Introducing the Israel Shmita Project

While we have been working to raise Shmita awareness and organizing here in the states, there is much simultaneous work happening in Israel. Much of this is being organized by our partner, the Israel Shmita Project, which is hosted by the organization, Teva Ivri. Here is a recent post from Einat Kramer, the director of the Israel Shmita Project, about the recent movements and momentum that the project is having in Israel:


Dear friends,

We are about to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, the Jewish equivalent of “Earth Day”.

Tu B’Shevat has taken on various forms over the years. Its beginnings originated from the special mitzvot which are only kept in the Land of Israel regarding fruit from the trees, as a date that reminds us to share the bounty given to us by nature with those who don’t have it. In the long years of exile when we couldn’t practice these mitzvot, Tu B’Shevat became a time of longing for Eretz Yisrael, as well as a time for coming closer to God and to ourselves, through eating fruit and making special blessings over it. With our return to our country, Tu B’Shevat took on a Zionist dimension as a festival for planting trees, symbolizing rooting ourselves in the soil of our own land. In recent years this festival has acquired yet another facet from the world of sustainability: it is a time to discuss how to remain rooted in our world from an environmental point of view, out of concern for future generations.

Therefore Tu B’Shevat is the ideal point in time to present you, members and friends of Teva Ivri, with our unique new project: “Israeli Shmita”. We have been working on this project throughout the last year with the objective of uniting the profound ideas concealed in the mitzvah of Shmita with the reality of today’s world. Like Tu B’Shevat, the Shmita has also taken on many different forms. It has changed from a comprehensive mitzvah, which affected many aspects of the life of Jewish people in their own land, to adherence to special kashrut laws in the relevant years. We believe that the time has come for the Shmita year to take on a new form – right now, in Israel in the 21st century!

So – what is the Israeli Shmita?

“Israeli Shmita” is a wide-reaching initiative, encompassing organizations, businesses and public institutions, whose aim is to bring the Shmita year back into our calendars here in Israel as a year of reflection, learning, and mutual and environmental responsibility. The initiative is being coordinated by Teva Ivri, and its president is Harav Michael Melchior, Teva Ivri’s president.

Our aim is that everyone in Israel should know that the coming year is the Shmita year, and that whoever wants to will somehow implement the Shmita year in his life, in whatever way suits him and his outlook on life.

In order to achieve this aim, we are interested in leading a comprehensive publicity and educational campaign, including setting up a broad platform for enabling access to study material and which will serve as a link to the widest possible range of Shmita initiatives. At the same time we are working on promoting extensive social and environmental projects in cooperation with the Israeli government, a factor that will make this year different from all others.

After months of work, meetings and arrangements, we launched the project at two exceptionally successful conferences:

Conference of Organizations:

At this conference on Dec 15, 2013 in Tel Aviv, more than 50 social, environmental and business organizations, as well as those dealing with Jewish identity, took it upon themselves to promote the Shmita year as a turning point in environmental responsibility, social involvement and reflection.

During the event we heard from participants what Israeli Shmita means to them, we learned together, and, most importantly, we held round-table discussions on operative subjects relating to the implementation of the Shmita year in modern-day Israel. The discussions centered around the subjects of education, environment, community renewal, social justice, distributive justice, Shmita in the hi-tech industry, Israel-Diaspora relations and more. We marked the conclusion of the event by a collective signing of “Israeli Shmita Declaration“, in which we formally committed to continue promoting the idea.

Whoever wasn’t there is invited to watch the video clip on Shmita, to read the study page on the Midreshet site or to read about the round-table conclusions on the project’s  Facebook page.

Conference at the Knesset:

On January 6, 2013, the project moved up a level when the Lobby for Jewish Renewal, headed by Ruth Calderon and Yitzchak Herzog, held a special session on the subject of reinforcing an ethical, significant Shmita year in Israeli society, as a direct continuation of the conference of organizations.

Prior to the session, the Israeli House of Representatives and Israeli Shmita organizations committed to focus their efforts on three main areas connected to the values of the Shmita, and after a series of meetings of think-tanks, the following points were agreed on:

In the environmental field – The Minister for the Environment and his office, together with environmental organizations, will promote projects that will reduce the extravagant overuse of natural resources and will restore people’s attachment to nature and the environment.

In the educational field – The Minister of Education and his staff, together with organizations for Jewish renewal, will convey the implications of the Shmita year as an ethical principle, and it will be implemented in a practical way in both the formal and informal education systems. At the conference, the Minister of Education handed out his work-plan, comprising educational content.

In the socio-economic  field – The Minister of Social Welfare and his staff, together with organizations for economic recovery, will pinpoint families who are in debt to the point of economic dysfunction, families who are motivated to enter a therapy program that will include family members, sources of income and the acquisition of tools for economic management. In the course of the coming year, a fund will be established, made up of donations from the general public, and its aim will be to enable these families to arrive at debt-solution arrangements as part of an organized process of financial recovery.

Here is an excerpt of what Ruth Calderon’s shared on the subject:

תודה רבה לכל השותפים והדוברים בכנס שנת השמיטה בכנסת הבוקר. ההירתמות והרגשת השותפות הייתה מיוחדת במינה. שנת השמיטה שתחל בתשרי הקרוב (ספטמבר) היא הזדמנות גדולה לחידוש המסורת היהודית באופן שהוא נאמן לערכי חיינו היום, לדמוקרטיה לשויון ולחמלה, כייאה לחלום הציוני.
במהלך הכנס הוצגו שלשת המישורים בהם נפעל:

        Many thanks to all the partners and speakers at the session on the Year of Shmita, in the Knesset, this morning.  The harnessing of energies and the cooperative spirit were unusually special.  The Year of the Shmita, which starts this coming Tishrei (September), is a great opportunity to renew Jewish tradition in a way that’s faithful to the values of our contemporary lives – toward democracy, equality, and compassion – consistent with the Zionist dream.

          יש לפנינו מלאכה רבה. תודה גדולה לכולם, קיבלנו המון כוח והשראה לעשייה.

        Great work lies ahead of us.  A huge thanks to all; may we receive much strength and inspiration for this effort.

For a more detailed description of the Knesset gathering, please read the report from Jeremy Benstein, director of the Heschcel Center and one of the key Israeli leaders of the Siach Network.

Now What?

Now that the talking stage is over, the time has come to start working – writing programs, building websites, leading projects, and – most important – continuing to work together for the common good.

Let’s finish up with a verse with which God soothes the People of Israel in the Book of Leviticus, when they are concerned about keeping the Shmita and Jubilee years (Leviticus, XXV, 18-19): “ shall live upon the land in security; the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill and you shall live upon it in security”. A society that tends its environment, that uses its natural resources in a proper and sensible way, that observes mutual responsibility and care for the weak, this is a society that is secure and preserves its existence.