Social activists launch campaign to re-engage UK Jews through farming

The initiative aims to provide a contemporary socially-minded type of Judaism through outdoor education and farming.

By
October 6, 2016 17:47
3 minute read.
Farming UK

Talia Chain farming in Ireland. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A group of young British Jews has begun a campaign to raise funds for the first UK Jewish farm and environmental community of their generation.

Having opened a crowdfunding campaign on Wednesday afternoon with a goal £15,000, the initiative, named Sadeh (“Field”), raised almost £2,500 in its first 24 hours.

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“Sadeh’s Jewish values are rooted in social and environmental justice and creating a healthier and more sustainable world for everybody,” the campaign video states. “We aim to reengage and reinvigorate the Jewish community through farming and outdoor education.”

The initiative is the brainchild of 27-year-old Talia Chain. She grew up affiliated with an Orthodox synagogue in London, and found herself becoming disillusioned with traditional Judaism, she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “I felt that there was no conversation about the issues I care about,” she explained, mentioning subjects of animal rights with relation to kashrut, gender equality and certain aspects of Orthodox marriage, which did not sit well with her when she tied the knot.

A social activist who had previously set up a charity to support survivors of human trafficking, Chain began searching for a stream of Judaism that fit her better.

Becoming increasingly interested in the environment and the relationship between food and society, more than two years ago Chain decided to travel to Connecticut in the US, where she spent three months participating in the Adamah Jewish Farming Fellowship – a leadership training program for young Jewish adults which integrates organic agriculture, farm-to-table living, Jewish learning, community building and spiritual practice. “It was inspirational,” Chain said. “I realized that is all I want to do with my life – to be outside, farming. My Jewish heritage and tradition comes alive for me when I’m digging and composting, and I feel connected to everything I’m growing and eating.”

She said that in the UK, Judaism is rather limited, whereas in the US, the Jewish Renewal movement has sprung up. Chain referred to a national research study conducted by the Hazon charity in collaboration with several Jewish funders in 2012, which found that one-third of survey respondents who had been disconnected with Jewish life were inspired to reconnect to their Judaism due to Jewish outdoor farm and food educational programs. “We’re losing so many youths because there is nothing contemporary to offer,” Chain lamented, noting that many people her age feel the same way. She set out to change that and began acquiring farming skills, undertaking courses and completing an apprenticeship.

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Two-and-a-half years later, Chain has a team of a dozen people working with her in various capacities, and she is preparing for her move to Kent, a county in Southeast England. There, she approached a Jewish retreat center, Skeet Hill House, which got on board with her plan.

Chain envisions the farm becoming a center of community building, a means of connecting with the wider Jewish community, a hub of environmental education and a catalyst for dialogue both within the Jewish community as well as with other faiths. In addition to growing organic fruit and vegetables, the farm will offer local volunteering and training programs and educational activities for children. Chain has also built relationships with several farms in Israel that can provide guidance on permaculture, and can serve as a link between this Jewish British farming community and Israel.

“In our ancient texts, we are charged many times to take care of our planet,” Chain stressed. “As climate change reshapes our environment, Sadeh will provide education on how our actions affect the planet and how we can be part of the solution.”

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