Tu Bishvat and Earth Day: An immersive Israel experience shaped my environmental career

Tu Bishvat — the Jewish new year for trees, observed on January 21— is the holiday most commonly associated with environmental stewardship. Tu Bishvat, and Earth Day- celebrated on April 22nd, provides the perfect opportunity to give thanks for nature’s blessings, plant new seeds, and consider how, like trees, our past growth has shaped the present and future.

I’d like to share the story of my own personal and professional path, a journey that was and continues to be intimately shaped by an immersive Israel experience with Masa Israel Journey.

I studied political science at Colorado College, where I wrote a thesis on international food security. After graduating, I started to explore how my professional ambitions could intersect with Jewish values and spirituality. Along the way, I attended The Harvest Gathering, a conference co-hosted by the Schusterman Family Foundation and Hazon where I was able to see my work in the food system in the context of Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world.

I learned from incredible chefs, entrepreneurs, and leaders of the food system, including the CEO of Rusty’s Nut Butters & Treats, Tal Nimrodi. These industry visionaries conveyed powerful insights on affecting social and environmental change through business and inspired me to further explore my connections to Judaism and food.

I discovered the perfect opportunity to pursue my passions in Masa Israel Journey’s Eco Israel, a semester-long program which offers an immersive experience in Israel, sustainability, and Jewish peoplehood while receiving an internationally recognized certificate in permaculture design.

Eco Israel was a deep dive into organic farming practices, as well as building and experiencing a sustainable community. While living on the Hava & Adam eco-educational farm outside Modi’in for five months, my diverse cohort- from the U.S., Brazil, France, and Argentina- ate, worked, and learned together. We studied Hebrew language and agriculture, herbal medicine, mud building and so much more. We lived the land.

I extended my Masa experience through the Masa Leadership Accelerator, attending both a five-day intensive leadership training conference and Masa’s Delegation to Poland, a weeklong leadership development seminar. The Poland trip left an especially strong mark, helping me understand that the devastation of World War II was made possible in many ways by inaction and apathy; and that we have individual and collective obligations to speak out and act whenever we see injustice.

I remained at the farm as a program coordinator for two years after Eco Israel, guiding groups and transforming an abandoned office into a visitor’s center and gift shop. My community on the farm produced products ranging from soaps and herbal medicine ointments to pottery, olive oil and hand-woven purses made from single-use plastic bags.

I also designed and taught a class for the Eco Israel cohorts that followed mine, which centered on grappling with the unsustainable political, environmental, and economic issues that exist in our food systems. The class was created with the goal of helping my students become agents of change and design effective interventions when they identify a problem they are passionate about fixing. My class was highly informed by the message of Tikkun Olam, and featured guest lectures and nut butter tastings from the one and only Tal Nimrodi.

Today, I live in Israel and am involved in growing Robin Food in my spare time. Robin Food is a non-profit social restaurant that rescues food and provides delicious, healthy meals to the public on a pay-as-you-feel basis. Robin Food simultaneously combats food insecurity and educates consumers, transforming the food waste problem into a solution to the tragedy of food insecurity.

I now work full-time at TIPA Corp, an Israeli company that designs and produces compostable plastics. TIPA embodies the concept of Tikkun Olam by providing a solution to the problem of plastic packaging waste with products that give the consumer the same experience as plastic but return to the soil thru composting. I believe in TIPA because I believe that innovation and adaptation of consumer products according to ecology is vital to the health of our economy, and the planet.

My primary takeaway — on both practical and spiritual levels — from my Eco Israel journey has been the ability to take an experience and transform it into leadership and social action.

While my passions for food justice and environmental sustainability were already in place, my immersive experience in Israel with Masa is what shaped and refined both my career path and life’s purpose as I know them today. This year, I’m more excited than ever to see the direction of life’s branches and observe what new fruits will come.

About the Author
Jonah Goldman is the Eco-Israel Facilitator, Visitor Center Manager, and Farm Developer at “Hava Ve Adam,” an ecological educational farm that offers a five-month certified semester program through Masa Israel Journey for young people from around the world to learn about and experience sustainable living in an intensive hands-on environment.
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