It’s great to be at Isabella Freedman. Adamah Farm Vacation is underway – parents and kids hanging out here and having a whale of a time. I picked some of the last of the raspberries. I learned about the minimum temperature for a compost pile to legally be certified as safe to use (over 130 degrees, for at least two weeks). And I saw a tomato hornworm for the first time and learned about the wasp larvae that eat the hornworms – and thus enable the tomatoes to grow without having pesticides sprayed on them to kill the hornworms.
And meanwhile, even as it’s the start of August and the middle of summer, it’s also about to be the start of the Hebrew month of Elul.
I’m particularly conscious of the timing because my Grandma died – ten years ago this month – on the last day of Av. Confusingly the last day of Av is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul; ie the day before the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is in fact the first day of Elul. That in turn is the first day we blow shofar, and thus the official start of the season of teshuva – of returning to our best selves.
So, in honor of my grandma, and lest the holidays catch you unawares, a few things to think about in the forthcoming season of teshuva.
First: I don’t want to mythologize either our grandparents, or the world in which they grew up. They were human, which is to say no less flawed than we are ourselves. I have no desire to go to a dentist of 60 years ago. I don’t wish to smoke as they smoked. I’m glad I have google maps – even though I know it lessens my already weak sense of direction. I wouldn’t have wanted to be gay when my grandparents were my age now. I don’t mythologize living through the Great Depression or the Second World War – let alone the Great War that all four of my grandparents lived through, and that my father’s father was injured fighting in.
But with these caveats, it’s worth thinking, I think, about aspects of their lives that they took for granted, that many of us need to learn or relearn, and that underpin the building of healthier and more sustainable communities. Here’s one in particular that I’ve been thinking about:
A sense of duty and obligation. I think the single greatest difference between my grandparents’ generation and mine is in relation to a sense of duty and obligation. I don’t think they were all great, and I don’t think that we’re not. And duty and obligation have their downsides. Nevertheless: there is something corrosive and damaging about how we relate to many institutions of Jewish life today (and, indeed, to many institutions in the wider society). Jewish tradition’s foundational questions are not “is this meaningful to me?” or “what will I get from it if I go to services on Rosh Hashanah?” Jewish tradition starts not with rights but with obligations; not with the search for personal meaning, but with ol malchut shamayim – the notion of taking on certain responsibilities, even certain burdens, because the tradition expects them of us.
One of my favorite parts of the traditional morning service is that, very early on, you say a bracha (a blessing) for learning Torah and then – because you’ve said the bracha and you need, as it were, to complete it – you then learn a series of Torah texts. One of them is from the Talmud, 127a:
“These are the things which someone performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains in the world to come: honoring one’s parents; doing acts of lovingkindness; going early to the house of study, morning and evening; welcoming guests; visiting the sick; accompanying the bride; escorting the dead; focus within prayer; and bringing peace between someone and their fellow; and the study of Torah is equal to all of these.”
So I love a whole slew of things about this text, but I want to share just two:
- I love that it doesn’t just say you have to do them. Rather the text is saying: these are really good things to do – they’re so good that you’ll be, as it were, doubly rewarded for doing them. But the obligation to do them is still, in some sense, internalized. We have a choice. Do we choose to do these things – or not?
- I love the mix. Things that divide out very clearly in contemporary life are all mixed up together here. Visiting the sick, acts of loving-kindness – those things are “social justice” – doing good by others. Focus in prayer – isn’t that about my personal spiritual journey? Making peace between two friends who’ve argued – that’s not religion, that’s being a good friend, surely? Going early to shul – whose business is it if I go early to shul or not? The rabbis of the Talmud didn’t draw such sharp distinctions.
And, even as I’m writing this, I suddenly remember something I had learned from Reb Shlomo Carlebach z”l, which I’d forgotten. In reference to this text, I once heard him say: “If it’s a mitzvah to accompany the dead, how much more so is it a mitzvah to accompany those who are alive – but really struggling…”
So as the sun beats down, and the farmers pick our food for us, it’s not too early to think about Elul, and your grandparents, and the lead-up to Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year. What are those aspects of your grandparents that you want to emulate? And which are the mitzvot that you choose to take on, or to take more seriously — not simply for what you might get from them — but for what you might give?
Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov,
Executive Director, Hazon
Yossi (pictured) and I got married last summer, so training for the Ride didn’t make it to our pre-wedding to-do list. But we each had family and friends participating as riders, so we didn’t want to miss out on the experience. At the last minute we signed up as crew, not really sure what it would be like. We knew and appreciated the crew members who staffed our rest stops when we rode together the year before. They made us sandwiches, pointed us to the bathroom, and told us which snacks were the good ones. They cheered for us and encouraged us and reminded us that we were riding for an important cause with their full support. But what no one really tells you is that the crew members are actually having a lot of fun doing all of those things and even more that riders don’t get to see. There are cowbells to ring and whistles to blow, big vans to drive and spray paint to mark the turns, and there are maps, walkie-talkies, reflective vests, and team colors for each crew team. The Hazon staff made sure we had all the information and support we needed to do our jobs well, and they encouraged us to really have fun with it. —Maddy Hoffman
Read More about how you too can crew this Labor Day Weekend!
Did you know that your company’s matching gift program could make your charitable donations go even further? Many companies have programs through which they match the charitable contributions made by their employees. Through a charitable gift matching program, your employer can multiply your gift to Hazon – sometimes even doubling or tripling your initial donation! It’s a simple way for your gifts to make an even bigger difference. Hazon participates in over 20 corporate matching gifts programs- ask your company today!
Notes from the Cross-USA Ride Blog
Today, the Cross-USA Ride arrives in Lafayette, Indiana. We hope you’ll join us as the Ride journeys to DC. Enjoy a meal with the riders in Columbus at Agudas Achim on August 6th, or for Shabbat dinner at Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh on August 9th. And you don’t have to participate as an outsider! Join the Ride to truly experience the adventure of cycling for a good cause. You can also celebrate with us at our closing ceremonies in Washington, D.C. on August 15th.
A few nights ago, we stayed at KAM Isaiah Israel, the synagogue across the street from the Obama residence in Hyde Park. We heard from Robert Nevel, the local architect and member of KAM, who convinced the synagogue to tear up part of their lawn to make way for a garden to grow vegetables for local soup kitchens and shelters. KAM has partnered with churches in the neighborhood to grow vegetables on their land as well, creating a unique interfaith partnership that is now producing over 4500 lbs of healthy, organic produce a year in the middle of an urban food desert.
Colorado: Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil, OH MY!!
The Boulder JCC Flatiron Tribe (young Jewish professionals) and Hazon are teaming up for a Happy Hour to remember. Join us at Oliverde for an EXCLUSIVE tasting of local tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil with a variety of olive oils. Once you’ve tried it all, create your own perfect caprese salad! Then, we’ll head over to Shine for a drink and to support a local, Jewish-owned establishment!
Thursday, August 15
Caprese tasting: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Oliverde, 2027 Broadway, Boulder, CO
Happy Hour 7:00 p.m. til late at Shine, 2027 13th Street, Boulder, CO
Colorado: Full Moon Hikes and Southern Sun Drinks
The Boulder JCC Flatiron Tribe (young Jewish professionals) is teaming up with Hazon for a night of hiking and microbrews! August 20th is the full moon, and we’ll meet at the Marshall Mesa Trailhead for an easy, multi-sensory, moon-lit hike, and then head over to local brewery Southern Sun for a late night happy hour drink.
Tuesday, August 20, meet at Marshall Mesa Trailhead
5258 Eldorado Springs Dr., Boulder, CO, at 8:00 p.m.
Should arrive around 9:30 at Southern Sun, 627 S. Broadway, Boulder, CO.
Colorado: Become a Harvest Sponsor at Ekar
Become a Harvest Sponsor at Ekar Farm. For $180 you can cover the cost for 1 family to receive a whole season’s worth of organic vegetables grown at Ekar. In addition, Harvest Sponsors are invited to join us twice a week in harvesting and take home vegetables for their own enjoyment.
California: Sukkot on the Farm with Wilderness Torah
Wilderness Torah invites you to gather in multi-generational community for the seventh annual Sukkot on the Farm Festival—a three-night camp-out and celebration of the fall harvest—featuring tracker, mentor, and author Jon Young. Come co-create our village and enjoy all or part of the long weekend. Reawaken the Water Festival, Simchat Beit Hashoevah. Apply for Avodah and work in exchange for a discounted ticket. Join our village and celebrate the season at Sukkot on the Farm!
September 19 – 22, 2013
Green Oaks Creek Farm, Pescadero, CA