Towards a New Paradigm

The name of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, means both “go forth” or “go out” and, more literally, “go to you.” It’s the week in which Avraham and Sarah begin their great odyssey towards a new land and a new paradigm. They leave their comfort zone for the unknown. Their journey gave birth not only to a family but – in the end – three world religions.

So, despite the headlines, it feels like a good day to have landed in Israel. I’m out here for our annual Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride, followed by our Siach gathering for social justice and environmental leaders. This Sunday I’m squeezing in an Encounter trip to Bethlehem, which I’m also looking forward to.

I don’t think I’m any less sad, or angry, about some of what’s happening here in Israel, or in the region, than anyone reading this email. But, despite everything, I don’t feel completely hopeless. Governments can negotiate the absence of war. But actual peace – as impossibly far off as it may seem – can only arise through people, by building relationships of respect among those who disagree. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies – our lead-partner on the Ride, and the beneficiary of a majority of its proceeds – works at this every day of the year. Our riders are helping to fund a Master’s program in environmental leadership for a cohort of Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Palestinians, and Jordanians. They disagree, but they disagree with respect – not violence. And this is one thing I’m certain of: the way forward from conflict will be led by the kind of dialogue nurtured at the Aravah Institute. So as bad as things are, I at least feel in being here that in some tiny way our work is a step for good and not for bad.

Meantime, back in the US, our own JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food & Environmental Education) Fellowship is moving towards its first cohort, and is already receiving strong applicants. If you are or know of candidates with immersive JOFEE experience and the training and disposition to engage communities through outstanding JOFEE programming, you are strongly encouraged to apply. In particular, you may live or know of people who live / are interested in living in cities where we hope to be placing fellows – not just the East Bay and Baltimore and NYC and Isabella Freedman but also Louisville KY, Cincinnati, Palo Alto, Boulder, Bridgewater (NJ), Tucson, and Tamarack Camps (outside Detroit). Think of it as your own lech lecha journey. If you’re interested, go ahead and apply today. (If you have questions, be in touch with Yoshi Silverstein at The next round of applications closes November 2nd.)

Finally: thank you to everyone involved in the Farm to Table Food Festival last week in Palo Alto. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, we hope you’ll join us at the Philadelphia Jewish Food Festival on November 15th. Click here for info on our winter retreats at IF. And huge thanks to those who have recently joined us as monthly sustainers. If you’d like to join them, click here.

With all best wishes – and nesiya tova [safe travels] to the nearly 170 riders coming out in the next few days for our Israel Ride.