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.
During my month of eating in, I came across a few statements from Achai ben Josiah. Back in the second century, this biblical scholar compared someone who buys grain rather than growing their own to “an infant whose mother has died and who is taken from one wet nurse to another, but is never satisfied.” He called the wayward souls who purchase bread instead of baking their own “as good as dead and buried.” Only one who “eats of his own produce” is truly fulfilled. Achai extrapolated this from references to the land in the book of Genesis. I’m sure his own context – in an era when all but the wealthiest were directly involved in food production – also played a part.
Yet, these ideas felt right to me, even in a 21st-century life not driven by literal interpretations of the Torah. I knew I would find satisfaction in my challenge to eat in (no takeout orders, sit-down restaurants, or coffee from a barista) for the first month of the new year.
At the dawn of the new year, I found myself with a stocked kitchen, a few reusable sandwich wrappers, and a giant knot in my stomach. I had resolved to spend the first 31 days of 2013 eating in. That meant for the month of January, I would eat only food made at home or bought minimally processed from a grocery store. I was destined for four-plus weeks without restaurants, coffee shops, take-out, or Starbucks. And I didn’t feel ready. The knot came despite the fact that I had resolved to do this weeks before, and despite my rule that I didn’t have to actually eat at home – I could bring homemade food wherever I went.
What I lacked in preparation, I recouped in reasoning.