Why Hazon, Why Now?
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
November 30, 2015
“Who loves gardening? Let’s see a show of hands!”
We couldn’t have asked for a sunnier afternoon or a brighter, bouncier group of pre-schoolers to demonstrate the power of a little hands-on experience in the garden. With the goal to turn the beds and put the garden to sleep for the winter at Hillel Day School, Hazon educator, Batsheva Glatt joined “Mrs. Barb’s” pre-Kindergarten class recently for just a preview of wonderful things to come from the partnership of Hazon with Jewish organizations throughout metro Detroit.
As all nonprofits grow by the grace and trust of many, Hazon – a uniquely Jewish eco-conscious community – is starting to take root in Detroit.
Founded in 2000 and based in New York City and Falls Village Connecticut, Hazon (the Hebrew word for vision) works at the intersection of two sets of questions posed by its visionary Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Savage. “Why be Jewish? What is the nature of being Jewish and what does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st Century?” And the second set of questions: “We seem to be messing up the world in so many ways – climate change and pollution and damaged food systems; what can, could or should we do about these challenges?”
A frequent visitor to Detroit, and most recently here in mid-October as a Guest Scholar through the Berman Center at Shaarey Zedek, Nigel took a break from a busy schedule to meet with myJewishDetroit for some further reflection on Hazon’s role in the Jewish community and beyond. “The intuition behind Hazon is how these two sets of questions are related,” Nigel asserts, “When we turn Jewish life outwards to try to tackle some of the biggest issues of our time, we can make a difference in the wider world, and strengthen Jewish life in the process.”
So Hazon’s mission is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community – and a better world for all. “We’re creating multiple ways to strengthen existing Jewish institutions, to fire up people who already are involved in Jewish life, to bring new people through the door, and to create new pathways both to strengthening Jewish life and making a difference in the world.”
An avid cyclist, originally from Manchester, England, Nigel founded Hazon in 2000 with a Cross-USA Jewish Environmental Bike Ride. Since then, Hazon has steadily grown the range and impact of its work. With the addition of the Detroit office, its staff now numbers more than 50, based in New York, Denver/Boulder, Philadelphia, San Diego, plus a range of programs strengthening the Israel-diaspora relationship. Recognized as a pioneer in the next generation of Jewish educational programming, Hazon has been listed in the annual Slingshot Resource Guide among the most innovative organizations in America, for 11 years in a row — one of only five organizations to be in listed in every guide since Slingshot first published its guide in 2005.
Hazon’s Detroit roots
“For 15 years, we’ve steadily grown because we have good ideas, good people and we strive to partner well,” observes Nigel, adding that Hazon has been interested in Detroit for a long time, starting with the tenure of Detroiter, Cheryl Cook, who served as Chief Operating Officer for many years. “Cheryl, who grew up here and whose parents (Barbara and Jerry) are still very active in the community, was certainly a catalyst for us, as well as the numbers of Detroiters who’ve been part of our Food Conference and a range of our programs. It’s been really interesting to see the changes in attitudes over time. Fifteen years ago, when I was just getting started with Hazon, people would say to me, “Jews on farms? Jews on bikes? Jews in sustainable food systems in the environment – why?” Today that’s really shifted. There’s a growing demand, across the community, for suport on these issues. The conversation has shifted from why to why not to ok, how?
Given the vibrancy of Jewish community life in Detroit – activists and urban farmers literally planting the seeds of change in the city’s neighborhoods – and with the generous support of the William Davidson Foundation, Hazon Detroit has made a solid start in 2015. With Sue Salinger at the helm, the organization is quickly finding its own Detroit mojo:
- Setting up shop in close partnership with Federation and Tamarack Camps – Hazon has opened its office on the third floor of the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in Bloomfield Hills.
- Working with newly hired Jewish educators, Batsheva Glatt and Rachel Lehrman, Hazon is establishing a long-term Fellowship Program to support its work in the Metro Detroit Jewish community as well as in the congregations.
- Developing a curriculum based upon its core program in the areas of Jewish Outdoor, Food and Environmental Education (JOFEE), Hazon is leading a NIRIM Certification Program for area synagogue educators with a 10-week program for a cohort of nine synagogues.
- “Greening up” congregations, as well as Hillel Day School, Hazon is working to promote eco-awareness in the community. Beyond the classroom, Hazon Detroit will host a full calendar of community events, activities and eco-friendly DIY projects geared to all ages.
- Building capacity, Hazon is working with Tamarack Camps and Yad Ezra, respectively, on their farm and greenhouse/gardening programs.
- Coming soon, Hazon will hit the road in its signature Topsy Turvy Van, a green lab and classroom on wheels custom-built for Detroit.
- Starting to think about Jewish intentional community and what that might look like in the Detroit area.
And great news for people interested in great Jewish food, food justice and a healthy food system – Hazon is actively gathering growers, producers, distributors, food pantries and food experts of every type to create next fall’s first Detroit Jewish Food Festival.
From Colorado, a gifted educator with an extensive background in communications and digital media, Sue Salinger was most recently Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Emanuel of Oak Park. Reflecting on the opportunity at hand to start-up Hazon Detroit, she observed, “The metro Jewish community has given Hazon a very warm welcome, and we’re eager to collaborate on projects that can create meaningful Jewish connections around health, the environment and building a more just community for all”
Commenting on Hazon’s collaboration with the community, Tamarack Camps CEO Steve Engel said, “We are thrilled to join with Hazon in a new partnership designed to enhance our nature-based programming, field trips and travel experiences. With Hazon’s help, we intend to infuse more Jewish values education into all of our outdoor programming to help our campers gain a better appreciation of our natural environment and their roles as stewards.”
“Michigan is an interesting and important place right now,” says Nigel. “On the one hand, it is one of the strongest Jewish communities in the country – a community largely in the suburbs, but with really deep and historic roots in the city – strongly connected to Jewish life, strongly supportive of Israel and strongly philanthropic. And on the other hand, there’s this duality, with a city where so many things are wrong and in need of fixing. And, as you see, in any part of the country where there are lots of things that need repairing, there is a lot of energy and innovation at work, especially where young Jewish people are actively engaged. What gives us hope and inspires us in Detroit, is the fact that there’s so much life and creativity here. In ways that might not have been obvious or true 10 or 20 years ago, people in Detroit are very open to change – and wanting to strengthen what is, and to create what might be.”
Exactly what will the greening of Jewish Detroit look like? How will Hazon Detroit’s’s farms, greenhouses and gardens grow? Watch for the Topsy Turvy Bus (the bio-fueled environmental schoolhouse on wheels) coming to a synagogue near you. Stay tuned for a fresh green approach to the curriculum in the Jewish community’s religious schools and day schools. Wait for spring, new crops of ideas and developments from Hazon’s CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program. Get on your bike this summer and ride to support Hazon Israel. And get ready to celebrate a Michigan Jewish Food Festival like never before. Coming with the harvest in 2016.