Many of us raising families and managing full time jobs have ideals about family time, environmental responsibility and Jewish engagement. These are things we know are really important both for the cohesion of our families and for the long term viability of our communities. Truly though, in trying to get it all done, these values get pushed aside as we attend to the immediate needs of scheduling and then living the rat race that we so carefully planned for ourselves. I know that we need more down time, that we need to cherish food and family, and work towards meaningful spiritual engagement, but I have difficulty making those ideals fit into the teetering Jenga structure that is my work / life / family / community balance.
Enter Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and you get to peek into a community that operates the way life would be lived, if our values and priorities matched up.
After spending this past summer working on an organic farm I became enamored with composting. It is a way of giving old food new life and it’s the great equalizer of all food – whether delicious or not, healthful or not, expensive or not, or organic or not, it all decomposes and becomes part of the same soil.
This summer I also became, rather late into the movement, an advocate of buying organic. I came to see it as a way for individuals to take a step toward the goal of creating and living out a more sustainable food system where both people and resources are valued. As a result, I began to view conventional agriculture’s use of pesticides as a distinct inhibitor to achieving this kind of system.
Garbage in New York City is transported to landfills outside of the state. Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all have landfills full of our old clothes, packaging, contents of our last closet purge, and lots of food waste. This last one is the most unfortunate, because food was meant to compost back into the earth and enrich the soil for the next growing cycle. If we can keep food out of landfill and find a way to send it back to the soil that grows our food, we’re giving our future food the opportunity to be at least as nutritious as the food that came before it. It’s a simple concept. However, when you live in New York City where backyard gardens and opportunities to compost are scarce it seems like the only option for our food waste is to throw it into the landfill with the rest of the garbage.
Living in Tel Aviv means that I take a lot of things related to food for granted. I know that when I go to the market, veggies will be much, much cheaper than packaged foods and fresher than most places in America. I know that nearly any time of day or night I can order a latte and sit with my computer for hours, without anyone rushing me to leave. I also know that the season for tomatoes is more similar to the one I grew up with in California than the one I got used to coping with in New York. Those are everyday kinds of things that I’ve learned after more than a year of living in Israel.
But last week I had the pleasure of exploring the food landscape of Israel from a new angle as a participant on the Israel Sustainable Food Tour, sponsored by Hazon and the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership. Jeremy Benstein of the Heschel Center crafted a tasty and interesting itinerary that kept us moving and eating across the country. I was treated to meals in restaurants I never would have found on my own, visited farms where folks are doing incredible work, and met outstanding people who are invested in food issues here in Israel. We explored themes that I spend a lot of time thinking about but less time engaging hands on.