As it turns out, there is more to the subject of Jews and food than bagels and lox. And kugel, brisket and gefilte fish.
Nigel Savage, founder and executive director of Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental group in the United States, has been busy promoting what he calls the “new Jewish food movement.” Through the annual Hazon Food Conference, Savage and his associates are spreading the word about contemporary food issues – Jewish food culture, cutting-edge food law and policy, kosher meat issues, health and nutrition, cooking and gardening, and Israeli food and agriculture.
Hazon’s Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program links consumers with small farmers, which enables the Jewish community to support local, sustainable agriculture. In the CSA program, individuals and families pre-purchase a share of a farmer’s produce for an entire season.
As part of Adath Jeshurun Congregation’s Synaplex Shabbat program, which will take place March 12-13, Savage, a native of Manchester, England, will speak about the Jewish food movement and other topics as the shul’s Numero-Steinfeldt Scholar.
Savage spoke on the phone with the Jewish World last week as he was preparing to leave San Francisco for New York City.
- Nigel Savage: In the suburbs there are many more opportunities for synagogues and Jewish institutions to start to grow their own food. (Photo: Courtesy of Hazon)
Asked about the irony of his promotion of “eco-Judaism” at a mammoth suburban synagogue, many of whose members drive around town in SUVs, live in MacMansions and, generally, leave a large carbon footprint, Savage allowed, “First of all, it’s a great question.”
In his view, however, this is the “most exciting time” for both urban and suburban Jews to engage with environmental concerns.
“For urban Jews, I think that we’re seeing a strong trend towards living intentionally… and being able to walk to work and bike to work,” he explains. “For suburban Jews, there are opportunities that people in the cities don’t have. In the suburbs there are many more opportunities for synagogues and Jewish institutions to start to grow their own food.”
Savage mentioned that during a recent visit to Denver, he learned that a group was taking five acres of land next to a Jewish day school and starting a small farm.
“You can’t do stuff like that in Manhattan; but you can do that in the Denver suburbs; and you could do that in the Minneapolis or St. Paul suburbs.”
The last time Savage visited this neck of the woods was in the summer of 2000, on a stopover during a Seattle to Washington, D.C., bicycle ride. It was Hazon’s first such event and drew 11 riders. Savage’s biography notes that he is the “first English Jew to have cycled across South Dakota on a recumbent bike.”
“We came through the Twin Cities and we did a fun ride from the Minneapolis JCC [now the Sabes JCC] to the St. Paul JCC, and back,” he recalls. “Actually, this may be the first time I’m going to be back in town since then.”
Hazon (Hebrew for “vision”), which is based in New York City, has grown quickly in the intervening years – the group’s bicycle rides in the United States and Israel (in partnership with the Arava Institute) have become popular events.
“We do rides every year in New York and the Bay Area; we’ve taken 700 people to Israel in the last six years” on bike rides, comments Savage. “We do a food tour in Israel, a ‘green teen’ tour in Israel.” He also mentioned Hazon’s 41 CSA programs across the country.
Ella Mogilevsky, an Adath Jeshurun member who lives in Minneapolis, participated in Hazon’s 2001 ride in New York. She met Savage when he was here in 2000, and was inspired to ride with the group.
“It involved a lot of intricate planning, to get from Minneapolis to New York, and find a bike” for the two-day, 100-mile ride, she remembers. She was the oldest of the riders, 68 at the time.
The riders enjoyed home hospitality, and Mogilevsky recalls that the “people were so wonderful; one was a Modern Orthodox family who couldn’t be nicer.”
The retired medical technologist said the “exciting part was biking into New York” and being greeted by a crowd of students at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“Nigel is an incredible man,” says Mogilevsky. “When I biked with him, he rode a recumbent – the 100 miles. And he was such an upper, and he just cheered us on.”
On Friday evening, March 12, Savage will speak at a congregational dinner on “Eco-Judaism and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance.” He will give a d’var Torah, “Sacred Vessels: How the Jewish Food Movement Is Changing the World,” on Saturday morning; and then talk on “Environmental Issues for Environmental Skeptics” at a Learn after Lunch event.
The Synaplex Shabbat, which is titled “Jews, Food and Planet Earth: A New Vision,” will feature sessions on kashrut with Rabbi Barry Cytron, an informal Torah discussion with Steve Lear, a demonstration on savory salad-making with Zehorit Heilicher, and other topics.
Regarding Adath Jeshurun’s CSA program, Mike Jacobs, of Easy Bean Farm in Milan, Minn., will be at the synagogue to explain how people can get involved in the farmer-consumer partnership. Around Minnetonka, Jacobs is known as “Farmer Mike.”
A full schedule of Shabbat events can be found at: adathjeshurun.org, or call the synagogue at 952-545-2424.
Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff, assistant rabbi at Adath Jeshurun, says that the message Savage will bring is consonant with the teachings that congregants hear at the shul “about how to live a better, more conscious life.”
In the Jewish tradition over 3,000 years, there has been much written about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and fostering an ethical relationship with the natural world. Simply saying prayers over wine and bread, and Birkat Hamazon, focuses minds on the holy nature of the food we ingest.
Also, Rabbi Sadoff mentions the law of baal tashchit, which commands us not to waste the natural world. The specific passage in the Tanach (Deuteronomy 20: 19-20) says that in warring against a city, you cannot “destroy its trees… You may eat of them, but must not cut them down.”
The “general ethos of Judaism,” according to Sadoff, does not support some of the wasteful practices that characterize contemporary consumerist society. “Nigel is now talking a lot about ‘fasting and feasting’… which has a lot to do with making eating a more holy activity, a more appreciated activity and, most importantly, a more conscious activity.”
Sadoff mentions that the Talmud contains a teaching “about it being a terrible shame to be eating while walking through the marketplace…. And now we live in a culture of eating in our cars, and eating while we’re walking, and eating in the least holy way that we can – completely disengaged from where our food is coming from, what is the process of making it, what’s in it, how nutritious it is.”
The Synaplex Shabbat, featuring Hazon’s Nigel Savage, at Adath Jeshurun will offer local Jews a chance to delve deeper into food issues, and to gain practical knowledge about how we can live in harmony with the Earth, which sustains all life.
For information about Hazon, go to: hazon.org.