Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 18 Elul 5781
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 state of flow. It’s been so fun, doing this handover with you. You’re galloping along, soaking up a huge amount of information, talking to a lot of people. And yet you’re also doing a good job of slowing some things down, helping people to pace things.
I’m interested to know – what you’re most struck by, what you’re most enjoying, what you see as the big challenges.
J: My first four weeks have been amazing. I’m very grateful to our mutual friend who recommended I read The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins, known as “the onboarding bible.” It’s been very helpful, and my favorite (quite resonant) line is the idea that sometimes this experience feels like drinking from a firehose!
But seriously, this is an incredible organization you’ve built! And such critically important work at such an historic inflection point – for the Jewish people, for America, for the world. I love getting to know the wonderful Hazon staff and board and supporters all across the country. I’m so grateful for the incredible support and talent we have both at Pearlstone and at Hazon to make this merger a great success.
The listening tour is going well. It really is an honor to learn from such a vast, diverse, and passionate constituency – over 50,000 people when you put our lists together! Certainly there are lots of questions, and there’s also a visceral sense of excitement and momentum for the path ahead.
N: And it feels like this is a key moment, a tipping point. Organizational wheels move slowly – but they do move. We’ve had the growth of the JOFEE movement, on one side, and the process of engaging mainstream Jewish institutions, on the other – and the pieces are finally starting to come together.
J: Yes. It’s clear that a critical mass of Jewish communal leaders and institutions are more ready than ever before to embrace the JOFEE movement and tackle the climate crisis as a core challenge facing the Jewish people and ALL people. People are actually reading the IPCC Report, and you can’t actually read that and then not say, “OK, what are we going to do about this?!”
So this does feel like a tipping point, and our movement feels so potent, in its breadth, depth, and importance to 21st century Jewish life. We’ve become a powerful stream in Jewish life, almost akin to a denomination, vibrant and vital, and poised for exponential impact.
N: The denominational analogy – I think that’s right.
And, at a different level – how’s it going on the ground, what are you enjoying, what are the challenges?
J: We have an incredibly talented, dedicated team both at Hazon and Pearlstone, and we’re going to further strengthen them going forward. Both boards have been courageous and generous and visionary in their leadership getting us to this point, and are excited for the journey ahead. It just feels like we’re the right organization in the right place and at the right time.
I hope that every key funder, every individual supporter, will want to be a stakeholder in Hazon. We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us thus far and – yes! – we invite you to support us in the new year. It’s Rosh Hashanah in two weeks – a time of giving tzedakah. If you haven’t yet given a gift this year, and would like to, please click here. I and we would deeply appreciate it.
N: You didn’t mention any challenges?!
J: There IS a lot to do – like I said, drinking from a firehose :-). But both organizations are in solid shape.
Pearlstone has an amazing partnership with The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Pearlstone and Macks-Fidler families, and many, many others, so we were growing strong pre-Covid, and will be back better than ever – with expanded facilities – on the other side of this.
And Hazon – thank you Nige, thank you David Rendsburg, thank you Shuli Karkowsky, thank you Hazon board and staff and funders – came out of the last 15 months stronger than it went in. We’re now a more complex organism and it will take time and money to build an integrated operation – systems, software, website, HR, etc. It’ll take a solid year or two to really integrate everything. But it’s clear that we’re poised to deepen, strengthen, and grow our impact quite significantly.
Going forwards, there are several key areas of focus and synergy within the merger that present major opportunities and strengths that we intend to build on – and which I will write more about – in the weeks and months to come.
The deep resonance between Baltimore and Detroit as strong Jewish communities, anchored in historic multicultural American cities, finding great success in partnership with Pearlstone and Hazon in ways that present inspiring models for other communities elsewhere.
The deep resonance and opportunities for synergy and integration between Pearlstone and Isabella Freedman, two of the strongest Jewish retreat centers in the country and burgeoning engines of immersive transformative Jewish experiences.
And the profound generational opportunity we face in Jewish environmental and outdoor education: what would it mean for Teva, Adamah, the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, and other incredible successes in our movement – Eden Village, Wilderness Torah, Urban Adamah, GrowTorah, Shoresh, and more – and genuinely scale our collective impact nationwide, so that truly every Jewish child and family in America can access these transformative, inspirational programs?!
And last: Israel. I did Hazon’s Israel Intentional Communities trip, I was part of Siach. At Pearlstone we have our own shaliach. There is a huge need, and a real opportunity, to continue to do serious and thoughtful work, making connections, and advancing positive change.
The world needs this work right now, we need faith-based leadership, we need hope, we need joy, we need a Jewish experience that is connected and vibrant and inspiring and empowered both as deeply Jewish AND deeply universal.
But enough about me! Nu? What are you up to?
N: In the shmita year in Second Temple times – they didn’t go to the beach. They worked, but differently, and probably slightly less intensely. So in not being CEO I want to be able to spend some more time on existing projects and explore some new ones. I’d like to improve my Hebrew. I have a couple of writing projects, and maybe substack. I’m interested in community, Israel/diaspora, what’s happening in Israel, philanthropy, a whole slew of things. And thinking more about the climate issue. And I’m psyched to meet different people, learn, listen, brainstorm.
And then meantime I’m still involved in thinking about next steps for the EarthX series, Hakhel, Shabbat Ha’Aretz, Shmita Project. Liz is going to be partly here and partly there – she’s psyched to be here, and/but she has things she needs to do in the States. I’m planning to be with you at COP 26. And then as of January I’m excited formally to support you and Hazon in my new post-CEO role – doing whatever the new CEO wants me to do…:-)
I was wondering: have you got any advice for me?
J: ME give YOU advice?! I wanted to ask you that first.
N: Well. You’re doing an amazing job. Seriously. Trust yourself. Think big. Be brave. Try to ground the work in Jewish tradition, as seriously as you can – which I think you do. Don’t get pulled into either/or. For sure there are choices to be made, focus, decisions. But in a broad sense, both Pearlstone and Hazon have steadily widened the frame of what’s possible and what’s necessary. Focus on common values and vision and goals. And then – have fun! I do think you bring great joy to your work, and it’s a real strength – and long may it continue, and long may you continue!
J: Thank you Nige! And – back atcha. First, really, thanks for everything you’ve done, for putting that first flag in the ground – the first Ride; the first Jewish CSA; the first Hazon Food Conference; launching the Intentional Communities Conference, and then Hakhel, and then JYCM, and so much more. I feel deeply honored to pick this up and run with it.
And I can’t say that I’m in any position to give you, my mentor and teacher, any advice. But my hope for you….is to Breathe. Take a break. Enjoy your cleanse! Learn some new Torah. And do the things you love- teaching, writing, ideas, inspiring people, connecting people. And you know I will always love and appreciate our hevruta.
N: Thanks, Jakir. Thank you. And, look, I feel really blessed. I wrote two weeks ago about the complexities of Israel. But at a totally different level, I’m arriving in Jerusalem in the week of a Torah portion that begins with entering the land of Israel; and the injunction to take first fruits of the land, put them in a basket, and take them to a priest, and say: (Deuteronomy 26:3)
הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ כִּי־בָ֨אתִי֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע יְהֹוָ֛ה לַֽאֲבֹתֵ֖ינוּ לָ֥תֶת לָֽנוּ:
I say this day to G!d that I have come to the land which G!d swore to our ancestors to give us
And it is crazy to think of all my ancestors who read these words every year.
On my mother’s side, I have a great-great-great grandfather who was a Hebrew teacher in Edinburgh in the 1850s, whose name I share. And on my father’s side the furthest back we can go is “Reb Yehuda Leib,” whose son, my father’s zaydie, was born in about 1867. Imagine either of them knowing that one of their great-great-grandkids could just get on a plane to Jerusalem, Israel, in 2021.
So I don’t take this for granted.
And, most of all, THANK YOU. Thank you.
Thank you to everyone, each and all of you, for your many kindnesses, over so long; and especially to those of you who wrote or said kind things in the recent period. I really appreciate it.
And now you should have the last word. :-))
J: Shabbat shalom to you, Nige, my friend and teacher.
And thank you to everyone who has been so kind and supportive to me, to Nigel, to all of us at Hazon, Pearlstone, Isabella Freedman, and throughout this transformative movement. Thank you.
See you next week! When we’ll start a new chapter in our journey together…
Shabbat shalom, from Jerusalem and Baltimore,