Few things unify Jews as food. As part of what it calls "an emerging national movement at the intersection of food and Jewish life," Hazon wants to tap this interest to create "a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all."
Created to "draw the links between contemporary environmental issues and Jewish tradition and communal life," the New York-based group wants Jews to look outside. "Our mission is rooted in the belief that outdoor and environmental education are vital and significantly under-utilized resources in Jewish life," says the group’s Website. But, according to spokesman Ben Murane, Hazon has a three-pronged strategy to rectify that situation.
Hazon, which began its consciousness-raising efforts by sponsoring a bicycle ride from Seattle to Washington, D.C., now spearheads Jewish Environmental Bike Rides in New York, Washington, D.C., and Israel; coordinates the Community Supported Agriculture project Tuv Ha’aretz; and holds educational seminars and conferences around North America.
Fair Lawn resident Esther Feil, early childhood director of Yeshivat Noam in Bergenfield, attended the ‘006 conference held during Chanukah at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. at the request of her son, Simon, who is creating a group called Kosher Conscience, which she described "an ethical, kosher meat co-op." In addition, she said, her son will chair Hazon’s next annual conference.
Feil said the impact of the conference on her personal and professional life was "profound," altering the way she now regards food.
"I now try to buy only organic food," she said, adding that she will also try to find additional uses for all materials, rather than throwing them out. Feil said what she learned at the conference will also affect the way she teaches her students about the environment.
Armed with new ideas and materials provided by Hazon, she will meet with her teachers to discuss next year’s curriculum, she said.
"We need to raise the awareness of young children," she said. "They’re so young and so fresh. This will stay with them forever."
Feil said she was impressed with the variety of people she met at the conference, "of all ages and from all walks of Jewish life."
"Everyone had a different lifestyle and different philosophy," she said. But, she added, they were all united in their understanding that "we’re part of the land; we can’t disregard it."
Stressing the Jews’ biblical responsibility to care for the earth, Feil said, "You can’t forget you’re part of something larger."
"In our society, we take things for granted," she said, noting that her students frequently see their parents throwing things away rather than finding another use for them. The conference was "a wake-up call, one that will have ramifications for the future," she said. And, she added, "the simple, organic food served there was delicious."
Hazon’s blog, "The Jew & The Carrot" (www.jcarrot.org.), which, said Murane, focuses on "Jews, food, and contemporary" life, was recently awarded the title of "Best New Blog" and "Best Kosher Food/Recipe Blog" by the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards.
"This is a testament to the fact that this whole area has erupted under the radar of the organized Jewish community in the past few years," said Nigel Savage, director and founder of the organization, created in ‘000.
According to Murane, the bike rides, which he described as "community-building efforts," are the group’s most effective tool in raising consciousness and generating enthusiasm. In addition, he said, proceeds from the rides are used to support local Jewish environmental projects.
"The bike rides allow participants to connect Jewishly, physically, and environmentally," he said, pointing out that this past May, the group sent 170 riders to Israel to participate in a ride from Jerusalem to Eilat, run in conjunction with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Over the Labor Day weekend, Hazon will sponsor a two-day ride and Shabbaton from the Isabella Freedman Center to the JCC in Manhattan. Murane expects that ride to draw some 300 riders.
Tuv Ha’aretz, launched in ‘004 with one participating synagogue, now engages 10 sites throughout the U.S. and Israel. Through this program, Hazon links synagogues and Jewish communal organizations with local, sustainable farms. Synagogue members buy shares in the farm and receive a box of organic produce each week.
"Jewish tradition has a 3,000-year-old history of thinking about what is kosher literally ‘fit’ for Jews to eat," said Leah Koenig, project coordinator. "However, today’s Jews also face contemporary food issues including pesticides and genetically modified foods, factory farms, obesity, and other food-related health issues in their daily lives. Hazon brings these two conversations together."
Another Hazon initiative, begun this past year, is an annual conference for "chefs, farmers, educators, and food enthusiasts," said Murane.
For information about Hazon, call Murane at (‘1′) 644-’33’ or send an e-mail to ben@Hazon.org