Picture this scene: city-dwelling children running with wild abandonment under a canopy of fertile fruit trees in a Jewish orchard, each tree emblazoned with a blessing bestowed on it by a community of orchard care-takers. Standing outdoors, not a car horn to be heard, a child grabs a pear from a tree, like taking candy from nature’s vending machine. Peaceful, right?
During the High Holy Days when we are asked to take stock of our own lives and to squarely confront our own mortality, it is appropriate to also examine the well-being of the larger Creation upon which we depend, and of which we are a part. When we consider water, it has been quite a year indeed. We have witnessed a frightening series of droughts, forest fires, floods, ice melts, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. On top of these natural phenomena, hydrofracking has emerged as one of the most significant environmental issues of our time. Kyle Rabin, Director of GRACE Foundation’s Water and Energy Programs, notes that, “It takes 4.5 million gallons of water to drill and fracture a typical deep shale gas well, and up to 1 million gallons of that hazardous water-sand-chemical mixture flows back up to the surface which, if mishandled, can pose a threat to nearby water resources.”
The beginning of June was busy in the Greater Boston area — garlic plants sent their scapes into the air, rainbow chard darkened their multi-color stalks and a whole slew of salad greens begged to be harvested. Intoxicated with the potential energy of fresh produce, New England provided an enchanting background to engage in matters of Jewish sustainability and food systems issues.
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.
For centuries, the system of kashrut helped us to decide whether food was “fit” for us to eat, but contemporary food issues are raising a whole new set of questions about what food we should and shouldn’t eat, which kashrut may or may not be able to answer.