Kavanah Garden Grand Opening Address to the Community

So, welcome to the forever home of Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden on UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus!

 My name is Risa Alyson Cooper and I am the Executive Director of Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs, the organization that founded and coordinates the Kavanah Garden.

For the last four years, we have operated our pilot phase of the Kavanah Garden on a small plot of land on the other side of this ravine.  When we began, there was nothing here.  No houses, no schools, no rush hour traffic.  And at the time, in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, we started growing.  On about ¼ acre, we built a small greenhouse, planted a few seedlings, walked a pathway down to the stream.  We invited schools to come visit the garden, and when they said yes, we quickly developed some curriculum, some activities to engage their students.  We began hosting a free family drop-in program every Thursday afternoon and with the influx of families and volunteers who visited during those hours, we carved out more growing spaces, began exploring the meadow surrounding the garden, identifying the turkey vultures, the great blue herons, the leopard frogs, even the wild turkeys who shared our space.  We began harvesting and formed some amazing partnerships with Ve’Ahavta and the North York Harvest Food Bank so that the food we produced would get to the most vulnerable in our community.  And each season, we got bigger – we added more growing spaces, we hosted more programs, we logged more volunteer hours.  We developed materials, activities, curriculum, that highlight the rich ecological wisdom inherent within our Jewish tradition.  We developed programs that highlight the agricultural significance of the Jewish holidays, that teach Jewish ethics (like tzedakah and bal tashchit/not wasting), that incorporate Hebrew language, that actively engage community members from across the many spectrums that make up our vibrant and diverse community, and that offer participants hands-on, meaningful ways of exploring their Jewish identity.  By 2012 (our fourth season), we were hosting over 1500 individuals each season, donating over 500 pounds of fresh, local, organic produce to community members in need a year, logging over 1600 volunteer hours, and were listed in Slingshot’s Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation as one of the 50 most inspiring and innovative Jewish projects in North America, the only Canadian initiative listed in that year’s edition.

Over the last four years, as the community around us has grown and developed, the garden has undergone changes that reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the community members who come to our programs, who see the Kavanah Garden as a feature of their neighbourhood.  While there is a bit of sadness in leaving the site that rooted us, literally, to the Vaughan community, we are overwhelmed with gratitude to be establishing ourselves on the east side of the ravine, in our new and permanent home on UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus.  I will share with you a bit about our full vision for this space in a moment, but before I do, I would like to acknowledge the incredible number of partners and people who played a formative role in creating this space, the Kavanah Garden, to serve as a resource for our community for years to come.

-Shoresh evolved from an older organization Torat HaTeva: The Jewish Nature Centre of Canada, started by Alexandra Kuperman.  Back in 2002, Alexandra, later followed by Shai Spetgang and Ahuva Goldschmit, was laying the foundation that would later support the creation of our pilot garden space in Quadrant C, and that would sustain Shoresh as it grew from organization running the Kavanah Garden to the organization running the Kavanah Garden, an annual downtown Jewish Food Conference at the Miles Nadal JCC, a network of Jewish Community Supported Agriculture Programs, and most recently Bela Farm, a centre for sustainable land-based Judaism in Hillsburgh, Ontario (just 50 minutes northwest of Toronto).  So, Alexandra, thank you….thank you for scouting the land and for preparing the soil.
-Thank you to our community partners.  To the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto which has been incredibly supportive of making the Kavanah Garden a permanent feature of the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, and which has helped grow Shoresh as a young organization over the years with incredible capacity building and granting support.  Thank you in particular to our friends at UJA who have shared our vision and put their own time, energy, and resources into supporting this venture.  Ted Sokolsky, Bryan Keshen, David Sadowski (who I will say more about later), and Robin Gofine who has been a real mentor to me over the last four years, who has had unwaivering faith in the power of the Kavanah Garden and its programs to build a healthier, more sustainable, vibrant Jewish community, and who has been an advocate and cheerleader for this project every step of the way.  (We have certificates for all of you as well)
-Thank you to the City of Vaughan as well as the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority for being open to reimagining what a natural buffer zone between development and conservation land can look like.  And who helped us cultivate humility and patience through their permitting processes.
-Thank you to the members of the SixPoints Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, to its chairs Sam Mizrahi, Noah Godfrey, and Jonathan Bloomberg, to our committee members, Sam Mizrahi, Adam Beder, Michael Kuhl and Ari Silverberg.  Two years ago SixPoints put out a call to our community, looking for the next big idea that would radically change the Toronto Jewish community landscape.  It is with their generous support that we were able to build the infrastructure of our new and forever garden site and it is with their guidance and encouragement that we have developed not just this space, but Shoresh’s longterm vision for how we can help build a sustainable Jewish community while ensuring our own sustainability (We also have certificates for all of you).
-Thank you to our other funders and granting agencies.  The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the EcoAction Community Funding Program through Environment Canada for the grants that got us started…the Joshua Venture Group, the Natan Fund, and the Buckstein Family Foundation for helping us grow.
-Thank you to Mark Malinowicz from UJA for answering all logistics questions regarding the Lebovic Campus, thank you Stephanie Campbell for CosburnNauboris for helping us navigate permits and processes, for coordinating so many of the players and pieces that needed to come together in time for today, and for fielding my thousand and one phone calls and e-mails…always with a smile.  Thank you Michael Tiribelli and your crew from Toronto Landscape Design for getting everything done and more in time for today despite snow in April followed by three weeks of rain.  You have all been such a pleasure to work with and I am radically grateful for your patience and commitment.
-Thank you to the community of individuals that make up the Shoresh team.  Our Board of Directors: Michael Schecter, Alexandra Kuperman, Andrea Most, Len Kofman, Aaron Levy, Ilyse Glickman, David Sadowski and Sam Mizrahi.  Our core volunteers who have supported us with unwaivering commitment over the years: Neil Shore, Debra Anthony, and Marc Levy.  Our teams of interns and volunteers, past and present….none of this could happen without you.  And lastly, the Shoresh staff: Rachel Rosenbluth, our Director of Education, and Tamar Yunger, our Jewish Environmental Educator…who bring the garden and its spaces to life, who reveal the awe and wonder of the plants and creatures that call the Kavanah Garden home, who are helping to shape the future of Shoresh, the Kavanah Garden, and its programs through their creativity and deep belief in the absolute value of experiential Jewish education.  And Sabrina Malach, our Director of Community Outreach….who was one of the original group of Torontonians living in rural Connecticut who began visioning what a Jewish garden space could look like in our community, who joined the Shoresh staff two years ago and has been a powerful force, a source of inspiration and vision, a source of encouragement and energy, and a true partner and dear friend.  Thank you.
-And lastly, thank you to the thousands of community members that visited and animated our old site, that helped us grow hundreds of pounds of fresh, local, organic produce for the most vulnerable in our community, that shared with us their visions for what the new Kavanah Garden should be and how it could reflect the incredible diversity of our Jewish community.  And thank you to all those who will come through these gates, get their hands in this soil, and deepen their Jewish roots for (G!d willing) years to come.

Today is a milestone for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden and as we celebrate our new home and look ahead, with our vision for this space five years from now, ten years from now, we understand and acknowledge that if our vision is to be sustained, we need to ensure we have the financial resources to support the Kavanah Garden’s transformative programs and initiatives moving forward.  And so, today, we are asking all of you to please consider making a donation to support the garden as it grows…so that the Kavanah Garden can continue to be a resource for our community in the future.  We are handing out donation cards – please take a moment before you leave to fill out the card…any amount helps.  As well, we have a donation jar set out on our information table beside the shed where we are gratefully accepting donations of cash or cheques.  In addition, for individuals interested in making a significant gift to support the Kavanah Garden, we have developed a listing of naming opportunities – opportunities to designate a gift in honour or memory of someone special…someone for whom the Kavanah Garden has/had/ or would have had a special place in their hearts.  These opportunities are listed in this shmancy booklet here – there are a few on our info table, please feel free to take one or to contact me directly about these naming opportunities.

In a few minutes we will move to the official “ribbon cutting” portion of today’s ceremony, afterwhich we invite you to stay and enjoy a tour of the garden, where we will highlight the different features that will ultimately make up the garden including our raised vegetable beds, massive native pollinator garden, outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and perennial fruit trees and berries.  As well, we will have a station for making Havdallah herb sachets, using dried herbs from our old garden site and exploring some of the new herbs we have planted here, as well as a station for making seed balls so you can help us spread wild flower seed in a ridiculously fun and messy way to help attract native pollinators to our new garden space.

Rather than a ribbon cutting, today we are going to be affixing a mezuzah to our garden gateway.  A mezuzah lets people know that this is a Jewish space…that the Kavanah Garden is open to everyone and that our programs, activities, even decision making processes are guided by Jewish texts, teachings, and traditions.  A mezuzah is also a reminder…may it remind us every time we enter the garden of the intentions we have set for how we interact with the land, with the creatures that call the Kavanah garden home, with our extended community, and with our own selves.  The word Kavanah means intention….and our vision for this garden has always been that it reminds us to slow down, witness the radical beauty of the natural world, and act with Kavanah, intention.

And the honour of affixing our mezuzah goes to our dear friend David Sadowski.  David has been the Kavanah Garden’s biggest advocate since day one.  For the last five years, David has been the person who makes things happen…firsts at our original site across the ravine, and then by identifying this space for us on the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, and bringing together all of the players and pieces necessary to get things moving on the ground (literally).  He has been a mobilizer, a teacher, and a friend, and we are radically grateful for all of the ways he has supported us over the years.  We feel there could be no better person to put up our mezuzah and symbolically welcome the Kavanah Garden community to its new home.

Thank you all again – please join us at the gateway, after which garden festivities will commence.

Risa Alyson Cooper
Executive Director, Shoresh Jewish Environmental Program