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Topic: Reflections

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Isabella Freedman: an update, and an invitation

Thursday, June 23, 2020 | Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5780 Dear All, I want to explain how and why Freedman has been closed, and also to invite you to join us for an “Isabella Freedman Getaway” – a 5- or 12-night stay at Isabella Freedman. An amazing opportunity to escape from the city – or wherever you are – and hang out in a beautiful place, with kosher food, space for kids, and great hikes, trails and trips nearby. And I’m delighted, separately, to share with you the launch of a Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman for adults ages 55+, for the week of July 6th – 10th; and to remind you that registration for our first ever cohort of Adamah At Home is now open. We hope and intend that each and all of these will be very special experiences. To learn more about each, click here for Getaways, here for Adamah At Home, and here for Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman. To explain how these three programs arose, I want to give an update on Isabella Freedman in the last four months. On February 25th, we set up a coronavirus task force. On March 3rd, I left Freedman after a superb and impactful Kenissa retreat led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. And on […]

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The launch of Adamah At Home, and thoughts about M4BL

Thursday, June 18, 2020 | 26 Sivan 5780 Dear All, Isabella Freedman is closed as a retreat center, but the state of CT has reduced the minimum period for bookings, which now enables us – next week –  to launch Isabella Freedman Getaways. If you’re interested in coming up and spending 5 or 12 days at Isabella Freedman – with three meals a day of (local, ethical) kosher food, in beautiful surroundings – look out for our email next week. We similarly had to take the very difficult decision to suspend the Adamah Fellowship for this summer – the first time since the program began, in 2003, when that has been so. But – but! – we’re now happy and excited to launch a new program: Adamah At Home. The program runs from July 6th to July 26th, and you can send in applications on a rolling basis from now through July 1st. It’s an exceptionally strong program encompassing practical skills, daily conversation and what we hope and intend will be a strong group. We’ll cover Jews ecological learning, garden mentorship, food systems and policy; also food choices, cheesemaking and regenerative farming. And we’ll also talk about structural racism in this country – […]

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Perspectives

Wednesday, June 3, 2020 | 11th Sivan 5780 Dear All, I don’t feel like I have a lot of wisdom right now. This is hard. The lessons of Jewish history favor moderation, and striving to keep one’s balance. It is relatively easy for societies to become destabilized, and much harder to calm them down again. And yet, of course, we must also ask: what does “calm them down again” mean? In the sense that the protests are more than justified. Racism – personal, institutional, structural – has been wired into the fabric of this country since its very beginnings, an original sin for which there has been no systematic teshuvah. So this is a year’s rage, a decade’s rage, a century’s rage, and longer still, all boiling over. It is in the nature of being Jewish that we know what it is like to be an outsider, to be scared, to be an immigrant, a refugee, discriminated against. Many of us, most of us, grew up with that in our bones. And so it is unbearable to see persistent racism in this country, unbearable – after slavery, the civil war, a century of lynchings; after Goodman, Schwerner & Chaney… and Eric Garner… […]

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Risk.

Friday, May 22, 2020 | 43rd day of the omer; chesed she’b’malchut Dear All, Things are fragmenting, and our old fragmentations are now fragmenting further. Different countries have different policies. Different states are opening up in different ways. Different sub-cultures have their own distinct rhythms and norms. And different political tribes turn out, once more, to have not just different views but even different facts. Underneath all this are different understandings of the nature of risk. As a society we lack functional numeracy, and it is not a surprise that we are not good at weighing different probabilities in relation to risk. (Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project, about the work of Kahneman and Tversky is a fine thing to read, for starters.) When the coronavirus was a cloud on what seemed like a distant horizon, in general most of us underreacted to the actual risk. (On Feb 25th I suggested to someone that Hazon needed to prepare for the coronavirus, and got back the reply I am disinclined to put time into such a remote possibility. Exactly one week later the first Hazon staffers were in quarantine – and so it began…) Now, three months’ later, I fear that we are over-reacting, in various ways, partly because we are conflating […]

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After Zoom?

Friday, May 8, 2020 | 29th day of the omer – chesed she’b’hod Dear All, Lots of people aren’t on Zoom. Subway workers, farmers and food distributors, the police and the armed forces and the fire brigade, everyone in a hospital, people cleaning the streets – all these people are not on Zoom, and many more. But some of us are on Zoom a lot these days. The benefits are significant. Being able to see and talk with friends and family in different places. Zoom seders. At a different scale, our #SoundTheCall event had 32 presenters in 28 different locations, not to mention more than 1,500 people watching it. We couldn’t have done these things without Zoom. As a society, we had no idea how relatively easily our offices could migrate online. The consequences of this on where people live and how they work will have enormous ramifications in the next decade. For Hazon, just one small but significant example. We did a consequential Shmita Summit in London in April 2014, and were planning something similar this winter. Now, instead, we’re doing a Shmita Summit next month, online, likely the first of several. The cost of doing it online will […]

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Five things that will make you feel better

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 | Yom Ha’atsma’ut | 20th day of the omer – yesod she b’tiferet Read through to the end, because there is an amazing treat in store when you get there….! Dear All, First, just a brief Hazon news update. The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center is closed and, like lots of organizations, we don’t know when or how or in what way we will re-open. We’re using this time to figure out not only how to maximize impact in the near term, but also how to use this crisis to clarify and strengthen our work in the longer-term. And, meanwhile, Hazon staffers are working hard and well in this challenging moment. Teva’s Arielle Aronoff is helping day schools with online teaching. We’re planting and preparing at Adamah. Mike Davino and his crew are starting to make some needed repairs at Isabella Freedman. In Detroit, Wren Hack and Rabbi Nate DeGroot and our team have been helping on the ground, providing food, and help in growing food, for people and communities in need. And last week’s #SoundTheCall clearly hit a chord. The feedback was amongst the strongest from anything we have done. Hazon has a strong record of bringing new ideas and […]

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Chad gadya, a raccoon in the park, and a second chasidic story.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 | 13th Nissan 5780 Please join us for a series of weekly online conversations: “After the Plague: An Omer Conversation Series.” Our first call is noon ET this Sunday with Yossi Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman. Join us on Facebook Live on Hazon’s Facebook page. Learn more. Dear All, There’s an old chasidic story about someone who fears that the angel of death is coming for them, at a particular place and a particular time. Quickly they change their plans. They go to a different village… and then of course the angel of death is right there, in that different village, waiting to meet them, exactly at the appointed time. And the message of the story: when our time is up, our time is up. I wish for all of us long life, for sure. But it’s not unhelpful to be reminded of our mortality. For most of human history we knew that we were vulnerable, we saw death. We lived without penicillin. Women died far more frequently in childbirth. We died of polio and malaria, we died when the wrong flea bit us, we died of an abscess or a ruptured appendix. Only when I was writing a hesped for […]

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Next Thursday night — and #soundthecall on April 22nd

Friday, April 3, 2020 | 9th Nissan 5780 Dear All, Seder is one night – in Israel. In chutz la’aretz – ie, outside of Israel – it’s two nights, so next Thursday night is the second night of seder. And for most of the Jewish world, as we know, these two nights are indeed going to be different nights, as we figure out how to do seders by Zoom, or in small (very small) groups, and so on. It will be weird. And there will be lots of riffs on plagues, lots of haggadah supplements to download, and so on. Hazon’s gift to you is a frame for the second night, for Thursday night. Normally, at the end of the evening – with kids running wild, the table in chaos, the meal just finishing, various people conked out because it is so late or they’ve eaten so much or drank so much – right then, we count the omer. No wonder we don’t properly pay attention to it. So our gift to you this year is – don’t bury it. Make it a conceptual focus of your second night seder. The first night – celebrate that you’re alive. That your family made […]

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Seven brief thoughts at the end of a long seven days.

Friday, March 27, 2020 | 2nd Nissan 5780 Dear All, These are seven very different thoughts, on very different topics…. Number 1: At Hazon and Isabella Freedman we’re hanging on, and thank you to everyone who has supported us in the last week.  Isabella Freedman, like all places of gathering, is closed, for at least two months. We haven’t yet let any of our staff go, though like many non-profits we’re in a very exposed place. The federal bailout plan may be very significant for us, and we’re poised to apply for support from that as soon as we are able. Meantime, board members, donors, foundations, participants, and our own staff have all stepped up in quite extraordinary ways over the last two weeks. My great great thanks go to each and all of you. It is a cliché that crises often bring out the best in people. Every single day this week I have seen that to be true. Number 2: It is not too soon to draw conclusions from the different infection and death rates in places like Germany and New Zealand, on one side, and the USA, very sadly, on the other.  Having universal health care makes […]

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Earth Day, JTree, and Tu B’Shvat

By Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein Hazon Rabbi-in-Residence What is Tu B’Shvat? What is a Tu B’Shvat Seder? Not one, but four times over the course of the year we are called upon to mark a new year, a rosh hashanah. Of these four new years in the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), it is taught that the 15th of Shvat (Tu B’Shvat) is the new year for the trees. Only one rosh hashanah became popularized as the Rosh Hashanah, when we reflect on our actions, pray for the wellness of the year, and perform teshuva. When the Temple service in Jerusalem ceased, the other three new years effectively went dormant for about 1500 years. The holy kabbalists under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) created a new Tu B’Shvat tradition with the multi-sensory seder we experience today. Humanity and Trees in the Jewish Tradition Though Tu B’Shvat was paused, trees continued to grow both in reality and on the pages of Jewish texts. In Jewish tradition, a relationship was formed between trees and humanity in the first week (see Gen. 2:9) and it still exists today. In fact, later in the Torah, we are reminded that it is forbidden to cut down a tree during times of war (Deut. 20:19). The […]

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Reb Isaiah at the March, and Rob Kutner on Daf Yomi…

Thursday, January 9, 2020 | 12th Tevet 5780 Dear All, First: we were so proud of Hazon’s rabbi-in-residence, Isaiah Rothstein, who had a lead role at the march against anti-semitism in NYC on Sunday. You can see links to that here and here. Secondly: part of the punchline of the Bari Weiss book on anti-semitism – with which I very strongly agreed indeed – is that it’s vital that we not somehow become “anti-anti-semites.” That’s not why I’m Jewish. I’m Jewish because I love the tradition and I think it wise; and – right now – I especially believe that we should be rallying the full resources of Jewish tradition and of the Jewish community to address the global climate crisis, which is the greatest crisis civilization has yet faced. And so one aspect of that is actually to deepen our own Jewish learning. That leads me to daf yomi… Daf Yomi – literally “a page a day” is a recentish (early twentieth century) tradition of learning the entire Talmud, by doing a page a day; and if you do that, and stick to it, you’ll learn the entire Talmud in about 7 1/2 years. I somehow assumed that this was only an ultra-orthodox practice. But way […]

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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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How to feel better in a sometimes thankless world

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 29th Cheshvan 5780 Dear Hazon, This year at our JOFEE Network Gathering we learned about Joanna Macy, and her concept of “active hope.” She’s an 80-something eco-philosopher, Christian I think by background; a world apart, on the face of it, from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is English and Jewish and a generation younger. And yet what she teaches about active hope jibed for me with what Rabbi Sacks has taught about hope in Jewish tradition. Each of them, in different ways, argues that hope is a choice, not a feeling. Optimism is the presumption that things will be better. Hope is the determination, the leaning in, to help make things better. So: this has been a hard year in many ways. I have lived my adult life in three countries – the UK, Israel, and the US – and this year it has too frequently felt like a mad and bizarre competition amidst the three of them as to which could melt down the most: “Our Prime Minister is having to give up the four different ministries he holds (!) because he’s just been indicted for corruption (!!).” “You were lucky!! Of all things, the Financial Times (!) had an op-ed titled ‘Boris Johnson’s […]

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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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