MODI’IN, ISRAEL, March 28, 2011, 4:30 p.m. – Devin and Jeremy love to plant vegetables “on the margins” – in other words, close together – on the self-sustainable ecological farm they share with 38 other members of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s MASA program in Modi’in, Israel.
“The soil is so much better. The plants share worms and benefit from better aeration,” said Devin. “When you plant only in rows, like potatoes being mass-produced for a big fast-food company, you run the risk of disease, parasites and other bad stuff.”
It is a fitting analogy to the way these 40 nature lovers are growing together at the Hava and Adam Eco-Israel Environmental Education Center and Ecological Farm. Devin, Jeremy and gang are cross-pollinating their knowledge and energy to live off the land and planting seeds for their future as self-sufficient members of society – and as Jews.
Our stop at the Eco-Israel Farm, located halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was an intriguing one. The project is part of the MASA program, which offers English-speaking young adults, ages 18 to 30, an opportunity to develop a deep, personal relationship with the land of Israel. Through organic soil cultivation and food production, communal living and learning, the Eco-Israel project aims to cultivate a new land ethic in Israel, renewing the Jewish people’s traditional approach to our natural surroundings. Participants spend five months living at the Hava and Adam center. They create a dynamic self-reliant community with Israeli volunteers, exploring ecology and permaculture design, sustainable agriculture, alternative building techniques and Jewish spirituality and Israeli studies.
We met six of the 40 participants, including Jeremy, 20, from the Boston area, and Devin, 22, from Eugene, Oregon. Devin might someday be putting his herbal remedies to good use as he will soon be attending medical school in Oregon. Jeremy and Devin toured our group through the farm and its various elements: a large solar panel that powers the whole village, a weaving center where residents use things like old plastic and tree bark to create useful items, a clay house, a green house, a wet house, an herb garden, a recycling center (Devin seemed proud of the job building a trellis from an old coat rack and tubing), compost stations and a cold storage center.
Jeremy and Devin enthusiastically walked us down the various pathways, pointing out the different vegetables and techniques for growing them, weaving their personal stories along the way. I’ve never seen two people so excited about garlic, broccoli and artichokes!
On a more serious note, Jeremy spoke of how he pushed Judaism away as a child who had to attend Sunday school and study Hebrew. Today, being Jewish means something different, unique and special. “It’s not about praying to a G-d I may or may not believe in, in a language I don’t understand.” Pressed about what it does mean to him, Jeremy said, “It’s about ‘community,'” pointing to his garden of friends on the farm.