[Newsletter] Happy Purim

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August 24, 2012 • 6 Elul 5772

Siach: An Environment and Social Justice Conversation

Dear Siach Member,

In the months since the last conference, the Siach team has been working hard to conceptualize and to develop a new and exciting framework for our network. Springboarding off of the June 2012 Shabbat afternoon Beit Midrash session, Shmita – Wealth, Work, Rest, Food, and Debt, led by Nigel Savage and Jeremy Benstein, an enormous amount of energy was exuded around the idea of shmita as a deep Jewish value and a pathway for creating a more sustainable, equitable future.

In order to expand and move the Siach conversation from being one that is structured by the time and space of an annual conference, we are thrilled to share with you our vision and thought process for the coming years. While we are still working towards securing funding for the 3rd Siach conference, which will complete our international rotation of US-Israel-Europe, we are dedicating our efforts for this coming year towards the goal of planning for and living during the Shmita year, which will engage the global Jewish community in the challenges and questions of global Peoplehood.

We are excited that by the time we reach the beginning of the next seven year cycle, in 5775, the global Siach network and all of its constituents will create the first Shmita year in Jewish history in which large numbers of Jewish people and Jewish institutions both reconnect to Shmita as a tradition, and connect it to contemporary attempts to live more ethically and sustainably. While as a network, we are all taking the next year and a half to prepare for the coming Shmita year, which will begin in September 2014, each geographical cohort is adapting their activities to the specific needs and reality of their region.

Regional gatherings, developing educational resources in a number of languages, formal lectures, shabbat programming, and blogging are just some of the exciting initiatives taking off around the world! Stay tuned for more information about what’s happening in your region, and feel free to reach out to your regional coordinator with any ideas for programming or community events!

We would like to express our gratitude to the UJA Federation of New York for their ongoing support and making our vision become a reality!

Wishing you a Happy Purim!

The Siach team – David Brown, Limor Friedman and Anna Hanau

How can you bring Shmita to your organization?

Fascinated by the concept of Shmita but not sure how to translate it to your organization? Need some practical ideas to advance Shmita in your community? Wondering about the connection between Shmita and the social justice world?

Join us for a webinar led by Jeremy Benstein, David Brown, and Yigal Deutscher for a professional take on incorporating these issues into your workplace, family, and community!

The webinar will take place on Thursday, March 7, 2013

9:00pm Israel /7:00pm UK/ 2:00pm US (EST)


To register, please email siach@heschel.org.il

By the way, if you missed our last webinar, THE IMPACT OF THE ISRAELI ELECTIONS ON CIVIL SOCIETY AND SOCIAL CHANGE, featuring Rabbi Michael Melchior and Don Futterman, and moderated by Siach member Ariella Sidelsky. Check it out here.

Siach Gathering in Israel (January, 2013) – Shmita and Privatization of the Land

Following the excitement built during the previous gathering of the Israeli Siach Cohort in September, the steering committee and Siach members were eager to continue the learning process and deepen the conversation around Shmita. Our original plan was to meet in November, but we were faced with a time of military unease in the country as the situation with Gaza heated up, causing us to postpone our scheduled meeting. As the dust settled for the time being on international issues, domestic issues jumped to center stage as elections were set to establish a new Israeli government and political campaigning was well under way. Many of the members of the Israeli Siach Cohort are politically active, and so it was not until the votes were in and tallied and the coalition-building under way, that we were able to reconnect with the group and get everyone together to refocus on our goals for the upcoming shemittah year. On Thursday, January 31, over 20 Siach members representing a variety of different social justice and environmental organizations came together for the second Siach network event of the year. We were fortunate to be hosted by Siach member Yuvi Tashome at her home base in Gedera, in the new headquarters of her organization, Friends by Nature.

Taking into account the events of the last few months, we began the day with a sharing circle which highlighted our individual signs of hope for the future in light of the recent election results. Many participants shared joy at having voted in the highest amount of women in the Kenneset in Israeli history (28), including the making of history as the first female Ethiopian prepares to enter the Knesset on the Yesh Atid ticket. Some of our signs of hope were also reflected in the fact that many fringe parties with extremist ideals did not have enough support to receive a voice in Knesset. Overall, it was agreed upon in our circle that the outcome of the recent elections demonstrate an exciting shift in the air amongst Israeli citizens, and provide many reasons to be hopeful for the future.

The meeting in Gedera was centered on the topic of shemittat adama and privatization of the land. In order to get us started, Jeremy Benstein opened with a talk about “the commons”, the natural and cultural resources which belong to or are accessible to all members of society. We considered how assets as varied as air and water, parks and playgrounds, and even the internet and information are shared resources to which are inclusive rather than exclusive. Yuvi stepped in here to describe how Friends by Nature promotes the concept of the commons and a shared responsibility through their work in the Ethiopian community. She shared a moving story in which she and her colleagues empowered the Ethiopian residents of her community to enhance their shared space by providing them with opportunities to dream big. The outcome of the work of Friends by Nature created common space for Ethiopian children to do their homework and improve their grades, as well as shared gardens for families to socialize and grow food. Yuvi’s story demonstrated first-hand the positive impact that the commons can have on society at large

Yet what happens when the commons transition from being inclusive to being exclusive, as in the case of land privatization? We continued our learning by considering the case of land privatization in Israel, with Siach member Zohar Avigdori of the Dror Israel Educational Movement in Kibbutz Eshbal. Zohar took us through the history of land ownership in Israel since before the country’s establishment, as the Jewish National Fund (JNF) began to buy land in British controlled Palestine. With the independence of Israel as a Jewish nation in 1948, the newly formed government acquired lands which had previously been owned by the British Mandate. Later, in a 1960 treaty between the JNF and the State of Israel, the JNF transferred administration and care of its land holdings to the government, making Israel one of the only, if not the only, democratic nation where a majority of the land (an estimated 93%) is controlled by the state. Today, more and more of that land is being transferred into private hands, illustrating the ultimate shift away from the notion of the commons. Zohar outlined the case against the privatization of land in Israel, and together we considered the impact that would have on how we, as a nation, approach the issue of Shmita.

After breaking for a delicious lunch of dabo – traditional Ethiopian bread along with an array of Ethiopian dishes – we moved from the learning stage to the practical planning stage, continuing to develop our ideas to turn our internal discussion on Shmita into a public one. As a group, we evaluated the time we have left until the next Shmita year (approximately a year and a half) and decided on a framework which would begin with six months focusing inward on the Siach network, promoting learning and development. This will provide the groundwork on which we will then be able to branch out and become active in a more public spectrum. We set dates for three additional meetings of the Israeli Siach cohort in February, April, and May to continue the learning process, before turning our attention to a brainstorming session for practical work in the future.

The framework for this brainstorm session was in the form of a “World Café” where participants rotated through three stations, each manned by a Siach participant. With Aharon Ariel Lavi, we considered our personal connection to the notion of Shmita and the land. The diversity of the Siach network shone brightly in this station, as participants talked about everything from the community garden in which they share activities with their neighbors to the notion of taking a sabbatical year off. In the next room, with Neta Lipman, participants reflected on their own organization’s role in the conversation, considering how we could incorporate discussion and activities around shemittah into the work which we are already partaking. It was truly inspiring to hear the creative ways in which Siach members are able to take the learning and development which we are building in one forum and transfer it into practical outcomes in their workplace. Finally, Zohar asked participants at his station to consider how the Siach network itself could be a powerful tool for raising awareness around Shmita. Many participants view the connections and manpower within the Siach network as a valuable asset in this quest.

As we wrapped up the day, one message was clear. A powerful buzz has already begun to be generated around the topic of Shmita amongst Siach members. Participants are inspired by each other and the learning we are doing on Shmita, and eager to delve deeper. Despite the busy schedules and the fact that we all took a day off of work to be together, as the session broke up we saw many participants sticking around, deep in conversation with their colleagues, reflecting on ideas and thoughts which came up throughout the day. This second gathering of the Israeli Siach cohort was just another step on the road to a deeper conversation around Shmita, and we are enthusiastic about continuing this development in the upcoming meetings.

The SOVA Project

We are very excited to announce a new internet initiative, called The SOVA Project. This is an entirely Siach inspired and formed enterprise, initiated by Rabbis Nina Cardin and Or Rose from the US and Dr. Jeremy Benstein from Israel.

The “Sova Project” is a collaborative blog-site that aims to catalyze a social-economic morality and policy discussion inspired by the biblical idea of Shmita, the year of agricultural and economic ‘release.’

This collaborative blog-site will pursue two goals: (1) to mine and articulate the lessons from the biblical ideal of Shmita in ways that are accessible and applicable to the contemporary consumer and business community, and (2) to explore modern adaptations and applications for today’s economy, including the government, the business world and the consumer.

Our conversation is organized around seven interlocking themes, each with their own guiding questions:

™Text and Context: What Can We Learn from the Vision and Values of the Shmita Year?

™Work and Rest: Towards a Dynamic Equilibrium of Production, Consumption, and Reflection

™Growth and Debt: A New Perspective on Progress and Prosperity, Private and Public

™Property and Ownership: From Private Poverty – and Riches – to Common-Wealth

™The Market: From Creator of Consumer Wants to Humane Supplier of Universal Needs

™The View From the Field: Promising New Innovations and Models

Where Do We Go From Here? From Wish List to Road Map

Stay tuned as our launch date is right around the corner!

Siach Supports You!

We were privileged to have the opportunity to award some of you with a stipend to enrich your professional knowledge! We were even more overwhelmed with the excitement of hearing your feedback and the impact these experiences had on you. We encourage you to share in our excitement and read what your colleagues experienced on our website.

JDOV = Jewish TED!

JDOV, a project of Siach partnering organization JHub in the UK, is an exciting initiative that hosts lectures on a wide range of topics inspired by Jewish dreams, observations, and visions; a TED.com of the Jewish world!

Have 12 minutes to spare? Listen to Nigel Savage’s inspirational talk about conscious, ethical eating, complete with a shout-out for our big Shmita initiative!

Generously supported by

Mazel Tovs and Milestones

Mazel Tov to our colleague and friend, Judith Belasco, on the birth of a beautiful baby girl, Sarai Ma’ayan!

Mazal Tov to Siach member, Amit Lerner, on the birth of a beautiful baby girl!

Mazal Tov to Yuvi Tashome and her organization, Friends By Nature, on their new office in Gedera!

Welcome home/back to Israel Dyonna Ginsburg! We wish you much beracha and hatzlacha in this new stage.

Bike Israel from

Top to Bottom

Oct 30 – Nov 6, 2012

See Israel from the seat of your bike and support the Arava Institute and Hazon. Learn more. Scholarships available.


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