As we prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashana to mark the birth of the world, it’s hard not to be confused and/or overwhelmed at times by the surreal world we are now living in. From COVID to wildfires to flooding to addressing systemic racism, our physical reality is forever altered.
The past six months have brought to the forefront of our daily lives both the devastating consequences of human actions that are the most un-God-like, but also the incredible, resilient, responses by humans to these crises. When we wish people a healthy, good new year, I cannot think of a time when this has ever meant more than now, for all beings.
Living through a pandemic has become the ultimate opportunity to look at our food sources and the interconnectedness between what we eat and a host of global issues.
More than 70 billion land animals are raised and killed each year for food and other products around the world, including nine billion in the US alone. Animal agriculture is the main cause of an array of global crises, including climate change, pandemics, water pollution, poverty and hunger.
Zoonosis, the transmission of diseases from animals to humans is, according to the CDC, the source of 75% of all new viruses facing humans. It is happening at a rapid pace because of how animals are raised and slaughtered, primarily in industrial animal agriculture factories and live “wet” markets. From the origination of COVID-19 at an animal market in China to swine flu at an industrial farm in the US to mad cow disease in the UK, the raising and killing of wild and domesticated animals is causing pandemics. Continue reading →
This is a frightening moment. It’s hard to write about recipes and food during this time when I incessantly read the news and my mind is mostly devoid of non-coronavirus thoughts or ideas. I have noticed, though, that when I get especially anxious about what is happening, I am drawn to being in my kitchen. Chopping, cooking, baking all calm my nerves a bit and give me something purposeful to do. My sweet elderly dog patiently sits nearby, his intense eyes gazing at me, wondering if any crumbs might drop by his paws, completely unaware of the global crisis and singularly focused on food scraps.
In this challenging moment, my appreciation and awareness of beautiful, sometimes seemingly mundane things in life has become accentuated.
I have taped to my computer a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” Continue reading →
Fruit offerings were later replaced with prayers but the purpose and intention are the same. As my teacher, Diane Bloomfield of “Torah from Jerusalem” explains, each day is the potential for both the physical world and humans to renew through prayer and actions. Despite the darkness that shrouds much of the world, we are commanded by God, as caretakers of the world, to illuminate dark places through mitzvot (actions). Such behaviors enable us to connect more deeply to God and renew ourselves and the world.
In this week’s parsha, Naso, God says to Moses:
Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and protect you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them. (6:23-27)
Bamidbar is both the name of the fourth book of the Torah (referred to in English as Book of Numbers) and this week’s portion. After receiving the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, Bamidbar/Numbers tells the Israelites journey through the wilderness. A wild landscape conjures images of unrefined, undeveloped, unknown. Our own journeys might have similar descriptions: intimidating, challenging, mysterious. During the Israelites journey, “we will see much adventure, crisis and turmoil take place in the darkness of the wilderness,” writes Yael Shy.
Despite their years in the wilderness, though, the Israelites have a guide to center and direct them: the Tabernacle that they transport. It is always placed in the middle of the Israelites as they walked and camped. Etz Hayyim commentary notes, “The tabernacle was the first thing one saw on leaving home and the first thing one looked for on returning home” (p.774). Continue reading →
Chanukah is a holiday where we consume lots of oil-drenched foods. But beyond these dishes, what is the connection between oil? Actually, a lot, and it has to do with our agricultural system.
We till the same soils through which God breathed Adam into existence. Our water is a finite source that operates in cycles; we drink much of the water that was consumed by the Maccabees. Protecting these precious soils and water sources is integral to our stewardship of our agricultural lands and our existence.
In the 12,000 years of agriculture, the most significant changes have occurred in the past century. We live in an era of agricultural assimilation, which pushes for uniformity in growing practices and types of crops grown. And, at the heart of much of these “big ag” forces is “big oil.” Unlike the sacred olive oil used at Chanukah, there’s nothing sacred about fossil fuels in agriculture. Continue reading →
This week’s parsha, Vayera, is filled with ethical challenges: Sodom and Gomorrah, the binding of Issac, and the departure of Hagar and Ishmael. But, at the beginning of the parsha, Sarah and Abraham welcome three unexpected strangers to their tent. They wash their guests feet, bake bread and slaughter a calf for them for dinner.