Shana tova / The year in wider perspective…

This is our last email of the first year of this shmita cycle. Rosh Hashanah – a week on Sunday night, October 2nd – marks the start of year two.

It has been a good and productive and impactful year for Hazon, and I am so grateful to our staff, our board members, our funders, our participants. Just doing one thing makes a difference. Being kind, offering advice, pitching in, being brave, stretching, supporting. We each of us influence myriad others, each day, directly and indirectly. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your ideas. Thank you for showing up.

As good as it has been for Hazon, it has been an unsettling year for the Jewish community, for America and for the world. We were refugees or immigrants once, every one of us reading this – we or our ancestors, known or unknown. “Civilization” is a grandiose term for the ups and downs of our day-to-day life, all that we take for granted. Water from the tap, medicines, decent schools. Food from around the world, just down the street. All this technology. Bike lanes. GPS. All these practical things and a thousand others we rely upon each day sit upon a very unpractical base, which we ignore at our peril: a well-functioning democracy. Peace is not our right, it is our great good fortune, one that so many of our ancestors didn’t enjoy; one that so many people in the world don’t enjoy to this day. (The rabbis of the Talmud lived for centuries – and two millennia thereafter – in what we know as Iraq. The synagogue of Aleppo was first planted in King David’s time. The tragedies of the middle east should touch us not only as human beings, not only as heirs to a book that says that we should love the stranger because we, once, were the stranger; but also, in a more subtle way, because these are Jewish places.)

The second year of our shmita cycle will contain at least one decision that will reverberate, for good or ill, through to the end of this seven-year period – November’s election. The cheapening of American culture is tangible and real: the erosion of serious news, a loss of respect for leaders, a whole series of trends that are now having real consequences. I pray that Americans have the good sense to place the most powerful government and the history of the world in safe hands.

I want to note that these observations, at the end of the year, just ahead of the dawn of the next, are not tangential to Hazon’s work. It’s important to have some sense not just of what we do but of why we do it.

Inside Hazon we talk periodically about inputs and outputs and outcomes and impact.

Inputs – time and money and ideas.

Outputs – a Food Conference, an Adamah program, a JOFEE Fellowship, a Jewish Food Festival, an Israel Ride, a curriculum, a Seal of Sustainability. These are the things we do, but they are not the reason we do what we do, nor are they the goal of what we do. They are powerful and useful and good – we hope – but each is a means to an end.

Outcomes. These are the near-term ends we accomplish, or hope to. Someone whose life changes, in ways big or small. They decide to eat differently. They step into Jewish life. They step into leadership. An institution changes its food policies and – a thousand miles away – more chickens have the chance of living chicken-like lives. Bike lanes get built.

And those outcomes – the direct consequences of the outputs – lead on, in an unknowable dotted line, to the widest impact we seek to have. If we advocate for a bike line, the advocacy is the output and the bike lane itself it the outcome. But the intended impact is to save the life of someone who never knows that, in a counter-factual different reality, they’d be dead right now. That someone, by the way, might be you or me.

The largest impacts we aim for are the reason we exist. The tagline under our logo – “Jewish Inspiration. Sustainable Communities” – hints towards the impacts we’re aiming for. We want to help the Jewish community become measurably healthier, visibly more sustainable. We need to green our institutions. We need to broaden kashrut policies so we have food policies. We need to reconnect with land and the sources of our food. We need to deepen our practice. And we need to turn outwards, now as much as any time – to help make a healthier and more sustainable world for all. I don’t think there are bad guys – not Exxon, not GE, despite their sometime sins; I think we’re all living in a way that we’ve grown up with as “normal” but which will be increasingly inexplicable for our grandkids. Why did we not save the wild spaces? Why did we allow fishstocks to become extinct? Why, when the consequences of our actions were so clear, did we fail to tax gas and create incentives to reduce our carbon output far more seriously?

So… shana tova!!

I feel a tad somber, but I don’t feel bowed down. I’m continuously inspired by the people I work with and the people I meet. I did a session the other week with the Fall Adamahniks; they’re pretty amazing. I hope one of them ends up as President in due course. (It’s true they’re somewhat under-experienced for the office but I understand the bar is lower than it used to be.)

Finally: here are two different essays, if you’re the kind of person who wants to print something out in shul to read during services. This is Andrew Sullivan’s beautiful and provocative essay last week – “I Used to be a Human Being…” And this is the piece that we send out every few years on the rhythms of the high holyday prayer services.

May we live in peace and freedom. May we be worthy of peace and freedom.

Shana tova u’metuka a sweet and good new year….


PS – this is not a formal “appeal.” But in our liturgy, this is a time of giving tzedakah, of doing that which is just and needed. Thank you to all of you who have supported us this year. If you want to give an additional gift – or you want to give a first-time gift – please click here, or send a check to the address below. If you have questions or suggestions, be in touch with me or with Gina Schmeling, Director of Development.