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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Jolt your community with JOFEE

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Rabbi Catharine Clark

Spring is almost here. It is time to add a jolt of green energy to your Jewish community with JOFEE – Jewish outdoor, food and environmental education. JOFEE is the integration of Jewish life with care for the environment, particularly through enjoying sustainably produced food and outdoor experiences. Program examples range from environmental bike rides and Jewish summer camps specializing in outdoor adventure to Jewish community centre gardens and synagogue community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) in which participants purchase shares in a farm’s produce for the season and pick up a weekly box of vegetables in return.

Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE), a recent study produced by Informing Change, Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization founded in New York, and a number of Jewish foundations, shows the benefits of such programs to Jewish communal life.

Jewish communal organizations fretting over how to attract Jews in their 20s and 30s should be particularly interested in the study’s findings. While adult participants in immersive JOFEE programs range in age from 18 to 84, more than 65 per cent are between the ages of 21 and 40. Moreover, JOFEE attracts the growing sector of Jews who are post-denominational, not identifying with (or belonging to and funding) institutions affiliated with Judaism’s traditional denominations. Many of these participants are inspired by their JOFEE experiences to become Jewish communal leaders. More than 85 per cent of immersive JOFEE participants have helped organize a Jewish communal event, and two-thirds of them say that their leadership was influenced by their JOFEE experiences. JOFEE programs work in attracting and inspiring a coveted demographic.

Immersive experiences, such as a retreat over a long weekend or a multi-week training program in sustainable agriculture, might not fit into the calendar of your Jewish institution. Fortunately, JOFEE experiences need not be immersive to be meaningful, inspiring and fun.

Shoresh, a Jewish environmental organization in Toronto, partners with Jewish day schools, summer camps and synagogues to start organic gardens, run pickling workshops and lead environmental hikes in the city’s outdoor spaces. Earlier this year, the JCC in London, Ont., hosted a Tu b’Shvat dinner featuring local foods and a presentation by an area farmer. Shaar Shalom Congregation in Halifax is planning an urban garden. Temple Shalom in Vancouver hosts a CSA in partnership with Hazon.

Programs like these can engage a wide range of Jews, but that’s far from the only benefit to bringing outdoor, food and environmental education to your Jewish community. An environmental hike is a great opportunity to delve further into Jewish texts on caring for the land and one’s own physical health. A synagogue garden with strawberry plants and apple trees can help children understand the difference between reciting a blessing praising God for creating the “fruit of the earth” and reciting one for the “fruit of the tree.” Even better, produce from the garden can be donated to local organizations combating hunger and used for healthier kiddushes for the whole congregation.

Spring is almost here. Whether your Jewish community is a chavurah, synagogue, JCC or the whole population of Jews in one of Canada’s small, vibrant Jewish communities, now is the time to start a JOFEE program.

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