Passover: Liberate Yourself from Industrial Food

Peninsula Jewish Community Center. Foster City, CA

Peninsula Jewish Community Center’s Gan Tzedek (Justice Garden). Foster City, CA

Our nation is enslaved to an industrial food system that is making us sick and fat. It abuses workers (with many cases of modern day slavery), is inhumane to animals, pollutes our drinking water with manure and pesticides, and contributes to climate change. Eating is a religious act. These foods do not reflect Jewish values of humane treatment of animals, workers rights, protecting the environment and human health.

This Passover, we can liberate ourselves from this system by supporting farmers that grow food more sustainably. Below is a list of suggestions for your seder and throughout the year. There’s so much more that can be done, so please share your ideas in the comments section, at the bottom of the post.  Continue reading

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Tu B’shevat: New Year for trees: Savor fruits of the earth, consider their journey

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

This was originally published in the print and online editions of the Jewish Journal

Tu B’Shevat, which translates literally as the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish New Year for Trees. Mentioned in the Talmud, the holiday marks the tithing of fruits grown in Israel.

In the 16th century, Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples developed a seder for the holiday that focused on the symbolism of the fruits and trees of Israel. Like the Passover seder, the Tu B’Shevat one includes four cups of wine, each representing a different sphere in kabbalah. The first glass of wine is all white; the fruit is inedible on the outside and edible inside. The second glass of wine is equal parts white and red wine; the fruit is edible outside and inedible inside. The third glass wine is mostly red and some white; the fruit is completely edible. The last glass of wine is all red; the fruit is “spiritual sustenance.”

The celebration of this holiday has experienced resurgence recently, celebrated as a Jewish Earth Day.

Continue reading

Va’yigash: Reconciliation

Va'yigash: roasted parsnip carrot dip

Va’yigash: roasted parsnip carrot dip

This week’s parsha, Va’yigash, brings to a climax the relationship between Joseph and his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to his brothers. It’s a moment where Jospeh could seek revenge.  But, the shocked brothers are offered words of forgiveness instead. Joseph says, “Do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that this is humanity’s first moment of forgiveness.

The choice of reconciliation rather than revenge, is a challenge and opportunity for each of us. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz writes that Joseph’s responds by telling his brothers, “Sadness

Carrots. Carpinteria Farmers Market, Carpinteria, CA

Carrots. Carpinteria Farmers Market, Carpinteria, CA

and regret lead to revenge and that is the deepest pit of all. I am no longer in the pit. Instead, I am choosing to live in the future not in the past, to love despite the hurt, and to reconcile over the pain.”

It’s a monumental task for a human to transcend one’s own pain and suffering to find God in the experience and to  reconcile with an oppressor. Joseph could have lived his life with a hardened heart, punishing his brothers for what they did to him. But, he choose a different path that offered an open heart. Rabbi Peretz continues that Jacob explained, My life has unfolded in a way that I could do God’s work. . . . It’s not about me and it’s not about all of you, but about the goodness and blessing of the life we have been given.” Continue reading

Vayeshev: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

In Vayeshev, Jacob returns to his home to “settle.” But, there is not any internal or external settling for him. Jacob’s sons are upset by the arrogance of his favorite son, Joseph. The brothers strip Joseph of the elaborate tunic Jacob had given him and throw him into a pit. Rather than letting him die, though, Reuben convinces the other brothers instead to sell him into slavery. But, the brothers lie to their father that his beloved Joseph was killed by presenting his bloody tunic.

Why is Jacob unable to have tranquility in his life after everything he’s been through? Yanki Tauber writes, “many are content to live this lie: to forget what happened yesterday, avoid thinking about what will happen tomorrow, ignore the sadness in a neighbor’s eye, the poverty on the other side of town and the bombs in the other time zone.

While one may look at a farm and see a tranquil, lush landscape, agriculture is anything but calm. Rather, it is the epicenter of global fights for human rights, land sovereignty and the survival of family farmers. This Wednesday, December 10, is Slow Food’s Terra Madre Day–a global celebration of local foods. The Terra Madre network in 160 countries supports food sovereignty–local communities control over the growing, production and eating of food. It is also about preserving indigenous food cultures and traditions in the face of threats from international agriculture and food homogenization that eliminates food diversity, hurts

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

small farmers and devastates communities. Part of Terra Madre’s commitment to preserving food diversity is through it’s Ark of Taste which has already 2,000 foods from around the globe that are at risk of disappearing.

It’s also Human Rights Day on December 10. While the family farmers of Terra Madre fight off threats from industrial agriculture, tens of thousands of industrial farmworkers are fighting for their human rights.  The Los Angeles Times has an incredible story about farmworkers in Mexico picking tomatoes at “mega-farms” for the US market. They live in “squalid conditions, trapped for months at a time  [and] camp bosses illegal withhold [of] wages.” 

One worker said, The real truth is that we’re work animals for the fields. Continue reading