The Privilege of CBI

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching my first class at Congregation Beth Israel’s (CBI) Hebrew High School in Charlottesville, VA. I say a privilege because the students at CBI are curious, enthusiastic, and intelligent, but that isn’t all. It is also a privilege to be sharing some of what I learned living and growing in Israel from 2006 – 2010 as the founder and executive director of Earth’s Promise.

The class is part of a two sequence workshop entitled “Israel: Beyond the Conflict”, that Rabbi Tom Gutherz and I developed for the Hebrew High School. Given the complexity and richness of Israeli culture and the limited time frame I have, I chose to focus on two iconic Israeli social systems – agriculture and the Kibbutz.

Last week’s class focused on the history of Israel’s organic agriculture movement. We watched a documentary called the Garden of Israel that Sasha Perry, videographer, cycler, and chef extraordinaire and I made together in 2008. We analyzed, discussed, and shared the lessons that we learned from the pioneers of Israel’s organic agriculture movement such as Mario Levy from Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, Avi Esterson from Moshav Modi’in, and Leah Zigmond from Kibbutz Lotan.

One of the recurring themes that we encountered was the power of one committed person, a “mishugah l’davar” in modern Hebrew, to change their world. As the father of Israel’s organic movement Mario, planted the seeds, which were cared for and cultivated by farmers like Avi, who in turn paved the way for people like Leah to organize and operate Israel’s first CSA programs (Community Sponsored Agriculture). Several other interesting themes also emerged such as the strength and support provided by community and the importance of remembering that we are each a link in a long chain of history that stretches forward and backward in time.

This week (today) we are going to try and synthesize the ideas and values that we gleaned from the documentary and our conversation in order to envision a new kind of Kibbutz where we might want to live. The first part of the exercise is to write a set of ground rules that will form the basis of personal and communal conduct. Then we will put the rules to the test and see how well they hold up to conflict and scarcity.

Assuming all goes according to plan (which it almost never does the way I plan), we will all be more thoughtful, compassionate, and wise when the night is over. If that doesn’t happen, I’m hoping for fun, but at the very least I’ll have another blog post.

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