Harvesting Hope Report from the Shalom Center

A message from our friends at The Shalom Center:

Harvesting Hope, October 4:

Hak’hel!  --   Assemble, Learn, Celebrate!

In the Heart of the Connecticut River Valley

[Dear friends, last week we shared with you "Sukkat Shalom vs. Climate Chaos" -- a Call to Assemble! -- Hak'hel!  -- on Sunday, October 4,  for Jewishly sponsored, multireligiously involved fusions of learning and celebation-- joy in the Earth and determination to heal the Earth from the ravages of global scorching. You can access that essay at https://theshalomcenter.org/content/sukkat-shalom-vs-climate-chaos-sunday-october-4

[What follows is a report on how folks in the Connecticut River Valley areplanning to do this. If you have plans for October 4 or a similar gathering, please write us. --  AW, editor.]

 “As the autumn season turns and the earth yields her fruits of summer labor, we gather.   We gather with the purpose of harvesting hope, to come together in community and envision a sustainable future.  

“We are guided by the concept of Shmita, the ancient biblical wisdom that encourages us to provide the land a Sabbath one year out of every seven; to deeply rest from production; to cancel debts, to take down fences, to share the land, to bring the slow living of the Sabbath to an entire year and deepen our trust that the whole world is filled with Glorious Presence….

“We gather to find ways to bring these values into the next six years; to deepen Sabbath Mindfulness in our society….” 

So begins our draft Harvesting Hope proclamation, just one part of elaborate Hak’hel celebrations springing up in the heart of the CT River Valley. 

Hak’hel started about 2500 years ago, when the Book of Deuteronomy called upon the whole People Israel to Hak’hel! --  Assemble! -- during the Harvest Festival of Sukkot festival after a Sabbatical Year of Shmita--  Release for the land, for its farmers, and for those who had become debtors.

On that day, the kings of ancient Israel would read aloud to the whole people some crucial Torah passages that added up to what we call eco-social justice. Hak'hel was the spark of what we might call a Seven-Year Plan for healing and renewal of society and the land -- seven years leading to and including the next Shmita/ Sabbatical Year. For us, how can we make sure that the next Shmita is not onlywistful hope but actually a major step toward healing earth from the climate crisis.

And in this generation, in New England, it started on a farm-- Abundance Farm.

Abundance Farm is a unique and innovative project of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, MA, Lander Grinspoon Academy. and the Northampton Survival Center.  A working farm has been developed by food justice educator Rabbi Jacob Fine, and a crew of volunteers.  

With the help of Nili Simhai, past director of the Teva Learning Alliance, who brings her passion for outdoor classrooms, program development and grant writing to the mix. Abundance Farm not only provides food, but also wonderful outdoor experiential education and special programming for children, teens, families and adults throughout the year. (See www.abundancefarm.org for more information.)  

This past Spring, Abundance Farm received a Rabbi Everett Gendler Grapevine Project Grant which, among other goals, supports Rabbi Jacob and Nili to develop a community wide Sukkot celebration that includes renewing Hak’hel. 

Quickly the excitement grew. Supported by the Interfaith Climate Justice group, programming grew to include both a festive Hak’hel farm celebration on October 4th, and also gathering together valley wide events that highlight the environmental teachings of various religious traditions through sermons, panels, sing a-longs for the Earth, and several events highlighting Pop Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.

Harvesting Hope is the name of the wider project that creates a calendar and website to help create and support these various programs.  In addition, public orchard workdays are planned, movie nights, pulpit exchanges and Sermons for the Earth will be highlighted on the Harvesting Hope calendar and website.  

The festive Hak’hel Farm Celebration is being planned for the day Reb Arthur Waskow is calling for Hak’hel celebrations:  Sunday October 4th.  (Thanks to Reb Arthur for all of his inspiration and networking helping bring Hak’hel back to life!) 

The Topsy Turvy Bus will participate, bringing family-friendly sustainability activities. Colorful ‘free food’ lawn signs can be created for families with veggies to share. Beit Ahavah, led by Rabbi Riqi Kosovske will create an interactive climate ribbon installation based on the installation from the Climate Rally.  

In addition, Rabbi David Seidenberg, author of the groundbreaking work, Kabbalah and Ecologyis inviting other religious communities to set up booths that share their traditions Earth connections.  (It is the holiday of Booths, after all.) 

Signature gathering actions, local Jewish and environmental organizations and an Alpaca farm (in honor of St. Francis Day) are also invited to attend.   The centerpiece of the program will be gathering everyone together with Shofarot, reading our Harvesting Hope Hak’hel Proclamation and Processing around the farm in celebration.  Rabbi Everett Gendler will be the special and honored guest and the Sukkah will be decked out in style.  

Fun, right?  But that’s not all.  Temple Israel in Greenfield is developing activities with the new leadership of Rabbi Andrea Cohen Keiner, past director of the Hartford Interfaith Eco-Justice project and long time food and sustainability activist.  

At the same time the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, with the help of Maggid David Arfa, also received a Gendler Grapevine Project Grant.    This Gendler Grapevine Grant allows BAJC to create access to their 12 acres of field, forest and stream by adding welcoming interpretive signs, new trails, benches, a Mikvah site and outdoor gathering spaces for study, prayer, storytelling, meditation and more. 

The Brattleboro Celebration, Sense of Wonder: A Hak’hel Land Celebration, will also take place on the afternoon of October 4 with planned activities including Sense of Wonder stories and teachings from Maggid David Arfa; contemplative art activities led by Nanci Bern; kids creating pageantry and a procession through the land with percussionist and Gong Master Stephan Brandstatter. 

Again, the centerpiece will be the Shofarot gathering and reading of the Harvesting Hope Proclamation along with a ribbon cutting for our new trails and steps, and a procession walking through the land past butterfly garden, forest trails, veggie garden, heritage wheat garden, small orchard and overlooks.  What will your community contribute?

Let’s end with the last section of the draft “Harvesting Hope” proclamation, created by Maggid David with support from Rabbi David Seidenberg, Lainey Ulman and Lisa Rosenthal. Our hope is that this proclamation will both educate and inspire.  We will make the full proclamation available as soon as our fuller group signs off.  Stay tuned.  

“Holy texts read together; sacred stories shared aloud; inspired actions planned together strengthen and renew us.  We remember what our ancestors always knew: that the proper response to the sacred Earth is celebration.  

“Gifts and blessings continuously flow, calling us into loving dialogue and sacred covenant.  On this autumn day, we gather and go forward as neighbors and citizens to harvest hope.  We will spend the next six years listening deeply and working to bring us closer to the sustainable and regenerative future we all hope for. 

If not now, when?  If not us, who?  If not here, where?”

 With blessings of joy in the Season of Our Joy, the Harvest-time of Hope. 

--  Maggid David Arfa

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