me so deeply was the unique commitment each person there had to being Jewish and the respect they had for and support they gave to everyone else’s Jewish practice. That was summed up for me in an unforgettable way midway through the conference. On Friday morning, I went to the goat barn for a milking demo and “capriccino.” There I watched the young staff attend […]

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Visions for Our New Land

Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 28th Adar II, 5779 Dear All, I had asked Janna, Rebecca, and Shamu – leaders of our Adamah program – to write something for all of us, about the new land we have been able to buy at 181 Beebe Hill Road, contiguous with our existing Adamah land at Isabella Freedman. They’ve written an extraordinarily beautiful piece, and I hope you enjoy it and are inspired by it as much as I am. In the Jewish tradition of fractal sevens, between the seven days of Shabbat and the seven years of shmita, we have sefirat ha’omer, seven weeks of seven, starting the second night of Pesach. Seder night – just two weeks from now – is our gateway to this journey. I hope that what they have written offers wisdom for all of us. Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov, Nigel “Our design at 181 deepens the resilience of our farm while nurturing the land and a community. And maybe it will offer inspiration to you ahead of Pesach…” As we walked on the new land across crusty snow this January, we were tempted to shout out and point: Put fences here! Plant trees there! Fix that […]

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Kaddish for my father

Last year Tu B’Shvat fell on a Tuesday evening. We’d arrived that morning in Johannesburg, and just a few days before I’d Googled and found a Tu B’Shvat seder. It was in a place called Huddle Park. We didn’t know anyone there, but it was my 33rd consecutive Tu B’Shvat seder, and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful. This very lush park, an urban wetland, full of long grasses and exotic trees. There was a long long silent meditation walk that went on for almost an hour. I walked in the gathering darkness, and the huge full moon of Shvat came up and brought moonlight to this unfamiliar landscape. I was thinking about my Dad as I was walking. I’d been in Manchester the week before, and he was weakening very significantly. It was a strange and intense and beautiful experience, essentially alone in Africa, in this unfamiliar place, celebrating a holiday that I love, walking, thinking about my dad. And we got back to the hotel, tired and jetlagged, sorting stuff to go on safari the next morning, and the phone rang. It was my mother, to tell us that my Dad had died. He’d died about […]

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Hazon Detroit: Growth Ring Blessings

Dear Friends, At sunset this Sunday, January 20th, we will usher  in Tu B’Shvat, one of the four new years on the Jewish calendar. Just like our secular calendar has multiple year cycles—think calendar year, fiscal year, school year—so too, our Jewish calendar has multiple year cycles: birth of the world, birth of the Jewish people, the first of Elul, and Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat, named for its calendrical date – the 15th of Shvat – celebrates the birthday of the trees. Just like our birthdays mark a year of growth for us, in a symbolic way, Tu B’Shvat serves the same purpose for trees, marking another year of their growth. Regardless of when during the year a particular tree was planted in ancient times, its first birthday was always tallied on its first Tu B’Shvat. In this way, Tu B’Shvat might be considered the day when a tree symbolically forms its next ring. We have reached the cold months of winter when, like us, trees actually slow down for a period of internal hibernation. In cold winters, growth within a tree slows to a slogging crawl, before picking back up again when the temperatures rise. In fact, it is […]

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One Water, All Lives: Teva Over Greenland

By Mike Tintner 2018 Teva Educator On the plane flying from Moscow to New York City, returning from Israel, I had the chance to bless. After standing up for the first time in hours on the long flight I stumbled to the window, where I saw a spectacular sight. For as far as my eyes could see was white. Below me were the glaciers of Greenland I have seen so many times on the news and in documentaries. I met someone wearing a black kippah journeying from Israel to New York for his sister’s wedding. We talked about the blessing of beauty, Maaseh Breshit, and proceeded to say the full Hebrew blessing. I told the Orthodox appearing man about my work teaching the connection between Judaism and nature to kids at Teva. As I said these words I wondered what he must think. First: There is such a program? Second: What qualifies you to teach this? The truth is I was the one judging myself. I usually am proud of my work and sometimes I struggle to explain it. In my 107 seasons on Earth, I have witnessed a lot. I have been part of the movement of water protectors […]

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Blessing Family & The Earth | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jared Kaminsky – Shoresh Parshat Vayechi In only 3 short months, I’ll be turning 30 years old! I was recently married, and purchased a home, and feel that I have made a massive leap into adulthood. I will one day, G-d willing, start a family and have children of my own. It will be my responsibility to pass on teachings to my children (and grandchildren) that reflect my values. This is a HUGE responsibility! They will see me as a guide and role model for how to act in the world. What will I share with them? What type of father, grandfather, neighbour, and citizen will I be in their eyes? In this week’s parsha, Vayechi, Jacob is nearing the end of his life and he decides to pass on his final wishes and blessings to his own family. He asks his son Joseph to bury him in Israel. He also blesses Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh elevating them to be considered his own sons and heads of tribes one day within Israel. In addition, Jacob provides individual blessings to the rest of his sons, each of whom will be leaders among their tribes. My grandfather is one of the […]

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Light In The Dark | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Ilana Unger – Pearlstone Center Parshat Vayeishev In parshat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), lands on the third Shabbat of Kislev, we connect deeply to this Jewish month of actualization and revelation. For example: Vayeishev is the Hebrew word for “and he lived” (actualization) and nine out of the ten dreams that we read in the Torah are in this month (revelation). To recap the many things that happen in this parsha: Joseph is exiled and sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Joseph is then falsely accused of sexually assaulting Potiphar’s wife and is sent to the Pharaoh’s prison where he becomes an overseer in the prison. He is joined in prison by the Pharaoh’s butler and baker. They say they have had vivid dreams and are looking for an interpreter. Joseph interprets their dreams and accurately does so, predicting that the baker be hanged while the butler will be restored to his job duties. As Joseph is literally in a dark place in the prison, he is selfless and wants to hear and listen to how he can help the butler and baker. Kislev, which derives from the Hebrew word kesel (כֶּסֶל), means either “security,” or “trust.” Joseph seems to […]

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Listen Ya’ll! | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Alex Voynow – Jewish Farm School  Parshat Haazinu [NOTE: Applications for the next JOFEE Fellowship cohort are open now through October 5! Apply today!] In Ha’azinu, Moses sees the Israelites for who they are: humans, scarred by 40 years of impatient wandering and in no mood to listen obediently. Moses is 120 years old and holds so much wisdom; this is the last day before his death, and he has some things to say. He has the story of his life to tell, which in his epic personal union with the Israelite people is also the story of God. He needs them to understand, like the tender, concerned patriarch that he is, how to live in God’s favor so they can blossom into the promised land and not mess up this covenant (fast-forward: oops).   What he has to say is so important that he does something that really resonates with me. Moses speaks language that heaven and earth themselves will understand, and in a language that will more likely move the people: in song. He launches into a 48-verse poem doing his damnedest to sum up his life’s spiritual learnings. I’m not going to get into it because it’s densely […]

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Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jared Kaminsky – Shoresh Parshat Shoftim The parsha of the week is Shoftim, which means Judges. As Moses nears the end of his life, he wants to ensure there is a system of governance in society. Shoftim gives detailed ordinances on many topics of law, including appointing judges, laws that kings should follow, creating cities of refuge when crimes are committed, and the rules of war. For example, the parsha states that appointed judges are forbidden from taking bribes and there must be two credible witnesses for a conviction. Another ordinance demands that kings must not have too many horses and must always carry around two Torah scrolls to remind them that G-D is above them. The Torah even provides a city of refuge for those who accidentally murdered someone to live in safety! While many of these laws do not apply to modern society, there are some important insights into preventing corruption and treatment of humankind that we can still learn from. Moses recognized that every generation has the obligation to critically examine and apply the laws of the Torah. As Jews we should examine the laws that govern the places we live and work to protect the rights of […]

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The Binary of One | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Sofia Marbach – Wilderness Torah Parshat Re’eh I set before you today a blessing and a curse; The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know. — Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Yikes! The first lines of Re’eh present us with a terrifying binary: choose to follow closely each commandment or consider yourself cursed by God. If we opt out of the choosing, what does Judaism leave for us? The text goes on to list detailed instructions for violence against those who might persuade you to worship the gods of other peoples, and against the idols of those who tended your land before. This is the kind of violence that mirrors and reinforces patriarchal systems of dominance and oppression lived today and throughout history. So how do we grapple with guidelines for patriarchal violence in our holiest book — a violence that divides us into binary understandings of the world? How do we connect to tradition as “People of the […]

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Reflections on Kindness | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Brenden Jackson – Amir with Shalom Community Farm Houston Parshat Eikev In Parshat Eikev, Moses calls upon his people to reflect on their past in order to remember and obtain the future that was promised to them. As they prepare to enter the Promised Land, the lines blur between past transgressions, promises, sufferings and joys, made inseparable from the current joy at the edge of the holy land. As summer comes to a close here in Houston, so does summer camp programming, which means ending my mentor role with summer farmers and transitioning to fall programming. With the end of the summer chapter, I find myself guided by Moses’s reflections while I enter the reflection stage of this particular learning cycle. Here in Houston, we have several projects occurring and converging at one time: On the one hand, we have Shalom Community Farm – a Jewishly centered agriculture program aimed at connecting flora and Torah for community members. On the other hand, we are developing a Garden Kitchen program with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, where I grow, harvest, and prepare produce with different community members. While in many ways these projects are totally separate, Amir has […]

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Choosing our History | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Henry Schmidt – Shalom Institute Parshat Devarim The Torah may be our past, but Devarim, the shared name both for this week’s Torah portion and for the fifth book of the Torah, is our history. What is the difference between past and history? Our past is simply a chronology of events, one after another, that bring us to the present. It is what one may observe if they traveled back in time and watched things unfold. History, on the other hand, adds important layers; history is the past we choose to tell and how we tell it. The establishment of history is an inherently political process. Whoever has the most access to public discourse or public thought typically gets to shape the narrative of the people. In the case of Devarim, this power rests solely with Moses. Though he shall not see the promised land and must cede this honor to his successor, Joshua, he still possesses the most powerful role of this period for the Jewish people: he gets to tell them their own story. After all, Devarim translates to “the words,” and these are “the words” of the Jewish people. We already know that the Jews eventually receive […]

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Why Do We Wander? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Eliezer Weinbach – Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon  Parshat Maasei Earlier this year, Isabella Freedman hosted a Moishe House retreat called “Wandering Jews.” Led by New York Times contributor Eli Reiter, twelve people in their twenties and thirties got together to discuss their experiences and wisdom regarding travel as a Jewish person. They discussed things like kashruth and shabbat observance while abroad. The question is: Why bother? When the Torah lists all the stages of the journey through the desert, as per the text from Numbers above, it really does discuss each part. All forty-two stages, in fact! The question is: Why bother? God commands that when the Jews do finally enter the land, they are to travel three times a year to Jerusalem. Wasn’t the journey to the land long enough?! Why bother?! Travel is hard. Sitting at home is easy. Hiking is hard. Watching Netflix is easy. Adventures change you. Inaction keeps you the same. Wandering is change. On a very basic level, you are moving from one place to another. But it’s so much more than that. I could quote Emerson on “roads less traveled” or Kerouac on basically anything, or any of the myriad formulations regarding […]

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