V’Achalta, V’Savata, u’Verachata: You shall eat, you shall be satisfied and you shall bless God.

V’Achalta, V’Savata, u’Verachata
You shall eat, you shall be satisfied and you shall bless God.
—Birkat HaMazon, the traditional Jewish blessing after the meal.

Jewish meals unite us—whether it’s a Passover Seder at home or a Shabbat dinner here at Rodeph Shalom. Food, rituals around food, distinctions about what’s “kosher” whether defined according to Jewish law or to other ethical standards, is a defining feature of our religion, tradition and culture.

So, when we sit down to eat what we serve and how we serve it matters. I believe that we should approach the daily act of feeding ourselves and our communities with the kind of sanctity, satisfaction and gratitude our tradition celebrates. And believe me, in the age of industrial agriculture and in our increasingly “flat world,” this is not as easy as it seems. We do our best to provide nutritious meals to our children, our families, and our seniors. And yet, when we hand over a Styrofoam plate heaped with steaming industrial processed red meat, slaughtered by underpaid laborers and stewed in tomatoes imported from who-knows-where, we can’t help but be nagged by the uncomfortable question, is this really “kosher?”

The word “kosher” means “fit” – and Jews have been evaluating what food is “fit” for them to eat for thousands of years. While traditional forms of keeping kosher (no pork, shellfish or milk and meat together) may be important to some, I see an opportunity to expand your consideration of what food is “fit” to eat based on how it was grown, where it was grown, and the effects of its production on the people who do the work and the land where it is produced. This new movement is often referred to as “eco-kashrut.”

If we determine that who grows our food, where it comes from, what it’s fed, what’s sprayed on it and what it’s served on matters to us, to our health, to the earth, to our neighbors, our children and our grandchildren, then it’s time to begin asking ourselves a few tricky but answerable questions right now: Where does my family get its food? How many “food miles” did it take to get from the farm to my mouth and how much petroleum does that represent? Who are the people growing my food and are they being paid enough to feed their families? Are there farmers nearby who are struggling to sell their crops? As a Jewish communal agency, how might we supply our constituents and neighbors with healthy, locally grown food within our building and beyond?

Here are two ways that Rodeph Shalom, and specifically our Greening Committee, are beginning to answer those questions:

1. Our New Center City CSA

We have partnered with Hazon (an organizational leader in new Jewish Food Movement), the Gershman Y and Bare Foot Organics to create a Center City CSA. Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a mutually beneficial partnership where consumers receive fresh, nutritious vegetables while helping to sustain the livelihoods and stewardship of regional farmers. In a CSA arrangement, individuals and families subscribe to a share of the farmer’s harvest, paying the farmers in the early spring, and receiving produce over the harvest season. The share price goes to the cost of growing, distributing, and paying the farmer a living wage.

If you are interested in signing up for our CSA or learning more please visit: http://www.centercitycsa.com

2. Lemon Ridge Garden

We have begun a new partnership with Lemon Ridge Garden, a local community garden right across Mt. Vernon St from our parking lot. We will be working with some local residents to turn this former abandoned lot into a beautiful garden that will help to revitalize our neighborhood.

We invite you to our first day of gardening on Sunday, April 17th at 10:00am. Please RSVP to Dan Slipakoff, edu@rodephshalom.org or 215-627-6747 if you would like to help garden that morning.