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Sophie here, current caretaker of kibbutz yarok. I am now a full time student in addition to working at the kibbutz. My english teacher assigned us our first paper with the prompt: What are you passionate about. I wanted to share with you all what I wrote:

Propagating Passion

I dig digging. Digging into Mother after asking, feeling, listening for permission. I dig learning to listen for answers that don’t come in the form of human language, but that touch and move me into action or no action. I dig piling on layers of horse manure from the stable down the road on top of cardboard from the cvs or home depot dump. I enjoy connecting to Teddy, the guy who works at Home Depot and gave me special permission to jump in their dumpster and fling boxes that once held ladders into the trunk of my suburu. I like raking up straw to cover the manure, balancing the nitrogenous dung with the brown carbon bi-product of Sonoma County’s grassy spring[1]. I like watering the pile of decomposing matter and watching my barred rock and buff orpington chicken friends dig up the entire shabang while adding their rich waste into the mix. I dig waiting, because in waiting I learn what time really is. I learn how long things actually take in nature. I learn that everything does transform, that nothing stays the same for too long.

I dig sowing seeds into tiny pods and hosting them for a time in the South facing greenhouse outside my front door. I dig nurturing the baby seedlings with rain-water caught in the barrel under my gutter. I enjoyed it when a guy in a truck named Haggai (pronounced ha-guy) dropped off four rain-barrels one day because he knew what I was up to. I like acclimating small plants to the outdoors after many hot days spent within the plastic confines of the greenhouse. I like celebrating Havdallah, the ritual separating Shabbat from the rest of the week, by planting the baby plants under the light of the full moon. I like weeding and feeding the weeds to my chickens, goats, and compost pile. I like using the liquid run-off from my bathtub word bin to fertilize the plants. I like finding the first ripe tomato, or squash, or radish, or pea, or onion and making a salad in my mouth as I examine my plant friends. I like praying Maariv Aravim, the prayer for the transition between day and night, as I’m sitting between lettuce beds watching the sun set.

I dig kissing my baby goats through the fence of their pen after I put them to sleep. I like watching the baby deer forage with their Mama. I like to be the one who takes a bucket to the lake late at night to gather water to put out the fire and look at the amazing view. I like to celebrate Shabbat with my family when they visit town by tending the fire and baking them pizza in the cob oven. I dig it all, but when I forget that in June I get to share this land with 65 young folk I loose the passion. I dig the garden, but what I love is to hear young people bursting to share the ingredients they used in the fresh salad they created. I love to wake teens up at 6:00 a.m. with the blast of the shofar and work with them until breakfast. I love hearing that breakfast after a morning of work tastes better than any they had ever had. I love it when a kid says he feels more connected to his food when he has helped grow it. I love it when they sing spontaneously or enter into a fit of laughter or when they start roasting everything and anything over the open fire. I love it when they appreciate silence.

If you grow the most incredible variety of lettuce in the world, but don’t share it with anyone, the chances of it surviving are small. If you save those lettuce seeds and spread them throughout your community, your lettuce will thrive. I strongly believe in the need to build resilient human habitats, but for this idea to manifest it must be shared. I believe each community must be responsible for its own transformation into sustainability. My garden is on the property of a Reform Jewish summer camp. I live there year-round as the land’s caretaker. This past summer 65 sixteen year olds joined me, twenty at a time, over the course of eight weeks. They lived on the land in giant tipis and together we learned about the garden, our Jewish agricultural roots, living in community, and how to listen to ourselves. My passion is Jewish farming because it is the vehicle in which I am taking to embark on my lifelong attempt to live in harmony.

Judaism roots me in an ancient tradition with wisdom that teaches me about ethical farming, community, and awe for the world around me. For me, farming is enriched when coupled with Jewish ritual. It provides me with a guideline for how to live naturally. A.D. Gordan, the founder of labor Zionism, said, “we, who have been torn away from nature, who have lost the savor of natural living—if we desire life, we must establish a new relationship with nature.” I desire to live, to thrive. My passion is life. Jewish gardening is my method for seeking a way to live that reflects my desire to live in a way that is full and humble, joyous and moral, kind and brave. 

“Choose life, so that you may live”

Deutaronomy 30:19


[1] The raked straw in a pile in front of my home makes me pause after a lecture about water resources at the site of the green grass growing the junior college lawn, hm…sprinklers

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Did you ever wonder what happens down the road, just a mile away from the dining hall? Or question why avodahniks return for dinner every day with glowing faces and dirty overalls, sometimes covered completely in mud? Also, where did those new catchy songs those kids sing come from? And what is all this oky and who is sleeping in what tipi?

            My name is Sophie, I live at Kibbutz Yarok year round. I studied permaculture (a design method that aims to create agriculturally productive systems that have the resilience and diversity of natural ecosystems) at Kibbutz Lotan, where I learned the three ethics of permaculture: earth care, people care, and fair share (returning surplus to the earth and people). These ethics have become the backbone of the OKY vision as they correspond with three areas of Avodah (service): Avodat Lev (service of the heart), Avodat Kehilah (service of the community), and Avodat Olam (service of the world). OKY is the co-creation of Avodah classes ’09-’12 and a shiny team of staff members eager to bring forth from the land of Camp Newman a small farm, an experiment, and a stage on which to explore creative ecology and Jewish spirituality.

Summer 2012 marks Operation Kibbutz Yarok’s (OKY) first summer in which youth slept on the land…in two 25 foot tall tipis. Each Avodahnik rotated through OKY and spent two of their eight weeks of camp living in tipis and working to actualize a dream: a Jewish eco-village at Camp Newman inspired by Reform Kibbutz Lotan in Southern Israel. Through working with the land and living in community our little Kibbutz in the woods of Sonoma County became a bustling village full of excitement, trials and tribulations, creative homegrown salads, and a beautiful array of mud-building projects.

Every morning Avodahniks woke to the sound of the shofar blast, calling them to the morning celebration circle, which consisted of a circle of painted rocks in the ‘chicken yard.’ Morning celebration is a practice borrowed from Kibbutz Lotan—a time for daily stretching, qi gong and breathing exercises, morning prayers, and the bean of the day! Every day had a theme based on one of the sephirot, an aspect within the kabblistic tree of life, ranging from strength to humility. When you witnessed someone embody this attribute, you could kindly give them a bean. Toranut (chore) assignments were handed out with beans and once the jobs were completed (i.e. tipis swept, chickens and goats fed, greenhouse watered etc.) we reconvened for breakfast and morning workblocks.

The work accomplished within the workblocks throughout the summer included: double-digging six 15’ long garden beds, creating three terraced garden beds, building and turning compost piles, laying drip irrigation, planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, and cooking…and that is just in and around the garden! While some Avodahniks learned from our plant friends others got to know the earth in a different way, through building with earthen-plaster…or in simple terms, mud. We dug, sifted and mixed earth in order to build a mud brick and glass bottle bonfire pit, a beautiful 20’ long bench built with tires and trash covered in mud (inspired by kibbutz lotan), and our final project was a mud-oven with the story of our summer sculpted and sketched into its dome. We also expanded our chicken coop, thanks to an Avodahnik’s inspired design, and built shade structures for our goat friends—Eitan and Reva. 

In addition to learning with our hands, each week we were graced by special guests who brought experience, knowledge and fun to the Kibbutz. Through our special guests we learned about Jewish agricultural traditions and spirituality, Auryuvedic medicine, dream interpretation, basket weaving, and we even ground wheat berries to make flour that eventually became a rosemary challah for Shabbat!  Our visitors came from Wilderness Torah, Urban Adamah, The Jewish Farm School, Camp Towanga, Reconstructionist Rabbinic College, and more. Once a week we also had a movie viewing in our eco-cinema, barn movie theatre (sheet hanging on the barn wall with a projector). Our favorite film showed was the Greenhorns, a documentary by and for young farmers in America. A film about the very movement OKY is a part of.

So, now do you have an image of what happens a mile away from the dining hall? It was a summer packed with expansive lessons in the garden and deep moments of reflection on the land. Our hope is that one day, not so far from now, campers will be able to spend an entire session at Kibbutz Yarok. In the mean time, I’m here year-round. We’ll keep you posted on ways to stay involved with OKY throughout the year. For more information contact kibbutzyarok@gmail.com. As I enjoy the first round of this year’s apple harvest, a prayer comes to mind that speaks to all we do at OKY: Blessed are you Adonai, who has made your world lacking nothing and has produced goodly trees to give delight onto your children. Amen, May we all recognize the abundance we have and give gratitude for our holy community at Camp Newman, with which we can enjoy life’s sweetest gifts.