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Topic: Reflections

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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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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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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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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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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Rosh Chodesh Elul, the instinct for joy – and a great short video on blowing the shofar

Thursday, August 20, 2020 | 30 Av 5780 | Rosh Chodesh Elul   Dear All, Today is my grandma’s 17th yahrtzeit. Tomorrow, the first of Elul, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. To be honest, we didn’t realize that this was Dad’s birthday until after he died. But in my grandma’s case, her yahrtzeit has always been significant to me. This is because of the fascinating construction of Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s a two-day new moon – today and tomorrow – but today is the last day of Av, and tomorrow, which is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, is the first day of Elul. And so tomorrow is the day we start to blow shofar. To me, my grandma’s yahrtzeit comes to remind me, as it were – tomorrow it begins… And by “it” I mean this whole period, from now through to the end of Simchat Torah, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the twin apex points, in the middle. “It” is a shorthand for “teshuvah, u’tefillah u’tzedakah” – teshuvah, striving to return to our best selves; tefillah, something about looking both within and beyond, for guidance and with gratitude; and tzedakah, not just in the broader sense […]

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Cancel culture & Tisha B’Av

Monday, July 27, 2020 | 6 Av 5780 Dear All, First: 2020 Vision Rides are proceeding; our first Adamah At Home has just completed, very successfully indeed, and two more cohorts are now planned; and you can book an Isabella Freedman Getaway (again, to our delight, the first guests we have had have really loved it.) And in Detroit our work on the ground to get food to people who need it is proceeding apace, and we were gratified to get a grant from the Oakland County Community Response & Recovery Fund to support this work. Beyond these headlines I want to take this moment, in the lead up to Tisha B’Av (this Wednesday night and Thursday), to say a few words on “cancel culture.” But first, a brief digression: rarely across Hazon’s printed materials will you find the word “Judaism.” It’s a word I strive personally never to use. In its place I almost always speak of “Jewish tradition.” This is because “Judaism,” in its very singularity, seems to suggest one thing – one religion, one perspective, one answer. What we are heir to, in fact, is an almost incomprehensibly huge history. Ten years or more for every year […]

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Out of the Crash

Dear Friends, R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av. You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril? […]

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Two ways to feel better this summer (or maybe three)

Thursday, July 16, 2020 | 24 Tammuz 5780 Dear All, Wave upon wave of change and challenge. For the Jewish community, as for the world, there have been overlapping responses since early March. Understanding what this thing was. Changes in behavior, in what you could do, where you could go. A focus on kids, and on parents. A whole series of organizational pivots. Health and human services, people in need. Schools, and what should they do? Summer camps, and could they open? Funding challenges and choices and decisions. Then Black Lives Matter. (Just as the coronavirus didn’t come out of thin air, “BLM” is short-hand for four centuries’ of inequity that needs to be addressed.) I start with this because I want to reiterate a stark omission in this list of priorities. “The climate crisis,” which very few people, and very few institutions, have any bandwidth to think about right now, remains the defining – chronic, life-threatening – issue of our time. We care about the coronavirus because it threatens life and health, and because it challenges our normal life. And we care about BLM because we want to live in a world of equity and justice, and BLM makes clear that […]

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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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