Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
The annual Boston Jewish Food Conference harnesses a near universal passion for food to build community rooted in Jewish text, tradition and culture. A diverse, ever growing event, the daylong gathering explores feeding ourselves and the world in a sustainable manner informed by Jewish agricultural and dietary laws and values. The BJFC provides new perspectives to shape attendees’ food choices, holiday celebrations, and understanding of public policy. Through Jewish historical frameworks, family stories and personal experiences, the BJFC informs our contemporary personal and communal practices and priorities by building respect for each other and the resources that sustain us.
Ganei Beantown brings people together for experiential food and agricultural learning and celebrations rooted in the Jewish values of:
L’ovda ul’shomra - To Till and To Tend: Being responsible stewards of the earth.
We provide skill building workshops, access to resources, and encourage decision making with kavanah (intention) as well as support the development of organic, educational vegetable gardens at local Jewish communal organizations in order to create supportive structures for people to be empowered in their own practices.
Gemilut Chasadim - Bestowing Kindnesses: Being responsible stewards of each other.
We are building vibrant Jewish community with multiple entry points and opportunities for engaging with others who are different as a means to building bridges and developing community that is more than the sum of its parts.
Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World: Being responsible stewards for the next generation.
Developing a New England Jewish community investing in feeding each other and the world in a just and sustainable manner ensures resources are available for all now and into the future. Practicing ethical eating, as well as advocating for systemic change for our neighbors who are food insecure, actualizes our principles.
While the above are overarching philosophies that guide our program, there are numerous specific principles that we often draw upon in teaching, including: Bal Tashcit (Do not destroy), Tzar Ba’alei Chayim (Cruelty to Animals), Ma’aseh B’reisheet (Miracle of Creation), Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof (Pursuing Justice), as well as Tractate Pe’ah, (Laws of gifts to the poor, as well as charity in general).
The roving BJFC brings together more than 200 diverse attendees from all over New England to foster new connections by utilizing food and agriculture to explore the intersections of justice, sustainability, and culture in the context of Jewish traditions and contemporary life. In a multi-generational, pluralistic setting, the day includes concurrent workshops led by area professionals (in the kitchen and classroom), and culminates in a community Shuk (marketplace), featuring dinner prepared by conference participants, do-it-yourself activities, advocacy opportunities, and tabling by community organizations.
Since 2012, the BJFC has been teaching homesteading skills and Jewish learning, enabling peer learning opportunities recognizing and disseminating successful projects and ideas for replication. In coordination with a volunteer planning team, and a network of local leaders, each year the BJFC focuses on different aspects of the food system:
• In April 2014, six months before the start of the Shmita year, we held a Shmita Summit. The biblical Shmita cycle worked to recalibrate both agriculture and commerce to enable a more equitable and healthy society, economy and environment.
• In 2015 we focused on Food Justice, and considered the individual choices that we make, our congregational and community affiliations, and the development of public policies. The distinct origins of our Jewish identities and our food choices at each of these relational levels reveals a complicated interplay.
• In 2016 we were hosted by a modern orthodox congregation and examined how in the age of industry, feeding millions and often lacking in transparency, we are pieces of this great puzzle. We looked at some of the inputs, outputs and ramifications of our food choices as we nourish our bodies and whole selves.
We have connected synagogues with a distributer of compostable paper goods, seen a Jewish summer camp start sourcing from a local, Kosher fishing business, supported the sprouting of a community garden at our host synagogue, and aided the distribution of local, sustainably raised Kosher chickens. Peer to peer sharing at the BJFC enables participants to recognize the increasing complexity of our food system, and how our Jewish laws and values have the potential to influence our decision making. One 2015 participant offered:
"I've been having this discussion with people, and I think this is an interesting challenge: My main life is secular, and when I come to EcoJew events I'm looking for Jewish things to fulfill the spiritual part of my life that is lacking because most of my life I environmental/secular. On the other side, many of my friends are immersed in Judaica and need the secular/environmental pieces of these events. The ultimate challenge is always: How do these combine!?"
The experiential nature of our programming is impactful and lasting as we have seen increased synagogue sponsorships and return participants. Regarding the Shechita (Kosher slaughter) we did at the first BJFC and plan to do again in 2017, one participant reflected:
"I am so grateful that my daughter and I had this opportunity. … There is something very inspiring and grounding in seeing the physicality and the spirituality of how our food gets to us in a Kosher manner. It is one thing to see a symbol on a package. It is quite another to see a trained shochet say a bracha and follow a strictly prescribed process to actually shecht an animal. And we even got to participate in the Kashering process! The experience deepened my understanding and appreciation of Kashrut. I feel very fortunately to have had this experience, especially knowing how (unfortunately) rare it is these days."
Showcasing Jewish text and tradition with contemporary relevance engages individuals in delving into both an exploration of personal Jewish identity as well as communal priorities and practice. Utilizing Jewish frameworks or values to make decisions brings Jewish wisdom to relevance on a regular basis, as often as every time we eat. On an institutional level, the BJFC provides a forum for influencing the larger supply chain.
Establishing environmental stewardship as an authentic and compelling expression of Jewish life nourishes our bodies, our spirits, and our community. As we all grapple with the complexities of the issues, being grounded in our heritage and our community provides strength to engage in the issues.
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