Bread and Torah

I wrote some reflections for Adamah about a day we spent at an event called “Bread and Torah”…here are some of the highlights!

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This October, we had the privilege of spending a day with two rabbis, Linda Motzkin and Jonathan Rubenstein, who traveled from Saratoga Springs, NY to share with us their gifts as a baker and torah scribe, respectively.  At first, I was simply overcome with joy at the variety of embodied experiences to explore throughout the day.  The sweet scent of cinnamon-glazed rugulach, the beauty and delicate care contained in a single hand-written letter “alef” on a torah scroll, the palpable hum in the air of people proofreading sections of torah, declaring every single letter out loud – “VAV. YUD. ALEF. MEM. RESH.”  I took a look around the room, full of folks scattered around either bobbing their heads, deep in a trance of scanning torah panels or joyfully twisting the four strands of the new challah braiding pattern they discovered, and thought, “Wow. This is a Judaism that is alive and breathing.”

The full impact of the event didn’t hit me until the next morning though, as we we finished stretching and preparing a deer hide that will one day be used as part of a sefer torah scroll.  Together we pulled and stretched the hide, then smoothed and cut it, releasing bits of dust and deer hide into the air with the whir of a sanding tool.  Somewhere, mid slice of the hide as I twisted the knife and released the hide from the chords that helped stretch it, I suddenly sensed how palpable the connection was for me in this moment between the land and what is to me one the holiest elements of our Jewish tradition, the torah itself.  As I held the knife, it was as if I was paused in a moment in time, one point on a thread of connection linking me to creatures of the earth, the resources that sustain them, our delicate, impermanent time on this planet, and the holy work we humbly seek to do in this world.

Rabbi Linda reminded us or the Talmudic wisdom, “Im ein kemach, ein Torah v’im ein Torah ein kemach” – if there is no flour, there is no Torah and if there is no Torah, there is no flour.  Never before had I so clearly known this to be true.  If we ignore our connection to the land and to our resources, we are not carrying out our holiness in the world to the fullest extent possible.  As an aspiring Jewish spiritual leader, I was so humbled by the work we put into this sefer torah scroll.  How much more meaningful and powerful could this torah scroll be within a community that has physically shaped and transformed each and every part of it?  How rich and powerful can it be for rabbis to also be doing the work of physically trudging through the muck and dirt and dust required to bring us sacred elements of our tradition that we may take for granted?

What a blessing it is to live in a Jewish community here at Adamah that is so ripe for such depth of connection.  I will be leaving Adamah with this sense of connection rippling through me, hoping I can carry even a small piece of it into the rest of the world.  May we continue to find and build communities that nourish and sustain us, and remind us so clearly of our role in the interconnected webs we weave.

 

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Transformation

Most of my posts have been well thought through in a typical, type-A approach to sharing what I think or what I observe. There’s a neat theme. Or a central image. Or lists. Or bullet points. Or things that seem to make sense out of this crazy farming universe we’re in right now.

One thing I’ve learned here is to let words and ideas flow from my heart without the filters of what is “reasonable” or “rational” or “balanced” sifting through my feelings to chisel and carve out chunks of what is truth for me right now so that  I can feel safe and avoid feeling too vulnerable.

I don’t have any neatly packaged thoughts to share right now. But I can’t believe that we’re nearly two thirds of the way through our program right now, and I’m overcome with the joy and awe and wonder and sleepy-yet-awakeness of all that we’ve done here.

I’m thinking now of a quotation from Anais Nin that I have seen often in the eco-Jewish world,

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”

Maybe that’s some of what’s happening to me now.  Maybe I’ve sat in so many hug-y, sing-y circles about plants and love that I’m drinking the (organic, free range, gluten-free, non-GMO) kool-aid.

I’m convinced that transformation happens every day here for each of us, and I think I’ve been here long enough now to see some of what’s changed.

We get to see food turned into compost turned into soil turned into growing plants turned into “we, too, are one day headed for the compost pile.”

We see the fall foliage surrounding the lake go from green to orange to red to brown to drifting to raking to compost pile to “this is so beautiful” to “how do I know that the leaves will ever come back?” to “I !@#-ING HATE WINTER AND WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA??!?”

Judaism here is so rich and so vibrant and still full of the contradictions and choices we face outside of this loving intentional community.  Sometimes we won’t get along.  We don’t always ask each other the right questions to show that we care.  Sometimes we don’t have the words to explain the pain we carry with us or to ask for the right wells of wisdom in our tradition that can help us heal.  Our communities still aren’t enough to feed everyone’s souls, to get it right, to make peace in a real way, to help us each see the light of god in each other.  There is so much here that is alive in our spiritual practice, and still – we need to do more.  This simultaneously breaks my heart and makes me realize that I have to try anyway, to bring what I can amidst the brokenness, because what else is there to do?

Becoming more ourselves:  this also happens every day.  Sometimes it means openly sobbing in a field while harvesting carrots. Sometimes it means massage circles. Sometimes it means learning to chant kol nidre with four days notice when I didn’t think I could.  Sometimes it means I feel angry while shoveling goat poop and laughing hysterically five minutes later in a goat sound making contest. Sometimes I feel old. Sometimes I feel young. Sometimes I want things to be easy and resist what is hard and new and foreign. Sometimes I see the learning potential in anything and everything without thinking twice.  Sometimes I decide it’s a good idea to try driving a really big truck.  Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s actually a good idea for me to drive a really big truck.  Sometimes it means talking to a chicken in a bizarre ritual that makes me think more about the number of ways of creating chicken soup than releasing my sins before yom kippur. Sometimes it means jumping in the lake when I know it’s too cold. Sometimes it means saying exactly what I mean even if it might hurt someone. Sometimes it means writing down whatever is flowing out right now even though I know I should be asleep because I have to wake up in four hours to meditate.

So this is my post. I’m not editing it. Even though it’s 3 am and I know there are probably type-os and things that won’t make any sense tomorrow morning when I wake up.

We’re all being transformed all the time. And it’s a crazy, wild ride to witness this magic up close with people I love, in a place that feeds every ounce of my being.

The Great Rosh Hashanah Chicken Rescue

This year, my Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) involved a little more farm-style action than expected….

Just as the new year was beginning – as people elegantly dressed in white and refreshingly cleansed after weeks of farm work began to gather for hugs and new years greetings, I said hello while apologizing for having to run so quickly to do my evening chore – putting the chickens to sleep.

The chicken coop in the evening is a magical place.  I’ve loved having the chore of taking care of the chickens – poop scooping and all – if only for the moment of serenity that came in the evenings when putting them to sleep.  Every evening, like clockwork, the chickens go back to their coop to sleep (and stay safe from predators) when the sun comes down.  I had the amazing chance to leave evening sessions or stop whatever I was doing to swing by the chicken coop and observe the beauty that was the sunset over a quiet field.  Our main farm is surrounded by beautiful hills, all the more fanciful these days as the colors are changing for fall.  Even more magnificent is the resounding silence; after a day of squacking and clucking and pecking and chasing each other around the coop, all that can be heard by the time I arrive at sunset is the flutter of the last few sets of wings settling into the coop and the nighttime surround sound echo of crickets in the field.  Simply. AMZAZING.

So, on this rosh hashanah eve, I took my usual contemplative stroll over to the chickens, thinking about this beautiful opportunity to spend time outside while welcoming in the new year.  I took my usual moment to appreciate the beauty of the field at nighttime, closed the chicken coop, wished them laila tov (good night), and started to walk away.

But then…I heard a rustle in the bushes.  I saw where it was coming from and noticed a chicken stuck – literally – between a rock and a hard place.  Sometimes the chickens get out of the coop during the day (either by flying or sneaking through gates), and this particular individual was trying to make her way back home…through a wire fence…surrounded on multiple sides by a downward sloping hill with large rocks at the bottom.

First I tried to push the chicken over.  It went to a different spot where it promptly started pecking at a different spot in the fence (I admired its commitment; and also, this pecking plan was going nowhere).  I tried reaching over the fence to pick up the chicken, but the fence was too tall.  I tried coaxing the chicken up to higher ground where it could fly over, but it kept wandering back down the hill to spots where it could get stuck.

It was getting dark.  Even if I had gone to the other side of the fence where the chicken was, I likely could have injured myself trying to find it.  I realized I needed help.

I speedily walked back to Rosh Hashanah services, my heart racing a mile a minute.  I nervously went to one of my directors, anxious at the fact that I was interrupting his own prayer experience on one of the holiest days of the year with a question about chickens.  I hurriedly explained the situation to him and decided it was fine to go after services were over.

The 40 minutes or so that I actually sat in services after that seemed like a terrifying eternity.  The only text running through my head was from some of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy acknowledging our own feebleness and vulnerability in the upcoming year:

“WHO WILL LIVE AND WHO WILL DIE”

“WHO BY FIRE, WHO BY WATER”

In addition to these traditional texts, I added:

“WHO BY FOX”

“WHO BY COYOTE”

“WHO BY INABILITY NAVIGATE ONESELF BACK TO THE CHICKEN COOP”

Various horrific visions of chicken slaughter passed through my mind, and I couldn’t concentrate on the communal prayer around me at all.

When services ended, I must have had a stunned look on my face as I tried to explain the situation to some of my farming compadres…and a friend quickly offered to go back and help.

Headlamp in hand (I hadn’t planned to use electricity for the holiday, but there’s a Jewish tradition that laws can be broken to save a life…I am hoping this applies to chickens as well)….we went on a night hike down the side of the hilly ravine where the chicken was hiding.  We coaxed the chicken uphill to a spot where I could finally grab it.  I threw the chicken over the fence.  It flapped its wings enough to make a soft landing, then waddled towards the coop.  I opened the door again (the already sleepy chickens luckily did not take this as an opportunity to wander out), threw our wandering chicken friend back in with the rest of her posse, and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

SO…when you live on a Jewish farm, prayer can come in many forms and in strange ways.  This was probably the least amount of time I’ve spent in organized prayer space on Rosh Hashanah eve in recent memory.  And it was certainly the only Rosh Hashanah when I had such vivid visions of some of those traditional texts floating through my mind.  I think the most important part of my prayer that night WAS the chickens…as well as the process of navigating my own sense of responsibility, boundaries, and the frequent need to seek help in the community in order to do what needs to be done.  Thank g-d no chickens were harmed that night.  And I hope their new year started a little bit sweeter because of it.

Chicken sunset

Chicken sunset

Chicken home

Chicken home

Chicken coop in the compost yard (Aka "Bubbe's Breakdown Bistro")

Chicken coop in the compost yard (Aka “Bubbe’s Breakdown Bistro”)

 

Jumping in

My first full week at Adamah has been amazing, challenging, eye and heart-opening, laughter-filled, dirty, awe-inspiring, and all-around BEAUTIFUL :). 

Today while working in the field, while sweating with dirty knees through challenging physical work, I thought of this poem that I read before my freshman year of college – “To Be of Use”:

To Be of Use

by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge 
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest 
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I have found this poem enlightening and inspiring since I first heard it years ago, but I have never felt so literally, physically connected to its meaning.  The work that we are doing here does indeed feel very REAL at every moment of the day.  We start by waking up before dawn for an hour of mindfulness/meditation/prayer called “Avodat Lev,” work of the heart.  We spend most of the rest of the day collecting eggs from our chickens that we will eat for breakfast, harvesting onions that will be cooked for communal meals in the dining hall, digging, and weeding, and schlepping, and building things that provide direct sustenance to our community. In the evenings we discuss how to better live in community with each other. Or study Jewish text.  Have a dance party.  Maybe pray more.  It. feels. SO. REAL. 

A smattering of the tasks we (our cohort of 15 rad Jewish 20 and 30 somethings from across the US – and two from Israel!) have already begun in the past week or so we have been here includes:

  • Hiking up a mountain, being temporarily blindfolded, and having our blindfolds removed while the hebrew words “pokeach ivrim!” (gives sight to the blind) were shouted and we opened our eyes to the most beautiful mountain overlook 
  • Biking 135 miles in two days for the NYC Hazon bike ride
  • Jumping in a beautiful lake for a shabbat mikvah (ritual cleansing immersion before shabbat)
  • Learning to maintain large-scale compost 
  • Cleaning chicken poop
  • Harvesting THE LARGEST TRUCKLOAD OF ONIONS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN ONE PLACE 
  • Preparing cucumbers for pickling
  • Singing while weeding for hours 
  • Cooking breakfast with fresh chicken eggs 
  • Preparing shabbat meals and rituals for an amazingly diverse group of people who already feel like family 

I can’t wait to see what further joys, challenges, and growth await us all as we continue on this journey together.  I feel we’re off to a great start, and I hope to continue relishing every moment of searching for and carrying out the work that is real.  

Shabbat shalom, and much love!  

Fall 2014 Our kick-tuchus group of Adamah fellows, mentors, and teachers

Not a first day of school

This year, for the first time since preschool, I won’t be going back to school. Since I was 3 or 4, my life’s journey has been, for the most part, lovingly tied to the academic calendar. Either as a student, student teacher, or teacher, the end of August has always meant an end to summer travels and festivities, a return to work and schedules, and the mix of excitement and first day jitters as the first day of class approaches.

This year, instead, I am making my way towards the farm at Adamah, preparing for a new journey tied just as deeply to cycles, milestones, and the sacred marking of time, now spent out in the fields instead of in a classroom.

It’s been strange in these past couple weeks to not be shopping for school supplies, reworking lesson plans, or ceremoniously planning my first day outfit. As I see friends and coworkers, some with their own children now, post pictures of getting classrooms ready or sending kids off on the first day, part of me craves a return to this familiar cycle. Part of me wants nothing more than to be a little kid with a lunch box, new pencils, and a backpack….or to be writing new name cards for students and redecorating bulletin boards hoping and dreaming for new things to come during the school year.

In sensing this longing, part of myself has jumped very quickly to assure myself that it really won’t be so different.  “Being a “fellow” at adamah will be much like being a student and an apprentice, learning new ways to harvest crops, to tend, feed, and milk goats, to learn where chickens hide their eggs, or to live in community with people who I do not yet know.  Instead of pencils and backpacks and erasers, my tools will now be shovels and twine and work gloves and milk pails.  The whole farm will be my classroom – how wonderful is that!”

And all of that is true. 

But. And. It can be easy to become tied to all that is familiar.  I know that part of this longing comes from not knowing the something else I am about to encounter.  Much of my intention for this year is about listening to the voice in the back of my head saying “what else?”, seeking to the space and time to explore that which is not yet known.  This feeling of being at the edge of a cliff, almost ready to leap from the familiar terrain I have known into an ocean of possibility is, entirely like a first day of school, simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  

What might happen when I strip away parts of my identity that have been so central to my day-to-day life for the past several years?  What might swoop in once that space is cleared?  What will I be drawn to that is the same and familiar, reminders of what feeds my soul that I do already know?  And what parts of myself might surface that I do not even know yet?  

These are the questions I am contemplating as I prepare to embark on this Shmita year’s journey, while so many of you, my beloved friends and family, start your school years in many forms.  Blessings to all on our new journeys and adventures this year, whatever cycles, calendars, and (un?)familiar rhythms they may be tied to. 

With love, hope, and anticipation,

Rachel

Tomato Fest!

 

Perhaps this is a preview (without the many hours of manual labor) of life at Adamah –

 

I traveled this past weekend with some friends to a “Tomato Fest” at the farm that I get a weekly farmshare box from in Capay, CA.  Some riding on tractors, some frolicking in fields, some tomato tasting and voting, some indie band jamming as we toasted in the sun.  It felt like summer.  And it made me excited to spend more time on a farm.  Highlights here:

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Evidence of drought - our guide said the water in this channel is usually MUCH higher this time of year

Evidence of drought – our guide said the water in this channel is usually MUCH higher this time of year

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Our voting tickets! Tomato democracy for all!

Our voting tickets! Tomato democracy for all!

What I learned (or re-learned):

  • I legitimately feel more connected to my farmshare box after seeing the farm…and am much more fully appreciative of the work done across a large distance and many fields for that one box to arrive at my door
  • There are SO MANY more kinds of tomato flavors than I previously understood.  One kind we tasted even had “chocolate” in the title…and that wasn’t far off from what it tasted like
  • Babies running in sprinklers just WIN. At everything.
  • Wide open spaces = Ahhhhhhhh (refreshing)

 

Transitions

some of my things being taken off to a friend's to store.  bye possessions! (we really don't need so much anyway, eh?)

some of my things in the back of my car being taken off to a friend’s to store. bye possessions! (we really don’t need so much anyway, eh?)

The first of my logistical transitions have begun.  I am packing up my things and storing them in various locations. 

While storing things, Lacy and I found a ginormous zucchini hiding in her garden.  A taste of my life to come at adamah???

photo 2

 

And, amidst the flux, I’m trying to take some moments here and there to slow down and soak in the beauty right here, right now.  

 

Sunset in El Cerrito, taken from a field in the El Cerrito open space.  Just, wow.

Sunset in El Cerrito, taken from a field in the El Cerrito open space. Just, wow.

Lessons from Improv

One of my first adventures this summer has been taking an improv class with BATS in San Francisco.

I already feel as though there are many rich benefits to reap from practicing this art form.  Here are a couple of them:

1.  Improv is practice in not being attached to outcomes.

I often find myself in situations, interactions, conversations, etc. quickly developing an idea of what I would like the outcome of this situation to be.  I then find that often halfway through the conversation or the next time I see someone, my interaction is often then dictated moreso by that idea of the desired outcome than what is actually happening in the present moment.  The security of holding onto a specific goal, a specific destination is nice; yet, it is often not real.

But in improv you have no idea where the skit/activity/scene is going.  You can’t plan it…or at least, you can try to, but your ideas might deteriorate in front of you faster than you can think them.  You can develop an the idea that you’d like to be riding an elephant through the town square, but that elephant might quickly turn into a man wearing a suit at the town fair, take a detour down the Mississippi, and end up at Mark Twain’s house.  The beauty of the scene comes in NOT being attached to any given outcome, but in accepting the offers handed to you by others in the scene and making something beautiful out of them.

Life, in a Buddhist-Improv-ian sense, is like this too.  And practicing non-attachment (to ideas, to outcomes, to particular agendas) can help us see the beauty that simply is.

2. “It’s like a polaroid picture – it’s developing as it’s happening.”  

Our teacher used this analogy in a scene in which 4 people each added something new to a room, building off what was there previously.  After she said it, though, I immediately thought – “Yes, life really is just like that too.”

Life is like a polaroid picture.  It’s developing while we are in it.  We may never be entirely clear about what is happening.  We may only be able to really see and understand what just happened after we are able to look back on a situation with some newfound wisdom and clarity. Much like Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.  We must, inevitably, learn to live in the messiness, in the muddled, half-developed polaroid of our own narrative as it unfolds before our eyes.

3.  I had a giggle fit in the middle of a round of a “telephone”-like game, where we imitated a gesture and sound from the person before us.  The person after me (and therefore everyone else after that) then imitated my giggle fit as well as the initial gesture + sound.  I was initially super embarrassed and felt like I had “messed up” the exercise, but it then became much more entertaining for all of us.  Perhaps are “mistakes” are not really what we make of them.

 

That’s all for now.  More improv life lessons surely to come (but why get attached to that outcome?).  

 

A poem for journeys

I was walking the streets of San Francisco several weeks ago with my friend Danielle who was visiting from out of town, and we stumbled upon a woman who offered to write personal poems on the spot.  All she asked for was a theme.

I asked for a poem about “journeys,” and this is what she wrote.  The product itself is nothing to write home about…but the process of having someone write a personal poem felt very loving, and the act of choosing a word for one’s own personal poem is perhaps a journey unto itself.

So, here is my custom-written poem about journeys…

It’s easy to follow the flock

But what a crock

Forge your own path

And don’t look back

Find yourself along the way

And you’ll be sure to say

You have no regrets

And kept your self-respect

You only live once

And now is the time

To make your mark

Create a spark

Explore and journey

Keeping friends in heart

No matter where you are

You’re never apart