Standing Next to G-d

Miriam (Mimi Hope) Abraham

About Miriam (Mimi Hope) Abraham

I am founder of an sustainable Jewish ecovillage outside of Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico and currently a rabbinical student with Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary. Currently stewarding 7,000 acres of land.

About Standing Next to G-d

this piece was written as a final project for my theology class in rabbinical school with the prompt being standing next to God envision envisioning the future of the Jewish people in the 21st-century.

You’re standing next to God at the frontier of our community, the Jewish community, in the 21st century:
1. What do you see?
2. What do you wonder?
3. What’s our mission?
4. What are the steps?
5. Why is it so important?
6. Add one question of your own for our community to consider.
7. Are there texts/stories from our Tradition that can help you explain this? What are they?
8. Write your own prayer for this mission

Please be able to communicate your message clearly- but in any method of your choosing- to these 5 audiences:
1. Pre-school families.
2. Religious school/Hebrew High families
3. Ages 21+
4. Audience of your choosing
5. An audience that scares the sh** out of you that is not already mentioned here 🙂

I believe the challenges we face as a Jewish community in the 21st century parallel those of the human race in general. We are facing a climatic catastrophe from which no one will escape no matter which G-d you pray to. The scarcity produced by drought 1, by soil degradation 2, by increasing numbers of species dying out 3 as a result of man’s insistence on the relentless exploitation of our mother earth’s resources will ultimately culminate in a deadly competition for survival. 

The now widely-accepted reality of these facts has sparked an interest in and the emergence of groups focused on what is being called “earth-based Judaism.” We vaguely remember that our people once wandered in the desert as a nomadic tribe and our very sustenance depended on manna from heaven. Our urban lives mask our reliance on what springs forth from the earth because everything we need is found in the grocery store. But in this pandemic, we have seen systems of production and distribution break down. We have experienced the tight grip of the fear of scarcity. And I say “we” referring to the United States and other first world nations in our massive affluence and privilege in comparison to the rest of the world. For many around the globe, the experience of lacking basic necessities some or most of the time is not a new one. 

The pandemic has achieved that which we could have never brought about on our own. It put all of mankind in the same boat, facing the same fears and challenges, and giving us all something to collectively mourn and remember. It made viscerally real the fact that we are all interconnected and reliant on each other. And it has set the stage for a reorganization of our approach to coexisting on this planet. 

Where do G-d and Judaism come into all this? We are a community that has modeled resilience throughout many generations. Our festivals, our calendar, our prayers based on lunar and agricultural cycles illustrate that we once honored and revered all of Creation and the cosmic spiral of growth, death and rebirth. We as a People have all the materia prima in our tradition to lead the way for a collective teshuvah – a revival of rituals and practices that are restorative, regenerative and conscientious of the urgency to protect and preserve our planet. Social justice, food justice, and economic equality are built into the concept of Shmitah – as described in this article:

In the Shmita year, debts are to be forgiven, agricultural lands to lie fallow, private land holdings to become open to the commons, and staples such as food storage and perennial harvests to be freely redistributed and accessible to all.

We are also the authors of the concept of pe’ah – leaving the corners of our fields:

“When you [plural] reap the harvest of your land, you [singular] shall not reap all the way to the corner of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I the Lord am your God.  You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.” – Leviticus 19:9-11

Earth-based Judaism as it is evolving is an awakening to the presence of G-d as made manifest in nature. It is a remembering of those traditions that bring about equality and emphasize the responsibility to steward that which we have been given to care for.

But this teshuvah cannot be confined to 8 days of “burning man in the desert.” “Earth-based Judaism” must be a concept that is acted out on a daily basis. 

Living close to nature infuses holiness and yirah in every sunrise and sunset, every waxing and waning moon. Loving and conscientious care for mother earth and all her inhabitants is integrated into our spiritual practice when we are asked to periodically let the earth lie fallow, forgive debts, and leave the corners of our fields for the poor. And with a command to “Love the stranger” being reiterated 36 times in our most sacred text, it is clear that our practice of compassion should not be reserved only for fellow Jews. It must be extended to all who want to share in this collective awakening to our dependence upon one another as a global village. 

For shechinah to manifest her Presence, we must come together universally across faiths, race, cultures, genders, and abilities to participate collectively in sharing the miracle of life and recognizing its fragility on this planet – our only home in the Universe – our earth.  

Please be able to communicate your message clearly- but in any method of your choosing- to these 5 audiences:

Pre-school families.

For pre-school families, I would take them out into an open field and talk to them about how typically crops are planted and the land is not given time to rest nor is anything that is reaped saved for the poor. I would ask them to imagine the fields full of wheat or corn, and that once they were ready to be gathered, that they imagine the corners being left for people who don’t have food to eat to come and gather whatever is left behind. I would explain how the earth just like people needs a regular, programmed break (shabbat) and that this makes the land more productive and fertile so that all its resources are not used up until the land becomes unworkable. I would ask them to imagine what would happen to a person if they, for instance, ran miles and miles and never drank water or stopped for a high-protein bar? And then to apply the same concept to the land.

Religious school/Hebrew High families

I might use the same kind of approach with families in this group — inviting them into the outdoors to help them connect more directly with the concepts of pe’ah and shmitah. However, I would ask generally if they know about climate change and assume some would offer their own definition. And then specifically explain about soil degradation and how we depend on the quality of the soil for sustenance. I would also invite them to imagine if a small percentage of all food produced were saved to give to the poor, how that would impact their lives for the better.

Ages 21+

Again, I prefer the outdoors for this conversation if possible. For people to connect with nature, and relate to it as a living entity that is intricately connected to our own lives and sustenance. For this group, I would hit them with all the hard, dark statistics mentioned above, plus this one:

According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves.

I would also invite them to watch all or part of this video about self-sustaining villages:

I would invite them to come up with their own ideas of how shmitah and pe’ah could be implemented in our time. I would share with them the link to the Hazon website which talks about their Shmita project:

Audience of your choosing 

Jewish Real estate developers

I would share the above speech and hit them with every dark static possible, plus the James Ehrlich video, plus adding my own experience as a Jewish professional who could not continue in my role because I got priced out of the Bay Area real estate market, explaining how sustainable eco-villages could not only be the answer to hunger and homelessness but could also be the key to provide a dignified life for all those who serve our community babysitting our children, providing Jewish education, and taking care of our elders. I would also include statistics that would encourage them that the economic benefits to them personally would be significant.

An audience that scares the shit out of you that is not already mentioned here

The Federation

This audience is scary because I view them as change-resistant. Because what I am trying to explain is a new paradigm, and I think they would be hard-pressed to see their role or responsibility. I would explain that the proposition of a Jewish sustainable ecovillage would be a holistic approach to solving issues of scarcity in our own Community and provide an example to the world at large.