The old and the new

Na’aseh v’nishmah – “we will do and we will learn” – are the words with which the Jewish people received the Torah, which we celebrated last weekend. The words are famous because of their order: it is the Torah’s intuition that one learns by doing, by trying things out, by taking a leap. These words underpin experiential education in general and the work of Hazon in particular, because they speak to the necessity of trying new things.

Newness is not good for its own sake, and birthing new things is certainly hard. But the world is changing fast, and Jewish life is changing fast. We need to relearn the ancient wisdom of Jewish tradition. We need to learn old things in new ways, and sometimes new things in old ways. We need to inspire those who are already involved in Jewish life, we need to bring new people through the door, and we have to point Jewish life outwards to address some of the largest issues of our time.

I’m thinking this because last week saw the inaugural JOFEE Network Gathering, bringing together leaders of the field with fresh faces and curious newcomers. It was an exceptionally complicated event to plan because of the extraordinary breadth of participants – leaders in the field; JOFEE supervisors from a range of JCCs (and elsewhere); Adamah Fellows; newbies; oldies; funders. People for whom this is central to their lives and people who decided to come at the last minute. As we plan next year’s gathering there are some elements we’ll want to repeat, some we’ll want to change, some we’ll choose to add. Overall: it was amazing to see the flourishing and broadening of this evolving space. It was an incredible highlight for me personally to see and to learn from people like Sarah Chandler, Anna Hanau, Sabrina Malach, Becca Weaver and so many others – people who worked at Hazon or lived at Freedman or participated in Adamah or Teva, and who are now engaged in changing Jewish life, and creating a better world for all, in so many ways and so many places.

The JOFEE Network gathering was timed to include the final leg of training for our first cohort of JOFEE Fellows, a new program funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. I asked Yoshi Silverstein, Director of the JOFEE Fellowship, to give a sense of that experience thus far:

Seventeen Fellows. Three weeks of training – and counting the omer. 3,672 accumulated hours of learning, sharing, and growing. How fitting that the JOFEE Fellowship orientation and training intensive led right up to Shavuot. We spent time in Maine and in Connecticut, learning with and from senior JOFEE educators, JOFEE mentors, and our expert training partners from Outward Bound, BEETLES, and the Tisch Center. The ancient Jewish people gathered manna, or quail; we tried to gather wisdom, insight, tools, and models for learning. How do we live together, learn together, bridge difference? What does it mean to be heirs to an indigenous people? What is our relationship to place, to Jewish tradition, to each other? What is the best JOFEE pedagogy – and how do we apply it, as different people, working in different organizations, for different populations?

These were our questions, this our agenda, as we hiked, canoed, and climbed together through the tree canopy; deepened our practice of observing and connecting to the natural world; celebrated and learned Jewishly.

This was a phenomenal opening cohort – a wide range of backgrounds and skills and interests, but a very deeply shared commitment. We are only three weeks into a year-long process; but it feels like a strong start…

Here’s the list of Fellows, Placements, and Bios. Stay tuned for continued sharing of reflections and experiences with JOFEE, place-based learning, and community engagement throughout the entire year on the Hazon blog. And if you live near a JOFEE Fellow, reach out to say hello and be sure to get involved with the fantastic JOFEE programs coming to your community. If you’re interested in joining the next cohort, email

And even as we say goodbye to the first group of JOFEE Fellows, we’re planning to welcome our 60th annual cohort of Jewish seniors. In 1893, the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society began to offer immigrant girls who worked in the sweatshops of New York a vacation in the country. By 1956 those girls were senior citizens and it was time to buy a beautiful rustic property in Falls Village as a camp for senior adults – Camp Isabella Freedman. Next month will thus be the 60th anniversary of Camp Isabella Freedman. Every year since 1956, Jewish seniors have gathered for a week or two to shmooze, learn, walk, dance, create, and tour the Berkshire countryside. This year camp will be under the direction of Miki Raver, author of “Listen to Her Voice: Women of the Hebrew Bible” and former program director at Isabella Freedman and the Marin Jewish Community Center. If you – or a beloved senior in your life – would like to join us, you’re warmly welcome. If you have questions, be in touch with Miki at

Finally, and speaking of the old and the new and being a senior: a postscript to the awful events in Orlando over Shavuot. I write these words from Detroit, which was the original Motor City, the epitome of the American economy, the home of Motown; a city which rose and fell and is now rising again. Much that is old and much that is new. Being here is complex, fascinating, rich, provocative, challenging, inspiring. Yesterday morning a dozen of us davened avodat halev, an alternative shacharit service, at North End Christian CDC, a phenomenal neighborhood revitalization project led by the inspiring Jerry Ann Hebron, where our Hazon Davidson Fellows, supported by the William Davidson Foundation, work 20 hours a week. (You might think Jerry Ann is a senior, given she’s 67; but her mother, Rev Bertha Carter, is the pastor of the church here, so really Jerry Ann is still just a kid…) Jerry Ann said to me, “I went to public school with Jewish kids. The diversity for me was very real. Nowadays kids here don’t get out of the neighborhood, they don’t get to interact with difference. To have young Jewish Fellows here – and students from Brazil, France and Jamaica – and for my kids to be able to interact with them – is huge.”

JOFEE Fellows, Senior Camp, North End Christian CDC: as we move towards Shabbat, may we celebrate our tradition, honor our elders, connect to our neighbors – and try to make a better world for all.