Chanukah and Energy Conservation

By guest blogger, Zachary Sadowski
December 3, 2014

The holiday of Chanukah is intrinsically linked to the idea of energy consumption and conservation. Everyone knows the basic idea of the story: many, many years ago a jug of oil thought to be capable of providing only one day of light miraculously gave eight instead. This is the basic story we grew up hearing, but a more detailed analysis of the events provides several interesting accounts of how and why this happened. Furthermore, these details reveal a very powerful message for us and future generations about our duty to conserve energy.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote that the divine miracle of this conservation of oil can be interpreted to mean that it is a sacred act for one to conserve energy as demonstrated by the actions of Adonai.  Daniel Bloom highlights two ideas regarding how the final jug of oil was used and how this alludes to multiple paths of action on energy use. The first account tells us that the jug was divided into eighths and each of these burnt for a day. Others believe that after the menorah was filled each of the first seven days the oil remained undiminished. The takeaway from these separate accounts is that there are multiple ways to achieve the same outcome. The first account has a clear conservation motif as less was used each night. The second account, however, points to the use of renewable resources that not only do not diminish, but do not add pollutants. 

One final analysis (and the one that spoke the most to me) comes from Josh Boydstun. He emphasizes that it was not a lack of oil that was the issue, but a lack of pure oil (at the time the invading Greeks defiled all but one jug of oil by touching them).  The priests refused to use the spoiled jugs even at the risk of not having enough pure oil for eight days.  Boydstun’s message is about the act of faith the priests took and how we cannot simply sit back and hope for a miracle to end climate change. I believe the more important lesson here is that not all sources of energy are equal. As the worlds traditional oil and coal resources continue to diminish, many corporations and countries are turning to non-traditional fossil fuel sources. In Canada,  this comes in the form of the exploitation of the tar sands and potential offshore mining of deepsea sources. Elsewhere the fracking boom provides an ominous outlook. These sources are like the impure jugs of oil left by the Greeks; they will provide energy, but at what cost? Unfortunately in this case the costs are far more severe than relying on unkosher oil.

While the messages of conservation in the story of Chanukah and from Jewish scholars carry much meaning, what is the modern take on the need to conserve energy?  Two sectors where you can have the most impact are the first and third largest contributors to emissions in Canada- transportation and electricity consumption. Clearly if we are to stop contributing to climate change much progress must be made to reduce our impact in these emission numbers.

           It is also helpful to think of conservation of electricity as an equivalent to adding additional generating capacity. If the system requires 1000kw/h more next year, instead of adding new capacity we can conserve some or all and diminish this need. This is the most cost effective way to reduce emissions. 

           So, what can you do to help conserve energy? Lucky for you there are many options. The government of Ontario offers a variety of programs and rebates you can take advantage of to not only reduce emissions, but save money as well (a list can be found here: For reducing energy use in the home they recommend three general tips:
  • Make a conscious effort to shift as much of your electricity use as possible to off-peak times. (These times can be found here:
  • Unplug your appliances when applicable in order to reduce phantom power. All appliances, when left plugged in, use a baseline of power even when they are off. Unplugging them eliminates this waste.
  • Purchase more efficient products. The best place to start is light bulbs where you can switch to LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. You can also look for Energy Star Appliances for your home.
Last and perhaps most important, be aware and care. In the end our governments and corporations play a huge role in how Canada reduces emissions. Think of these issues when you vote and think of them when you choose which businesses to support. If you show them you care they have no choice but to care as well. Unfortunately, there are no miracle fixes for our climate. But just like our Chanukah story tells us, a small number of people with strong determination can defeat even the mightiest of opponents. So channel your inner Maccabee this holiday season and be aware and care.

Moving Forward with the Kosher Humane Organic Meat Movement in Toronto

A Toronto resident chicken that lives at Bathurst and Eglinton
The word kosher means “fit” -- and so, when applied to food, it means “fit for eating.”  We would all love to believe that kashrut comprises the highest set of standards for our food, and that it is a system which addresses the health of our bodies, a concern for how our food is grown and raised, and the ethical aspect of bringing food to our tables.  Perhaps that was the case before the days of factory farming, and hopefully it will be the case again one day soon, but in the meantime, what is a Jew to do upon discovering that the only kosher meat available in Toronto comes from animals that were raised in crowded, filthy, quarters without enough room to move, fed genetically-modified corn, and were likely unhealthy at the time of slaughter?  There are currently three options:

  1. Stop eating meat: This option requires enduring the Jewish guilt that comes from refusing your grandmother’s brisket, and on a more serious note, may not be the most health-supportive choice for everyone.
  2. Eat high-quality non-kosher meat: When faced with the choice between pasture-raised non-kosher meat and conventionally-raised kosher meat, many Jews who would otherwise keep kosher homes are choosing the pasture-raised option.  For some it is a health choice, for others it is a way to uphold their values in day-to-day life, and for many it is a combination of the two.
  3. Dissociate: Forming a disconnect between the meat on one’s plate and the animal(s) it came from may make eating kosher meat more palatable, but dissociation presents its own set of moral quandaries.
Quite frankly, that embarrasses me.  How can my tradition, which prides itself on its elevated moral standards and foodways, cling to a system in which the only way to eat meat is to defile our bodies, disregard concern for the physical environment, and contribute to a system that dishonours animal life?  I believe that it is possible to create a fourth solution.  Eating meat can -- and should -- be a holy act, an act that brings us to an awareness of the Spirit that connects all living things.  We can bring meat to this city that is kosher, organic, and humanely-treated, and if we take our role as active Jews seriously, then we must. 

It will take a lot of work to turn this vision into reality, and I believe this is a responsiblity that we must saddle as a community.  The first step, which I would like to undertake in the coming months*, is to compile a research report which comprehensively explores the feasibility of different models given Ontario provincial regulations, the structure of the kashrut industry, the practicality of various business models, and the existence and practices of existing growers and purveyors.  The full report will comprise four case studies as follows:
  1. Outsourcing some or all of the production to an existing organic meat company such as Berretta Farms or Tiferet Organic Products
  2. Running an educational shechita at a small farm in our southern Ontario region
  3. Sourcing meat directly from a small farm in our southern Ontario, slaughering it, and selling it: individually-owned corporation and cooperative business models
  4. Raising, slaughtering and selling meat from a small, educational farm in southern Ontario that privately owned but managed by a non-profit organization 

This project is large.  It will require community collaboration in various capacities in addition to a lot of thinking outside the box.  But the time has come to realize this dream, and if we pool our resources we can provide the Toronto Jewish community with meat that satisfies all of our standards: religious, nutritional, ethical, and environmental.

*The scope of this project is large, and I am not currently in a position to give all of my time to its realization. If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the project, please contact me at or at home at 416-651-6059.

Yael Greenberg lives in downtown Toronto and loves exploring the intersection between the hearth, the food system and supportive community. She currently works as the manager and baker at Kavanah Caterer, which brings sustainable food to the Toronto Jewish community.

Tzedakah, the Jewish Market, and Maxie's Garden

When we hear the word “tzedakah,” many of us think of the word “charity,” or recall placing our parents’ pocket change in jangling boxes (known as a pushke in Yiddish)  in Hebrew school or at synagogue.

In fact, the word tzedakah is translated as “justice.” Maimonides lists eight levels of tzedakah — the highest level is to empower the individual, by offering a loan; assisting people with finding employment; or helping people establish businesses. While giving charity to the poor through donations is noble, and makes Maimonides’ list in several forms, it often chains the needy to a system of relying upon external groups to sustain themselves. This is generous, but not necessarily just — empowering individuals to sustain themselves is the highest degree of Maimonides’ concept of tzedakah.

At Shoresh, everything we grow is donated — the Kavanah Garden produces over 500 pounds of fresh vegetables annually for distribution in the community. We have always donated our harvest to tzedakah including organizations such as Ve’Ahavata and Jewish Family & Child  (JF&CS). In 2014, we adopted a new approach to tzedakah and what unravelled was the launch of Maxie’s Garden — a story that begins in Kensington Market.

Market harvest 

Dave Pinkus has lived on Nassau Street since 1927.

At the close of the 1920s, Toronto was home to a burgeoning population of Jewish immigrants, highly concentrated in the Kensington neighbourhood. Just a few years later, vendors had set up food and goods, lining the street in what came to be known as the Jewish market. It closed on Friday nights each week as the bustling crowds would disappear into their homes to observe the Sabbath, coming to life once again on Saturday nights and flooding the streets with members of the surrounding immigrant community doing their shopping throughout the week.

Jewish Market Day on Kensington Avenue, 1924. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Today, we know this area of Toronto as Kensington Market. The majority of the Jewish population that once enlivened its storefronts and alleyways moved north — but not Pinkus.

The same year that he came to the neighbourhood, the Kiever Synagogue was established at 25 Bellevue Avenue. His parents were founding members of the shul that remains in its original location to this day. The Kiever remains active today, and Pinkus serves as its president.

In 2014, Shoresh began to set roots in downtown Toronto and were looking to start a new community garden in the area.  Through a variety of connections, Pinkus heard about Shoresh’s interest and generously offered up the backyard of his 90-year-old Nassau Street residence. The project was called Maxie’s Garden, after Pinkus’ late brother.

For 23 weeks, 5-10 clients of JF&CS came to the garden to learn how to tend to the land, guided by Shoresh Director of Community Outreach Sabrina Malach from seed to harvest. The group was called “Back to Our Roots.”

In the shadow of the vibrant Jewish market of nearly a century ago, coloured by the produce of downtown vendors, the group grew fresh produce in Kensington to take home and to donate to the community. In the rich soil, invested in several years earlier by Pinkus, the group grew carrots, beets, radishes, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, chard, chives, zucchini, beans, garlic, flowers, and more.

Pinkus, an incredible community leader and a living library of the history of Toronto’s Jewish community, engaged with the group throughout the program.

I really enjoyed myself both for the learning factor but also in having the true privilege of meeting David and getting to know him somewhat and in marvelling and also being amazed at his vast knowledge and memory,” one participant described, “What a true mensch and wonderful, wonderful man. I loved hearing him speak of my uncle and family that he knew. It is very rare to be in the company of such a gifted and kind man who possesses such a razor sharp memory and accurate too.”

Participants with Pinkus and Shoresh and JFCS staff in the garden.
Several participants found the experience of working in the garden healing, and many expressed that they enjoyed the collaborative, social nature of the work.

I love the garden more every time I come,” said one participant, “I find it therapeutic and it makes me feel proud.”

Food justice

“After learning from Maxie’s Garden, I planted my own garden,” said one participant of the JF&CS-Shoresh collaboration.

A flower in the garden.
Describing the highlights of her experience in the program, another participant describes, “taking home the harvest, [having] access to organic food, [and] knowing that I was a contributing hand.”

Looking ahead to the next iteration of the garden, Shoresh and JF&CS hope to incorporate cooking classes to provide even more practical skills to program participants.

Tzedakah is not the only Hebrew concept that is sometimes mistranslated — we often think of “mitzvah” as meaning “good deed,” but in fact, it means “obligation.” Tzedakah is a mitzvah — and social justice, more than a commendable endeavour, is an obligation upon the Jewish community.

At Maxie’s Garden, the Maimonidean principle of the highest degree of tzedakah as social justice is seen in action — participants learn to plant, weed, and harvest their yield, so that they can nourish themselves independently. Beyond this, they also have the opportunity to socialize; to meaningfully work with and learn from others; and to engage in the ineffable healing and empowerment of gardening.

As one participant noted, “the process of seed to the table is truly divine.” 

Shmita 101

On the side of a highway in southern Israel, a field of dried out sunflowers likely strikes observers, initially, as abandoned — a sprawling, desolate pasture, unattended and still except for the inaudible decay of the remaining brown blooms.

Before the field stands a large, yellow poster, with green Hebrew letters declaring, “We observe the shmita year.”

A fallow field in Israel during the 2007/2008 shmita. Courtesy Yaakov via Wikimedia Commons. 

This seventh year of the Jewish agricultural cycle, where we are called to rest the land and to forgive any outstanding known as the shmita, represents an opportunity to refocus, to strategize, and to ask: what will our community look like seven years from now? Indeed, several commentators suggest that It is the years that lead up to and follow shmita that matter far more than the year itself. It is a period to reflect on the past, and to vision forward.

Shmita is not without its challenges, and not only for those Jewish farmers who seek out loopholes to get around the commandment. The term is translated as “release” — and, realistically, it’s not always easy to let go. Carving out time to rest, to reflect, and to plan can be difficult to prioritize.

But shmita is process-oriented — it is a proactive project of critically analyzing our behaviour towards implementing positive changes. This can be a personal process, reflecting on the way we go about our lives — where our food comes from, what we eat, or how we relate to the environment, for example. But it can also be communal, asking big questions about our community and how we can implement systemic changes with broad impact.

Shoresh is participating in the shmita, and we’re certainly not alone. In this blog post, we take a look at how other organizations are approaching the seventh year, as well as gather some essential resources on the subject with the hopes that you can incorporate some of the deep wisdom of shmita into your life.

Diverse contemporary approaches to shmita

The Shmita ProjectThis collaborative initiative by American organizations Hazon, 7Seeds, and the Jewish Farm School aims to increase awareness and understanding of shmita and its modern applications, and to foster a global network of Jewish organizations and individuals towards implementing shmita values into communities worldwide. The project provides comprehensive educational resources on shmita, programming ideas, and several online networks for participants to connect with one another.

Give it a rest: Shmita, social action, social justiceA campaign by the Jewish Social Action Forum (JSAF) in the UK offering educational resources those wishing to participate in the sabbatical year and hosting related events. The theme of the JSAF’s campaign is inequality, drawing attention to stark income gaps in the UK and encouraging individuals to donate to local food banks.

Israeli shmitaA nation-wide coalition based in Israel organized by Teva Ivri, with the goal of ensuring that every person in Israel knows that shmita is happening. The campaign also aims to provide tools for interested individuals to incorporate shmita values into their lives. Their projects include establishing community volunteer banks wherein community members can withdraw or deposit volunteer time; swap markets; free entrance to 15 nature reserves; and advocating for a moratorium on fishing in the Kinneret.

How is Shoresh participating in Shmita?

To honour the Shmita year and its ethic of rest, release, and balance, we are devoting the fall and winter months to strategic planning for our young, small, not-for-profit organization.  In order to do this, we have limited the amount of educational programs we are running and have put the annual Shoresh Food Conference on hold until 5779 (2016).

    Produce for sale at an Israeli shmita store. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Discover shmita: Resources for understanding the sabbatical year

The Shmita Sourcebook — A free, comprehensive resource put together by Hazon containing biblical, rabbinic, and modern texts on shmita, accompanied by commentary and discussion questions.

What is shmita and where did it come from? — A brief, easily digestible history of shmita from Ha’aretz featuring some interesting insights into how ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel observe it.

Envisioning sabbatical culture: A Shmita manifesto — A short collection of poetry, art, and brief essays from 7Seeds that delves into the mythic symbolism of shmita and questions the depth of potential that shmita offers modern Jewish communities. 

Shemita as a Foundation for Jewish Ecological Education — A helpful article from Jewish Education News to understand the connections between shmita and environmental issues.

Rav Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’Aretz — “What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the Shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole,” writes Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, in his 1909 essay in which he offers a halakhic framework for shmita. For this year, Hazon has a released a new translation of the work.

More shmita resources can be found at Hazon.

5 ways you can get started with shmita

  1. Join the conversation on social media by sharing articles and thoughts on Facebook and Twitter with #shmita. Hazon also hosts both a network and a Facebook group for those participating in their Shmita Project.
  2. Host a potluck shmita Shabbat or, looking ahead on the calendar, a shmita seder, using locally-sourced perennial or wild ingredients and preserves. Hazon offers a guide containing sources and discussion questions for hosting a shmita seder.
  3. Organize an exchange meet at your home or synagogue to trade anything from items like clothing, books, or food; to skills, like sewing a button back on a sweater or fixing a wobbly table leg. Rather than buying new or outsourcing assistance, share what you have to offer with your community in the spirit of the shmita principle of local collaboration.
  4. Create a shmita book club with texts focusing on sustainable agriculture and Jewish approaches to environmental issues.
  5. Start your own shmita project — whether it’s planting a garden of perennial plants, or developing long-term 7-year personal goals.
Want more ideas? Check out 100 ways to get started with shmita from 7seeds.

Photo courtesy Yaakov via Wikimedia Commons

More shmita facts: 

  • A line from Leviticus referencing the shmita year can be found on the Liberty Bell in the U.S.: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
  • Stefan Sagmeister, a New York-based graphic designer who has designed album covers for the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, closes his studio to clients every seven years for the sabbatical to “experiment” and refresh his creativity and that of his staff. He gave a TED talk about it called “The power of time off.” 
  • In Israel, low-income families can have their debts cancelled this year if they participate in a finance management course as part of the Israeli Shmita initiative.

Danielle Klein is a student at the University of Toronto studying literature, history, and Jewish Studies. She is interning at Shoresh through a service-learning course offered by the Centre for Jewish Studies at U of T called "Community and Identity," which explores Jewish social philosophy.

Shoresh Food Conference 2014: State of the Onion

Shoresh Food Conference 2014: State of the Onion
By Risa Alyson Cooper, as presented during the Plenary Session

Good morning everyone and welcome! Welcome foodies, farmers, chefs, rabbis, students,
nutritionists, bakers, and lovers of cholent! Welcome to the third annual Shoresh Food Conference, where we bring together community members from across the many spectrums that make up our diverse community sowe can explore together the intersections between Jewish tradition, food, and contemporary we can collectively engage with the question “what does it mean to eat Jewishly today?”

I want to start today with what we at Shoresh call a State of the Onion…essentially a State of the Union with a vegetable twist – it’s a brief look at the food challenges we face, the successes we are celebrating, and the future of the Jewish Food Movement.

Food today is complicated. There are a lot of questions we need to ask if we want to be informed,
intentional eaters. Is our food organic? Is it locally grown? Does it contain genetically modified ingredients? Was the farmer who grew it paid a living wage? How were the animals raised? How were they slaughtered? How is it packaged? How is it distributed? Is it too expensive? Is it not expensive enough? Is it kosher? Does it have a heksher? Is it gluten free? Oy vey!

In our food system, even with a polar vortex outside, you can eat fresh strawberries in January. Today,
the average North American meal travels 2400 km to get from field to table and contains ingredients from at least five other countries. A head of broccoli can travel more of North America than the average North American.

In our food system, it is illegal to purchase raw milk. Our provincial government will guarantee my
right to buy cigarettes, but not my right to access unpasteurized dairy products (because those might kill me).

In our food system, the pesticides we spray to “protect” some of our crops are in turn decimating our
pollinator populations. Insect pollinators are necessary for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Here is just a sampling of crops that are dependent upon or benefited by insect pollination.

In our food system, genetically modified ingredients do not need to be labeled as such. Despite the
fact that 60 other countries have mandated the labeling of genetically engineered foods, Canada has yet to pass legislation guaranteeing our right to know what we are eating.

In our food system we often depend on certifying agencies to tell us if something is organic, fair trade
or kosher. Now that our food is often grown, raised, packaged and prepared out of sight, certifications have become the new standard for consumers wishing to make informed food choices. But our certifying systems were designed for and cater to corporate food businesses, leaving many small-scale artisanal food producers off the table, so to speak.

In our food system, there are people in our own community who are hungry, not because we have a
problem with food production, but because we have a real problem with food distribution. Each year, the average single-family household in Toronto discards about 275 kilos of food (over 600 pounds). And, for the 5th year in a row, GTA food banks have seen over one million visits, with an increase of nearly 40 per cent in Toronto’s former inner suburbs since 2008. Joel Salatin, who runs Polyface Farm, a beyond organic grass-fed farm in Virginia (and is prominently featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilema) published a book in 2011 called “Folks, this ain’t normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.” In it he critically examines
our industrial food system and continually arrives at the inarguable conclusion that our systems “aint normal” and that with every bite we take we are either healing or hurting our soil, our animals, our bodies, our neighbours, and ultimately our world.

So, how do we navigate the challenges created by an abnormal food system, one that obscures our
relationships and connections with our food, that hides the environmental, social, and health costs of modern food production? Where do we turn to find a modern food ethic? In Judaism, there are rules that govern our relationship with food – how we grow it, how we prepare it, how we eat it, and how we share it with others. Jewish ethical and legal systems actually promote sustainable agriculture techniques, uphold social justice, and inspire the paradigm shift required for creating an equitable and sustainable food system. The laws of kashrut tell us what to eat; the Jewish agricultural laws outlined in the Torah, such as leket, peah, ma’aser, instruct us on how to share our harvest with those in need; the collection of laws known as tzaar ba’alei chayim ensure that we prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals; and brachot/blessings help us to eat with intention and gratitude, to give just a few examples. Food today may be complicated, but our community has been exploring the nature of our relationship with food for thousands of years and with the support of our texts and teachings, and by drawing on our rich agricultural and culinary history, we can navigate what and how to eat in a way that is best for our selves, our community and the globe.

While the relationship between Judaism and food is not new, the growth of a movement of individuals who are exploring this relationship in a contemporary context and advocating for Jewish food justice is a relatively recent phenomenon. Shoresh, in its current incarnation, was only established in 2009, and now we reach close to 4500 individuals annually through our educational programs at the Kavanah Garden, Bela Farm, in schools and shuls across the city, and at the Shoresh Food Conference. In the last handful of years, we have seen the birth and growth of a Jewish Food Movement, with regional one-day Jewish food conferences being just one piece of the puzzle. Today’s gathering is not happening in a vacuum – while we are exploring what it
means to eat Jewishly in Toronto, our cousins are having similar conversations in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, and San Francisco.

Not only are the Jewish communities of North America thinking about Jewish food ethics, they are
putting Jewish ethical teachings around food into practice. In the last decade, we have seen the exponential growth of Jewish Community Supported Agriculture Programs (or CSAs) in North America. More and more of our community members are committing their purchasing power to local, sustainable food systems. In Toronto alone, there are over 350 members of Jewish CSAs between the Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, Holy Blossom Temple, and the First Narayever Congregation, all three offering year-round fresh, local, organically grown veggies and eggs. Many of the vegetables featured in today’s lunch have been generously donated by our friends at Highmark Farms, our partner for Shoresh’s CSAs. For more information about our CSAs (including information about additional pickup sites this spring), make sure to check out the Shoresh info table at some point today.

And the search for ethical food does not stop at beets and potatoes….in the age of contemporary
factory farms, more and more people are demanding kosher meat that holds to Jewish ethical standards, not just the laws of kosher slaughter. In the shadow of the Agriprocessors Kosher Slaughterhouse scandal of 2008, where hundreds of cases of animal cruelty as well as the gross mistreatment of illegal immigrant workers were documented, we have seen the creation of a sustainable kosher meat industry. Tiferet, based in Montreal, offers organic chickens and now organic beef as well. We have discussed accessing kosher sustainable meat at previous food conferences, and we are thrilled to have our friends from Grow and Behold Meats with us today, all the way from New York, to discuss creating a Toronto buyers club for their products. For more information about Judaism and ethical meat eating, please check out today’s session From Field to Fork:
Raising Animals for Consumption and participate in the Round Table discussion with Grow and Behold Meats this afternoon.

The last few years have also seen the incredible growth of Jewish farming projects across the United
States, and with Bela Farm, now in Canada too. The experiential land-based programs offered at these sites are immersive, transformative and are helping a generation of young Jews get back to their Jewish roots in real and meaningful ways.

• Adamah, a three month Jewish farming fellowship in rural Connecticut at the Isabella Freedman
Jewish Retreat Centre, where fellows are changing the world one pickle at a time
• Urban Adamah, an educational farm and community center in Berkeley, California that offers a
residential fellowship program for young adults that combines organic farming, progressive
Jewish living, and social justice internships.
• Pearlstone Center in Reisterston, Maryland, which each year hosts a Beit Midrash, house of
study, giving participants an opportunity to delve deeply into Jewish environmental and
agricultural teachings
• Yiddish Farm in Goshen, New York…where you farm…in Yiddish….
• We are honoured to have our friends from Eden Village Camp with us today from New York,
and we encourage you to talk with camp founder and director Yoni Stadlin to learn more about
Eden Village, the first Jewish overnight farm camp that is literally changing the lives of its
campers, staff, and greater community through their farm to table camp program.

Clearly the Jewish Food Movement is doing radically amazing things ….and the broader Jewish
community is taking notice. No longer just a marginal player in the Jewish communal world, Jewish Food initiatives are now receiving funding from major North American granting agencies and donors. Shoresh alone has received funding and recognition from Slingshot (a resource guide profiling the 50 most inspiring North American Jewish projects, which has listed us twice), Covenant Foundation, Joshua Venture Group, Natan Fund, SixPoints Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Add the incredible awards and achievements given to our sister organizations in the U.S., and it is clear that not only are we doing incredible things for the Jewish communities of North America, but also that what we are doing is no longer on the fringe…the Jewish food movement has gone mainstream and the greater Jewish community is
looking to us as leaders in engagement and innovation in Jewish life.

Within the Jewish Food world, there are three different access points for engaging with Jewish food
ethics, three different spheres of action, which are reflected in the sessions offered at today’s conference:

First, there are personal connections. Each of us here is on our own personal food journey. When I was 18 a friend of mine and I drove across Canada for a summer. We ended up a little low on funds in Nelson, British Columbia and found ourselves one night at a free church dinner for the homeless and the many transient community members such as ourselves who flowed through the local youth hostel. The church dinner was entirely vegan and the reverend explained to me that he believed that night’s dinner was a fulfillment of Jesus’ ethic of compassion…for people, for animals. And that was one of my most profound ahha moments…that religion, spirituality, tradition might inform the food choices we make. I had grown up in our community going to day school, Jewish camp, Jewish high school….and it was in a church on the other side of our country that I first realized that eating “Jewishly” could be more than eating mandelbroit, or having a Passover seder. And so, in many ways began my personal food journey…which led me to farms in western Canada, the north east United States, and Costa Rica…which led me to vegetarianism, then veganism, then vegetarianism, then veganism…then to participate in a goat shechting (or kosher slaughter) (which incidentally made me decide that under the right circumstances and with the right Kavanah/intention, that I could seemyself eating meat again)….and now I am at a crazy stage in my food journey whereby I am now a food
source….while pregnant and now through breastfeeding, everything that I eat sustains not just me, but is exclusively what is sustaining my growing daughter. And that is crazy….and miraculous….and a constant reminder that I am what I eat…physically….energetically….spiritually.

So, wherever you are on your own personal food journeys, there are sessions today to help you grow and expand your skills and awareness: DIY workshops such as How to Make a Sustainable Shabbat Dinner, Kosher Cheese-Making, Growing in Small Spaces, and Fermentation and Microbiology. And workshops on bringing more intention and awareness to your food practices: Eating as Tikun, and The Exile of the Jewish Body.

Second, there are regional connections. Each region faces unique food challenges and has its own set
of resources to draw on. Pick up a copy of Edible Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe to learn about our local foodshed….taste the delicious locally made products available today from our friends at Ozery Pita Break, Sunflower Kitchen, Sweets from the Earth, Limonana and our lunch lovingly made by Mo and Lo Organics….talk to other conference participants between sessions, at lunch, and learn about the amazing things people are doing and working on in our own community. Go to today’s session on Jewish Farmers of Ontario, which will highlight our community’s rich agricultural history in this part of the world and explore the core values that are guiding a resurgence of rural Jewish community in Ontario through the genesis of Bela Farm.

And third, there are global connections. Many of the challenges that we face as a result of our
industrial food system have global implications. Global climate change is real and it is frighteningly clear that the choices we make (notably food choices) have environmental consequences. Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines last year, Australia and California are experiencing record breaking rain deficiencies, a polar vortex paralyzed our city and destroyed 20% of Toronto’s tree canopy. What are the teachings we can draw on within our tradition to navigate global issues such as climate change? What actions can we take as a community to prioritize and ensure environmental sustainability? Today there are a number of sessions that offer Jewish perspectives on some of the biggest global issues we face. Check out Not So Many Fish in the Sea, a look at eating fish in an age of overfishing and climate change or Canola, Corn, Soy…OY!, a multifaith look at
genetically modified foods.

So what’s next? How do we continue to grow in our relationship to our food, in our Jewish identities,
as a Jewish community? This Rosh Hashanah, we enter into the next Shmitah or Sabbatical year. In Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus, immediately following revelation at Sinai, G!d presents the Israelites with a set of moral codes to live by. Included in the collection of ethical teachings meant to guide our ancestors as they prepared to settle in the land of Israel, is the commandment to observe Shmita, a biblically mandated “Sabbatical year” of rest and release.“For six years you are to sow your land and to gather in its produce, but in the seventh, you are to let it go [tishm’tenah] and to let it be [u’nitashta], that the needy of your people may eat, and what remains, the wildlife of the field shall eat. Do thus with your vineyard, and your olivegrove” Shemot 23:10-11.

From this and other passages, our rabbis learned that during the Shmitah year, the soil was
neither seeded nor tilled, all private land holdings became open to the commons, every Israelite had
equal access to food through stores and wild harvests, and that foods were not sold as a commodity in
the marketplace. Not only that, but all debts were forgiven and all indentured servants were released.
Shmitah teaches us that there is a definite link between sustainable agriculture and sustainable
economy and that our systems are in need of regular readjustment in order to ensure a more
equitable, just, and healthy society. While observance of Shmitah is only mandated in biblical Israel,
the great equalizing that is at its core is more relevant today than ever. The entire occupy movement
is in response to the growing inequality that our societal structures perpetuate. Shmitah is the next big
thing in the Jewish Food Movement because it’s not just an agricultural ethic…it’s a full ethical
system…reminding us that while food is a big piece of creating a just society, it’s not the only piece and we need to think critically about the systems that order our world if we want to uphold the Jewish
ethic of tzedek/justice. We need to ensure that everyone in our community has fair and equal access
to resources.

Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental organization in North America, has initiated the
Shmita Project, which aims to create a network of individuals and organizations who are exploring the practices and values of Shmita, while also encouraging the broader study of Shmitah through the
sharing of teachings and resources. As a member of this network, Shoresh staff and partners are
committing to studying Shmitah deeply over the coming months and to creating a calendar of
programs for community members to study up to and during the next Shmitah year. And we’re
thinking big picture to – what would it look like to design the growing spaces at Bela Farm with the
next Shmitah cycle in mind? What would a Jewish farm in southern Ontario look like if we wanted to
live exclusively off what we produce at Bela Farm for the Shmitah year in 2021? What changes would we need to see in our greater community to make this possible? You can begin your own engagement with Shmitah texts and teachings, by participating in today’s session Shnat Shmitta: A Shabbat for the Land.

Just before the next Shmitah year begins this fall, I will be ending my own period of personal
Shmitah…of release. While on maternity leave, I have been released from my normal modes of
engaging with Jewish food issues as the Executive Director of Shoresh….I don’t have to send e-mails, or think about the logistics of feeding 100 Jewish foodies….it is a real gift to be here today as a participant, not an organizer. As someone who knows though how much work goes into an event like today’s food conference, I want to close by thanking, deeply, everyone who made today possible. Inparticular, the Shoresh staff….Tamar, Sabs, and Bluth…each of you is a gem in your own right….kol hakovod.

According to Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, “It is not upon us to finish the work, but
neither are we free to desist from it.” Our food system “aint normal” and we have a responsibility to
do what we can to bring about real and meaningful change for ourselves, our communities, and our
world. Thank G!d we have tools…we have a tradition that is rich in food wisdom…deep teachings that can guide us in figuring out what it means to eat “Jewishly” in our contemporary food system. And we have community – in many way today’s gathering is a giant community potluck, with every person in this room bringing her or his skills, knowledge and experience to the table to share with us all. So thank you to our organizers and thank you to all of you for coming to learn, teach, and feed your curiosity. I want to bless you all with a day of deep delicious connections and nourishing moments.

Thank you.