Across the country, Jewish environmental and farming programs are (pun intended) taking root in the Jewish community. Whether they are semester long fellowships (like Adamah and Urban Adamah), programs at summer camps (like Eden Village, Kibbutz Yarokand Amir Project, to name just a few), the number and variety of these programs is increasing.
The East Coast-based Jewish Farm School has been offering alternative spring break programs and hands-on, skill-based Jewish agricultural educational programs for several years, but this June they are taking the field to the next level: in partnership with Hebrew College, JFS will offer a one-week, service-learning program that combines farming experience with Jewish learning aimed towards college-aged students. This program, called “To Till and To Tend,” is the first of its kind to offer college accreditation for participants. The program is structured similarly to the Jewish Farm School’s alternative spring break trips, which immerse participants in organic farming environments, but it is the collaboration with Hebrew College that makes this program so unique. For the Jewish Farm School, “To Till and To Tend” is only the jumping-off point to a semester-long, gap year-style program they hope to pilot in the future.
What does getting college credit for farming look like? The program offers a careful balance of working the land and studying in the beit midrash, or house of study, so that participants can actualize the depth of the work that they’re performing. In the morning, participants work on local farms in the rural and urban Greater Boston areas, and in the afternoons participants study, chevruta (partner) style, in the beit midrash of Hebrew College. The partnership with Hebrew College enables participants to engage in in-depth text analysis and deep textual work relating to contemporary environmental and food justice issues, such as food security, workers’ rights, and land stewardship. Participants will be able to work with rabbis, academics, and Jewish professionals, in addition to other community leaders.
Rabbi Jacob Fine, rabbi and Director of Programs at the Jewish Farm School, looks forward to the service work that the participants will be performing. By exposing participants to different types of farming models around the Boston area, and then reflecting upon those experiences in the beit midrash, Fine hopes that the program will “[weave] a coherent thread over the span of a day in very divergent experiences.” He hopes that participants will use their experiences on the farms as a lens for the work in the beit midrash, as well as the other way around.
Participants will also be cooking and eating together, an integral component of the program. Fine says that preparing and eating meals together is “not just down time,” but an essential part of the curriculum. Through land service, learning, and communal eating, participants gain a wide range of Jewish agricultural experiences.
In addition, Fine hopes that this program will be the entry point for students into the field of Jewish environmental and agricultural learning. He envisions the program as “an inspiration for deeper learning at the nexus of these issues that are really important,” because “there’s value in exploring these themes and issues in relation to one another.” The program provides the opportunity for students to synthesize their passions of Jewish tradition and the environment, both personally and professionally. And of course, college accreditation from Hebrew College only helps. Fine sees college accreditation as one of the futures of Jewish environmentalism and notes the power of experiential education; areas in which fellow Jewish institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University already offer programs. In addition, accreditation is a validation of the work that Jewish Farm School strives to do. It’s also an important step to gaining credibility in the larger academic world. Fine acknowledges that Hebrew College seeing value in the work that the Jewish Farm School is doing, makes the partnership all the more rewarding.
“We are thrilled to have found, in Hebrew College, a partner for this project. Hebrew College’s character as a pluralistic and innovative institution, its commitment to promoting a Judaism that is responsive to environmental and social justice issues and the fact that a number of their faculty are themselves leaders in our field, all make it an ideal partner for us.”
For more information on “To Till or To Tend” visit: http://www.hebrewcollege.edu/summer.html.
Alyssa Berkowitz is a senior in the Joint Program between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University and is currently the Food Programs Intern at Hazon.