On a brisk and bright August morning the summer before 11th grade, I stood on the banks of a silty, glacier-fed creek tumbling through alpine meadows at the base of Mount Rainier. Siddur in hand, tallit on the shoulders, and kippah overhead, I sang the Shacharit morning prayers with a soul-thumping gusto emboldened by the awesome backdrop of natural wonder and the surrounding chorus of voices from my fellow Odedim – camp counselors-in-training. It was an inspiring and formative experience of nature, spirituality, community, and place.
Today, I’m an educator, landscape designer, and writer, and I’ve spent the past decade-plus working to cultivate these experiences for others. As of last month, I am thrilled to have begun the latest chapter in this journey as Director of the JOFEE Fellowship here at Hazon. The JOFEE Fellowship, which stands for Jewish Outdoor, Food & Environmental Education, is a direct result of the JOFEE Report released in 2013. The research in this report formalized what practitioners and participants have known for some time now: JOFEE is a powerful catalyst for immersive Jewish experiences that connect people to Judaism, community, and the natural world.
The report also told us what our field needs to grow and build capacity. Namely, increased collaboration across the field; increased collaboration and outreach with “mainstream” Jewish institutions; and increased opportunities for emerging professionals to cultivate a JOFEE career path.
So, thanks to a grant to Hazon from the Jim Joseph Foundation, Hazon – in partnership with the JCC Association of North America – is launching the JOFEE Fellowship to invigorate the Jewish educational landscape by seeding Jewish communities with a cadre of outstanding Jewish Outdoor, Food & Environmental Educators. Beginning May 2016, the year-long Fellowship will train Fellows and place them in host institutions and organizations around the country to deliver top-notch JOFEE programming.
We’re excited for a number of reasons: First, the Fellowship will bring JOFEE to Jewish communities who are primed and ready, but have lacked resources and/or personnel. In particular, our partnership with the JCC Association will allow us to fully leverage our impact through community-wide programs and initiatives. Second, JOFEE Fellows will help build much-needed capacity within several of the core existing JOFEE organizations: Pearlstone Center, Urban Adamah, and Wilderness Torah. And third, the Fellowship will create a pipeline for emerging leaders to gain the skills, training, and experience they need as JOFEE professionals. To recognize this achievement, Fellows will receive a professional JOFEE certificate at the conclusion of the Fellowship.
Jewish tradition exists in chavruta with the earth, the wilderness through which our people navigate our lives and identities. Abraham and Sarah left the place of their birth to go forth to a new land and a new destiny. Moses witnessed the burning bush while shepherding in the hills of Midian. The Israelites received the Divine Word at Mount Sinai and harvested manna in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. Generation upon generation of farmers, travelers, artisans, craftspeople, and other dwellers of the shtetl, the village, and the city – all have a long history of transformative Jewish experiences fundamentally shaped by the landscape around them.
JOFEE programs, and the Fellows who will create and implement them, facilitate the three-dimensional experience of this connection. They allow us to not only re-tell the stories of our ancestors, but to re-live these Jewish experiences of the outdoors, food, and the environment, and make them meaningful for us today.