This article appeared in the May 7, 1010Jewish Advocate.
CSAs a growing choice for area synagogues
By Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate
Synagogues have always been spiritual and social community oases. And as members’ lifestyles and choices evolve, they become even more - literal extended families and homes that help with child care, Israel trips, singles events, job networking, even our dinner options.
Many Jews are listening to modern-day concerns about food safety, energy efficiency, and our local economies. An increasing number of synagogues are too, joining Community Supported Agriculture programs that ensure fresh, healthful, local bounties for congregants.
How do CSAs work? Members pay upfront fees, and farmers do the work. Shares are divided in various percentages, and the benefits are many. Farms can compete with industrial giants while abstaining from their associated pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. They can provide jobs to their communities, and buy supplies from their own local businesses. With a fair return and guaranteed sales, they can focus on production and proper stewardship. Food dollars are kept in the community, with food miles greatly reduced. Recipients gain the satisfaction of doing the right thing for their families’ health, the environment, and the economy. And, of course, great eating!
Conscious eating has always been intrinsic to Jewish observance. But a new concept, “ethical kashrut,” involves even more introspection. “Traditional kashrut teaches growth through restraint: by curbing or restraining impulsive eating, we heighten our commitment to our religious teachings," said Bob Hill, Executive Director of Temple Shalom in Newton.
While Hill finds traditional kashrut very meaningful in his life, he says ethical kashrut, which can supplement or parallel traditional kashrut, can apply to food-related decisions that "may not be directly addressed by traditional kashrut, or by a religious imperative per se, or which might cast food-related issues in a wider context."
These can include sustainable agriculture methods, pesticides, chemical and hormonal additives, soil exhaustion, humane treatment of animals, ethical treatment of farm or food-production workers, fair wages, carbon footprints, fuel and transportation costs, and many others. "Proponents of ethical kashrut practice a restraint of the use of foods produced by exploitation of land, animals, or workers, coupled with advocacy for change," he said.
Carol Berlin, chair of Temple Shalom’s Environmental Action Group, is such a proponent. “When Tom Brown of nearby Congregation Dorshei Tzedek approached us about joining an interfaith CSA at the Red Fire Farm in Granby, Mass., we were thrilled,” she said."This new project reflects our values of caring for the land, repairing the world, and our concern about climate change.” She found great support for the CSA project, including from the shul’s Rabbi Michelle Pearlman: “What a wonderful benefit to members of our community," she said.
Dorshei Tzedek’s search for a CSA had roots in its community study program, “Food Matters,” which examines Jewish ethical implications of food choices. “Judaism teaches that eating is a sacred act,” said Rabbi Toba Spitzer, who cited additional environmental, labor, and global perspectives: “We want to look into what it means to honor both the earth and the human labor that goes into producing our food, and why it is that some of us have so much to eat, and others so little,” she said. “CDT also participates in the New England Delegation for Farmworker Justice,” said member Alex Sugerman-Brozan, noting that the interfaith Delegation supports the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworkers’ rights organization advocating for workers in Florida tomato fields. “CDT also developed a Passover Haggadah Supplement, said Sugerman-Brozan, "drawing the connection between our obligation to remember the experience of our ancestors as slaves in Egypt and our responsibility to work for the freedom of all people from all types of enslavement and oppression."
Brown also approached the neighboring First Unitarian Society, which was looking at the same issues. “A study group has been studying Ethical Eating all year as part of the Unitarian-Universalist Association's current study-action issue,” said Holly Zeeb, who coordinates the group with Dede Vittory and Naomi Olsen. Some members of FUSN subsequently bought shares in Red Fire Farm. According to Berlin, the coalition also includes members from churches in Boston. “We’d love to have other faith-based institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish,” she said.
Other area synagogues with CSA memberships include Kerem Shalom in Concord, Ner Tamid in Jamaica Plain, Eitz Chayim and Temple Beth Shalom in Cambridge, and the Moishe/Kavod House in Brookline.
“We are hopeful that our partnership will engender a sense of perspective and connectedness, in which we feel a bond between the food we are eating, the people who grew the food, and the land the food came from,” said Brown. “We hope that this bond will be enhanced by the communal nature of the partnership, in which we are sharing local food with other members of our immediate congregational community as well as with our Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors.”
“Meat does not originate in packages at the market, but is produced by raising and killing real animals,” explained Hill. “Crops have an actual cycle that is tied to the seasons and the earth." He noted that our eerie disconnect, due to modern food marketing methods, can make it difficult for us to be responsible stewards of the earth.
A CSA program can help pave the way. “A CSA is simply a way by which modern urban citizens can begin to re-establish a connection to real food production, get food from a known source, come to know actual farmers, understand the actual methods of production at that source, and eat the crops that are actually appropriate to one’s local seasons,” said Hill.