Goats, Chickens, and Memory

by Rabbi Marc Soloway, Chair, Hazon Rabbinical Advisory Board

As I got up to speak to the smallish crowd gathered in shul on the 2nd Day of Shavuot this year, which happened to be Memorial Day, I found myself speaking about the surprising joy I have found in milking goats once a week on Sunday mornings and gathering fresh eggs from our Jewish goat and chicken co-ops.  I spoke of the verse in the Torah reading from Deuteronomy that mentions nedivat yedecha – the voluntary gifts of your hands offered in antiquity on Shavuot, the Festival of First Fruits.  I suggested that most of us cannot feel the connection in a tangible way to the production, gifting and consumption of our food, and therefore not fully appreciate the joy, gratitude and humility associated with it.  For me, this has changed since eating such fresh eggs laid by birds I have come to know and sipping delicious fresh milk from goats who now feel like family members and which comes into the bucket through my own hands.  It is joyful and it does create a different way to connect to the biblical holidays in a tangible way.

Before the end of the service, I invited anyone who wanted to see our growing little farm across the street to wander over with me after Kiddush and take a look.  Almost 20 people joined our farm tour including Irene, a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz and Doris, who left Berlin escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport to London.  Along with the general oohs and ahs as people saw our new baby chicks and the newish kids on the block, was a powerful and unexpected triggering of memory on that sunny Memorial Day, just after having recited Yizkor in shul.  Irene was feeding the goats melon rinds and petting them and a nostalgic glint of recognition shone out of eyes as she shared memories from her childhood in the Carpathian Mountains where “everyone had goats or chickens.” Doris then shared that even though she was a city girl raised in Berlin, she remembered her late husband Martin Small, brought up on a farm in a shtetl in Poland, who used to tease Doris for not knowing the difference between a chicken and horse!

Many of us see the “New Jewish Food Movement” as part of new future of a more sustainable world through a much greater awareness of the source of our food.  The walk that day across the street to the Boulder Jewish Commons Community Farm was a powerful and unexpected reminder that this work is not just about the future, but about the past as well, connecting us to a lost Jewish world of less than 100 years ago, where every day our ancestors were doing what has become so new and exciting to us.

Rabbi Marc Soloway is the Chair of the Hazon Rabbinical Advisory Board. Please contact Marc if you would like to be involved. Marc has served as the rabbi of Congregation Bonai Shalom in Boulder, Colorado since 2004.  He has always loved food, perhaps a little too much, and in recent years has thought more deeply about where this food comes from, how it is produced and how all of that fits with deep Jewish obligations and values.  Marc has ridden twice in the Hazon-Arava Institute Israel Ride in 2008 and 2010. 

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