Chayei Sarah: Life and Death

Chayei Sarah: roasted beets, mushrooms, beet greens

Chayei Sarah: roasted Golden beets, mushrooms, beet greens

The title of this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), is a bit misleading at it is book-ended by the deaths of Sarah and Avraham. But, it is also filled with a celebration of life. Avraham dies in old age, but only after ensuring his progeny through the marriage of his son, Isaac, to Rebecca. It is a story of the spiraling cycles of our lives and the continuation of our legacies through the generations of our families.

We continue our lives even when are family and friends pass. And, upon death, we each return to the soil that initially gave us life.  The simplest matter that we become upon death–dirt and dust–also brings us forth to the beauty, complexities and interconnectedness of life on Earth.  Deep in the ground is the source of our nourishment and life for all: water, and soil.

LA Funghi mushrooms, Culver City farmers market

Mushrooms. LA Funghi, Culver City farmers market

In the parsha we learn that at Avraham’s request, his servant journeyed to find a wife for Isaac, bringing ten camels with him. The camels were brought to a well where the women of the town collected water each evening. As Rabbi Shai Held notes, Rebecca offered the camels water without the servants prompting. “She is so kind that she does more than she is asked, and beyond her concern for people, she cares also for the needs of animals.”  Continue reading

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Shmini Atzeret: Eating in a California drought

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Tomatillos

I live in Southern California. The majority of my water is pumped from Northern California and other western states. It’s energy intensive, illogical and not sustainable. To add to this, California is in the worst drought in the past 500 years.  What does this mean for Californians and the rest of the nation?

A LOT!  California is America’s fruit basket and salad bowl–the state provides half of the fruit, vegetables and nuts for our country. In the process of growing all of this food, the California agriculture sector uses 80% of the state’s water. 

This is dire for state’s agriculture, which has already lost a half million acres of farmland, will cost the industry $2.2. Billion this year and 17,000 jobs. For some Californians, like hundreds of Tulare County residents (many of whom are Mexican immigrants drawn to the region for agricultural jobs) who use well water, their taps have run dry.

So, what does this have to do with Shmini Atzeret? Bookended by Sukkot and Simchat Torah  (in Israel, it is celebrated on the same day as Simchat Torah), the importance of California’s water situation is keenly attached to this holiday. This holiday concludes the harvest period and initiates the rainy season. It is on this day that we say the Tefilah HaGeshem (Prayer for Rain). The following line is added to Amidah, Masheev HaRuach U-Moreed HaGeshem (He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall) and is said until Passover (when the rainy season concludes). While this holiday never held the gravitas or excitement of other ones for me, I’m keenly aware now of the genuine importance of it, living in this parched state. Continue reading

Sukkot, Shmita & Perennials Roast

Pomegranates. La Cienega farmers market.

Pomegranates. La Cienega farmers market.

As apples dangle from trees, pears turn to a burnt orange and pomegranates burst at their seams with plump tiny fruits, it’s a reminder that we are in Fall harvest season. After the dramatic, solemn day of Yom Kippur, we suddenly jump into the celebratory, abundant harvest festival of Sukkot.  This is the ultimate farm-to-table holiday that pre-dated the Slow Food movement by a few thousand years.

Sukkot is yet another reminder of the beautiful cyclical nature of Jewish life. From weekly cycles marked by Shabbat to agricultural cycles (the agricultural holidays of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot, plus the counting of the Omer), to year cycles that begin each Fall to the seven year cycles of Shmita, Jewish life is communal and circular: always expanding, growing and evolving with each cycle. Continue reading