Hazon Receives Grant

Will Oversee First Formal Research on Integration of Jewish Learning with Food

— by the Hazon Staff

Recognizing the growing interest among individuals and families in experiences that integrate Jewish learning with learning about food, the environment, and the outdoors, a group of national and local funders have awarded a grant to Hazon to oversee new research in this area. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, and Rose Community Foundation, the research will explore how participation in immersive Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs influences individuals’ Jewish growth and leads to increased Jewish involvement.

More after the jump.
Nigel Savage of Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental organization says

More and more people, particularly young adults, express their Jewish identity through passion for building sustainable and environmentally conscious Jewish communities. We need to learn more about this phenomenon, better understand effective strategies, and determine long-term outcomes on participants. This is an exciting first step in deeply examining this relatively new and emerging space of Jewish learning and engagement.

While organizations have invested time and resources to develop and sustain these immersive educational programs, to date there has been no formal evaluation or research conducted in this field. Nor has there been a review of existing research from outside the Jewish world to inform practitioners and funders.

Among other areas of interest, the research will examine such topics as the kinds of learning that occurs in these experiences that deepens Jewish identity; to what degree these experiences influence participants to become involved in their Jewish communities; and the relationship between local and national programs.

Al Levitt, President of the Jim Joseph Foundation, says

We are excited to partner with other funders to determine how to invest the community’s attention and resources in this area. There appears to be growing interest in Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs, and this research will help us better understand the learning that is taking place and identify what is working most effectively. The findings from this study will help inform future grantmaking decisions and could ultimately lead to more Jews being engaged in meaningful Jewish experiences.

Charlene Seidle, Vice President and Executive Director of the Leichtag Foundation, says

Immersive experiences in the areas of Jewish food justice, farming and environmental advocacy help align individual values and interests with substantive Jewish principles and traditions. We look forward to learning together about the impact of these experiences in order to inform our funding and program model development.

The grant announcement comes a week after Hazon and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center announced a merger of their organizations, both national leaders in the Jewish Food Movement and Jewish environmental movement in particular. The merged organization also will include the Teva Learning Alliance, which began in association with Isabella Freedman in the 1990s. The merger builds on the success of the existing Isabella Freedman campus – a spiritual home for many — and Hazon’s track record of re-connecting American Jews with the natural world. The new entity will have a wide range of programs, staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and will be positioned to have a greater impact across the country.

“Merging the organizations certainly capitalizes on the strengths of each one and combines various separate areas of expertise into a streamlined operation,” Savage adds. “This in turn will foster a broader and more in depth study that ultimately will lead to more significant learnings for the field.”

Along with reaching out to alumni and former participants of programs run by Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva Learning Alliance, the study will reach out to alumni from a range of other related programs including Eden Village Camp, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, Kayam Farm, and the Jewish Farm School. Their program offerings include Jewish farming programs, environmental bike rides, conferences about food and sustainability, group camping trips structured around Jewish holiday celebrations, backpacking and outdoor adventure trips, and environmental educator training fellowships.

While the exact number of participants in these programs is unknown, field leaders estimate that in 2011, as many as 2,500 individuals participated in an immersive Jewish food, environmental or outdoor education program lasting four days or more.

“Programs that integrate socially conscious living with Jewish learning are proving to be a high-potential ingredient in the mix of experiences that enable young Jews to live as global citizens in accordance with Jewish values,” said Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which includes the Schusterman Family Foundation. “We believe this research will provide a framework for understanding how such experiences can help inspire a deeper connection to Jewish life.”

The research will build upon early planning efforts being led by the Green Hevra, a network of key Jewish environmental organizations of which Hazon is a participant. The Green Hevra received a $65,000 startup grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Morningstar Foundation earlier this year.

Sarene Shanus, Chair of the Jewish Community Development Task Force of the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal at UJA-Federation of New York notes, “We are pleased to embark on this research partnership, as it builds on the foundation we’ve helped to lay with the Jewish Greening Fellowship, the Jewish Farm School, and Eden Village camp as touchpoints for Jewish community and environmentalism.”

Lisa Farber Miller, Senior Program Officer of Rose Community Foundation, says

The Colorado Jewish community is seeing a sudden burgeoning of individuals and new organizations interested in being part of the Jewish Food Movement. Established Jewish institutions are realizing the importance of embracing the values of the sustainable food and environmental movements. Hazon provides pertinent educational resources, links and assists grassroots groups like the Jewish chicken coops in Denver and Boulder, and helps organizations adopt new ways of engaging their users to learn about food and the environment. The national research study, which includes a case study highlighting Denver/Boulder Hazon work, will help us better understand how we can continue to advance this movement.

For Hazon, the grant is an opportunity to further the organization’s goals of offering compelling experiences, providing thought leadership, and supporting the work of the individuals and organizations that share its vision for healthier and more sustainable independent communities in the Jewish world and beyond. The research will be conducted by an outside firm and managed by Hazon with oversight from an advisory team that includes both funders and practitioners.

“There is now a strong and expanding group of individuals and organizations that seek to create these learning opportunities,” says Savage. “The support from funders to conduct this research will ultimately help all organizations that offer Jewish food, environmental and outdoor education programs.”

Orthodox Students Travel to Study Social Justice Issues in Israel

The Group of women in Sderot.  Tova is top row, third to the right; I am in the bottom row in the center.— by Malka Nusbaum

Thirty Yeshiva University undergraduate students were  privileged to explore social justice issues for a week this past January in Israel. This trip, Tzedek and Tzedekah (Justice and Charity)was sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation under a grant from the Council of Jewish Federations. Our delegation, composed of fifteen young women and an equal number of young men, was accompanied by Roshei Yeshiva (heads of the school), Rav Hershel Shechter and Rav Assaf Bennarsh. We spent two weeks exploring many aspects of social justice and the laws pertaining to justice in the Torah.

More after the jump.
Picture of Tova and me.We learned about the unique judicial system in Israel, the dichotomous nature of a social system founded on core Jewish principles, based upon Torah values and tradition. As part of our mission, we volunteered at Afikim, a non-profit organization dedicated to founding programs that offer “a realistic solution to the poverty crisis in Israel.” Their “focus on incorporating both children-at-risk and their parents…has led to establishment of a network of afternoon centers across Israel that offers new hope and possibilities for disadvantaged, troubled families.” We also toured jails, halfway houses, kibbutzim, and the Beit Mishpat Elyon, the Israeli Supreme Court.

We also learned about non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), privatization, and spoke to various activists, political thinkers and CEOs of companies which demonstrate outstanding corporate social responsibility.

One prominent social issue that was addressed at a forum we attended, are the prejudiced statements and actions committed by the ultra-orthodox populations’ against women who do not follow their approved approach to modest dress. Speakers addressed the shocking events which transpired on the streets of Beit Shemesh, which reinforced the trip theme of the importance of social justice regulations and activism.

The is a picture at Bar Ilan University. In the center is Rabbanit Shachter and to the right is Devorah Deutsch and the left is me.At a panel discussion on the spitting incident and the ramifications of Haredi (ultra-orthodox) extremism, one panelist, Rabbi Dov Lippman said, “Religious extremism in Israel needs to be dealt with – now. All Jews must unite to remove this threat to our country’s future. We must proactively work to transform Israel in this realm before we can reach our full potential. Along with the negative e-mails and messages I have been receiving for my activism these past few weeks, I have been touched by the outpouring of support from both moderate Haredim and secular Israelis who have thanked me for taking on this challenge and doing what is right. So those who are closed-minded and not willing to join forces with other groups can remain at home while complaining about our problems. The rest of us will join together to save your country.”

“Having great Rabbanim with us on this trip enabled us to put our work in a Torah perspective and made it very meaningful. It made a world of a difference. It really helped us learn about our relationship [with Israel] through a Torah
perspective. It became a Torahdika trip,” explained Tova Miller a 21 year old Biology major at Stern College for Women.

Our trip was not only a setting in place what would serve to be two weeks of exploration, learning, and shared new experience, but also was unique because of exposure to the darker sides of Israeli society, which are not discussed with enough honesty on most trips to Israel. We learned that Israeli society is much larger than what can be learned on a visit to the Western Wall.

Malka Nusbaum is a junior at Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women majoring in Judaic Studies and Biology.