It is a beautiful coincidence that my year living and volunteering in Israel has fallen within a year of Shmita (translating literally to release). The concept of this Sabbath year was brought forth to us at the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, which was held just last week in Jerusalem. As the 200 other participants and I discussed this multi-faceted edict in Jewish law, we discovered some key representations of our journeys in Israel, both within our time at the Summit, and in the larger scope of our respective programs:
The ancient mandate of Shmita obligates all farmers in the Land of Israel, once every seven years, to leave their fields fallow, relinquish ownership of the produce, let the soil rest, and enable all people (and animals, both wild and domestic) to take part in the land’s blessing. During this year, financial debts are cancelled, and people receive the opportunity to start over in a new period of financial and social freedom.
During Shmita, property assumes less importance, time is less pressured, and nature becomes much more than a resource to be exploited. Shmita presents an alternative to the race of modern life and is characterized by love of the people and Land of Israel, a heightened sense of social responsibility, and a framework for environmental practice. Shmita invites us to renew quality of life in all spheres of reality, through a unique public effort.
It is a year of social involvement, spiritual and ethical renewal, and deep environmental reflection. It is a year of brotherhood and sisterhood, culture, spirit, family, and community. It is a gateway in time – once in seven years, a renewal of the covenant between humans and the earth.
It is a year that leaves a distinct impression on the subsequent six years.
– The Israeli Shmita Declaration
The most obvious parallel I draw is the “break” my peers and I are taking from our previous lifestyles in our native countries. While here, we have set aside time to achieve meaningful personal goals, to engage with our new communities, to self-reflect, and to pursue our passions in socially responsible projects for the betterment of humanity. This period for “renewal” seems to me absolutely crucial, in whatever respect one chooses to manifest it, so as to step back from the daily grind and examine what is precious and sacred. It is also a time for forgiveness – not just of others, but of the self, which especially in light of my previous post, holds great personal value.
And, depending on how closely you know me, you might have guessed that I’m also pretty into this year’s recognition of gratitude for the earth’s harvest (see: my obsession with Kachina dolls, food culture, green practices, compassion for all living beings, etc). These regenerative agricultural traditions are still observed in contemporary Israel, although they have lost some prevalence over the years. However, the heightened awareness of society’s broader impacts on the environment remains a dominant focus in this year of Shmita.
Within a period of individual, social, and communal significance (across an entire nation), I see Shmita as a sign that I am truly in the right place at the right time. Over the course of the conference, I met amazing young adults from all over the world. Together we bonded through an ice-breaker trip to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, an educational visit to the Vertigo Eco (and art) Village, and a night trek through the historic Cotel Tunnels in the Old City.
The majority of our time, however, was spent partaking in engaging seminars, lectures, and discussions, centered around topics of Israeli politics, culture, and social reform, as well as in workshops aimed to develop our skills as leaders.
Perhaps most intriguing for me was hearing international perspectives from Jews outside of the U.S. and Israel, now from Argentina, France, Russia, South America, Africa, and many more countries, about what Jewish life is like there and how they hope to shape their future Jewish communities on a national and global scale.
I left confident that many of my new connections would have a meaningful impact on my time here and beyond. I felt overwhelmed at times, too, having not yet any real idea of what comes next for me, once my program is completed. Yet, in the company of my passionate companions, I felt ultimately supported in whatever path I take, and I know I am part of a larger community that will help me in more ways that I can presently imagine.
Also, you can follow the link here for this year’s post-conference promo video of the Leadership Summit, featuring yours truly, in an embarrassing “interview” clip.