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February 13, 2009

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 13, 2009 Farming the lancl, Torah in hand Sabrina Malach Adamah alumni Jackie Topoi carries hay that will be used to mulch garlic at Adamah's annual alumni garlic-planting festival celebrated each November. By Sue Fishkoff myself farming with Anna," Hanau says. "Growing food, growing vegetables, feeding people real food and making a living from that. Support- ing a family without being a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher or an accountant." Stevenson is also prepar- ing for their future, working as the farm manager at the Adamah Jewish environmen- tal program at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. She is in charge of a four- acre field where she and the Adamah fellows, young Jews on three-month internships, grow pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that they provide to the retreat center, make into pickles and sell through a community supported agri- culture agreement. Through the agreement, people buy weekly boxes of fresh produce directly from local farmers. Stevenson, too, introduces herself as a Jewish farmer, even though she thinks the SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)-- Naf Hanau lives in the Bronx, an odd choice for someone who calls himself a Jewish farmer. But Hanau, 23, is in the heart of New York City only for horticultural school, to learn skills he'll put into practice when he and his girlfriend, 27-year-old Anna Stevenson, buy land near Rochester, N.Y., and start their farm. "Five years from now I see title is "kind of gimmicky." But it describes what she does quite accurately. She hoes, plants, weeds and harvests, but she also teaches, stud- ies Jewish texts and rests on Shabbat. "You work your butt off for six days and you really need Shabbat," she says. "You ap- preciate Shabbat physically as well as emotionally as well as spiritually." Hanau and Stevenson are part of a small but growing number of young activists in the new Jewish food move- ment who are turning to the land as a way of expressing their Jewish values. They are not farmers who just happen to be Jews. They are Jewish farmers, working the land according to agricultural laws set down in the Talmud, teach- ing their peers and trying to promote the importance of growing one's own food within the greater Jewish community. They leave a corner of their field unharvested for the poor, in accordance with the Mish- naic Tractate Pe'ah, or corner. They don't plant wheat and barley together, a teaching from Tractate Kilayim, or holding back. They slaughter goats and chickens they raise themselves, practicing "tzar ba'alei hayim," the command- ment to show kindness to domestic animals. They say a bracha, a blessing, before they eat. Some keep kosher, some do not, but all are committed to some kind of Jewish dietary practice. Unlike the Labor Zionist youth of the 1960s and '70s, who learned farming so they could move to Israel and join kibbutzim, today's young Jew- ish activists say they can farm any land Jewishly. It doesn't have to be Israel. Even their sources of in- spiration are different. Their parents and grandparents looked to the 19th century, reading Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and Labor Zionist thinker Dov Ber Borochov, while this new generation casts its gaze farther back to Torah, Talmud and the ancient Israelites. "I very much identify as a biblical Jew," says Aitan Miz- rahi, 31, who raises goats for milk and meat at the Isabella Freedman center. Mizrahi, who is not tradi- tionally observant, lets his beard grow to symbolize his connection to Judaism. "It reminds me of who my ancestors were," he says, "and how they would walk the hills of Judea with their goats and sheep and really have a deep relationship to the land, an understanding of how that land connected them to Hashem, the holy spirit of God." For most North American Jews who made aliyah to kib- butzim 30 years ago, the draw was Israel, not farming. "The people I knew in Habonim were hippies, but we were Jewish hippies," says 51-year-old Dani Livney, who immigrated to Israel in 1980 and joined Kibbutz Gezer, wheie he still manages its olive grove. "No one ever said, 'Let's start a farm in America.' Farming wasn't the major focus. Israel, Zionism and kibbutz were the focus." Many of this new genera- tion of Jewish farmers have connections to Israel, either through family or past trips. But it doesn't pull them the way it pulled their parents. Tali Weinberg, 31, spent the last few years farming for a seed company on Salt Spring Island, just off the coast of British Columbia. Her parents met in the late 1960s on the Israeli kibbutz where her father grew up. Her grandparents were members of Labor Zionist youth groups in 1930s-era Poland. Whereas her parents and grandparents believed they were helping a struggling new country, Weinberg grew up with an Israel that seemed strong and independent. "I feel a call to be connected to the land, like my grandpar- ents, but I don't feel it has to be in the land of Israel," she says. "What's more critical is that we connect, period. It's less about where we're going to do it and more that we have to do it because of the direction the food system is moving in." The few young North Amer- ican Jews who are actually working full-time as farmers are part of a much larger group of environmental and food activists who come out of a growing number of new Jewish farm-education initiatives such as Adamah; the Philadelphia-based Jewish Farm School; Kayam Farm near Baltimore; the Teva Learning Center, a program of Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring, N.Y.; and Hazon, an advocacy organization that promotes sustainable environmental practices and sponsors an annual Jewish food conference. At December's conference, Kayam director Jakir Manela, 27, presented the Talmud's teachings on agriculture to a roomful of young activists. "One-sixth of the Talmud deals with agriculture," he pointed out, adding that while most of those laws are specific to Israel, others can be applied anywhere. The Mishnah contains diagrams of how to plant various species in the same field, which Kayam used to pattern its own Jewish Educational Garden. In late February, Kayam is sponsor- ing a weekend study of Seder Zera'im, the tractate devoted to agricultural law, as part of the group's ongoing efforts to root its farm practice in Jewish values. "It's not just important as Jews that we eat local but that we recognize that we have a particular tradition about it," he said. The goal of the Jewish farm-based schools is not to churn out farmers but to make gardening and farming normative practice within the wider Jewish community. The leaders of these programs say they look forward to the day when every Jewish commu- nity center, synagogue and day school will have its own garden. These efforts will be spearheaded by what they hope will soon be 180 young Jews graduating each year from the Jewish farm school programs. Through farming, these farm school alumni grew closer to their Judaism. "Before I did the Adamah program, I would say I was a farmer first who happened to be a Jew," Weinberg says. 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