Sustainable farming and cooking one’s own food can protect the environment and provide pathways to mindful eating. And for 15 students who took a unique excursion last week, these experiences also brought new layers of meaning to ancient theological texts.
The spring-break trip, sponsored by Hillel national and the Jewish Farm School, explored Jewish environmental ethics in unconventional ways. After a weekend of poring over related texts at a Jewish retreat center, the students traveled to an organic farm in southern California, where they cleared brush, milked goats and picked avocadoes, kumquats, oranges and berries. In the evenings, they attended lectures and group discussions and enjoyed the fruits—and veggies—of the day’s labor. [Story continues below.]
This blend of theology and hands-on work lends interesting underpinnings to the study of sustainability, notes Ted Merwin, director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life, who joined the students for a Shabbat celebration at the farm. “It’s new territory for us, particularly as a way of building Jewish identity, and it’s very exciting,” he says.
A pleasantly surprising mix
As Merwin explains, there are many intersections between Jewish thought and sustainable philosophy, including Torah passages about how to rotate crops to preserve land for future generations and how to properly yoke animals; there also are instructions to leave one corner of the field unharvested, to provide food for the poor. In fact, Dickinson offers an entire course devoted to Jewish environmental ethics, an area that has received growing scholarly attention.
Because the Hillel spring break was created as a vehicle for Jewish students to explore this lesser-known facet of their faith, organizers were astonished to learn that half of the students who signed up were non-Jewish.
“It was a very pleasant surprise,” says Professor of Mathematics Barry Tesman, who led the trip. “Everyone brought different perspectives to the table, and we had very interesting discussions because of the mix. It was phenomenal.”
Read another spring-break story: Where the Heart Is.
By MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Photos courtesy of participating students