Post 02: Building a Movement from the Ground Up

This post is part of an ongoing discussion about involving young people in environmental activities.

This post in the Building a Movement (BAM) series focuses on the idea of young people spending a year or more after high school connecting with the environment.

In my last BAM post I discussed some of the options that face observant Jewish young people when they finish high school: going to college, getting a job, going to learn in a school that focuses only on Jewish studies, and so on.

For some teenagers, these are not really good options. There are a number of reasons why school or work are not good options for them. (Work here means a job, a salaried position.) For example, a teenager may want, or be required, to move out of the home of his or her parents. Yet the jobs available to them may be low-paying, and if they want to rent their own place they might have to live far from a Jewish community.

Furthermore, the Halacha requires that by age eighteen a man should have a job that can support a family, he should have a paid up house, and he should get married. How is he supposed to do that if he has an entry level job, or if he's going off to college for four years or more? Where is he supposed to find girls who are willing to live spartanly, even if he can find a job that can minimally support a family?

Let's explore a little what the minimal requirements are for living. The following is drawn from my own experiences.

Living Simply

Jacob awakes from his dream of the angels going up and down the ladder, and he asks G-d to give him two things: clothing and food. To Jacob, these are the minimal requirements of life. When a man is dressed and fed, he can then go out and work, and thus have the means to serve G-d.

I grew up in suburban America. To me, getting clothes and food meant going to the store and buying clothes and food. But there are other options, and I've been exploring them lately. Over the past couple of years I've learned that for a single person:

1. It's possible to make most of your own food from minimally processed ingredients

A person can survive with an oven and stove and water, flour, beans, rice, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts, honey, salt, and so on, and not feel a craving for the myriads of packaged and prepared foods available in stores.

2. It's possible to live without air-conditioning and with minimal heat in the winter.

In the hot summer, a person can live comfortably in the lower part of a house with ventilation bringing in the cool air of the night. In the cold winter, dressing with the right clothes can allow a high level of comfort even at low temperatures inside.

3. In the city and the suburbs, it's possible to get around with buses, trains, and rental vehicles.

A personal car is not an essential ingredient for life.

4. With a small piece of land, it's possible to have shelter and grow and produce a significant part of the food needed in (1.) above.

An Alternative Option for Young People

I put forth that another option for young people is to live off the land.

The idea is to buy a tract of land and subdivide it into small lots, or "homesteads".

Each homestead will have a small house on it: perhaps just a trailer.

There will be a community building also. Homesteaders will learn farming and become self-sufficient over time in growing their own food, and even earning some money from their products.

I also maintain that this idea is not unrealistic. People in general are influenced by their environment. While living minimally may not appeal to many young people, if they were to live on a homestead and try it, they might like it.

Young people who go off to learn at a Yeshiva or Seminary, or at a college or university, or who join the military, are introduced to a foreign way of life, where they are deprived of many comforts they are used to. Yet they adapt and learn to enjoy it because they are surrounded by a community of people in the same situation.

In our next post we will begin focusing on the details of this project and why young people may find it appealing.

A link to a book on the history of communes in the '60's and early '70's

A video below by Rabbi David Eidensohn on the necessity of making a living.

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