Sova (“Enough-ness”) is a collaborative effort of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, the Heschel Sustainability Center in Israel, and the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College in Boston.
The goal of this shared endeavor is to help raise awareness across the international Jewish community and beyond about issues of sustainability—with a particular focus on economic justice—by engendering a multi-disciplinary conversation about such fundamental issues as responsible land usage, wealth and debt, work and rest, fair labor practices, private and public (commons) property ownership, and physical and spiritual revitalization.
The recent economic crises in North America and the European Union emphasize the need for renewed collaborative thinking across disciplines and communities that promotes sufficiency over excess, and leads us to prosperity without crashing. We need to develop structures and habits that blend doing well with doing good, for humanity and for the rest of life.
Among other things, this involves honest reflection about the strengths and weaknesses of our financial and political systems, as well as our communal and individual values and priorities. Why do so many people go to bed hungry every night throughout the world when we have the resources to feed them? Why do corporations that pollute our air and water continue to grow unchecked? What do our personal purchasing and lifestyle choices have to do with these issues? What are some examples of inspiring thinking and effective action in the business, activist, educational, and religious sectors? How can we create mutually enriching networks of creativity, support, and transformation?
The timing of the launch of the Sova Project is intentional. We begin during Sefirat ha-Omer, a traditional time of focused reflection on personal and communal transformation, rooted in ancient Jewish agricultural practices.
Further, we are inspired in our efforts by the biblical institution of Shmita, the Sabbatical Year of Release, which begins this week’s Torah portion of Behar. The next Sabbatical Year will commence in the fall of 2014 (immediately after Rosh Hashanah). We believe that this provides our community with an evocative ritual context and a set of thought-provoking teachings through which to reflect meaningfully on issues of economic and environmental sustainability.
We have chosen to explore these issues through the lens of Shmita because, as Jewish educators and activists, it offers us a timely and rich field of language, symbolism, and praxis in which to discuss the creation of a more equitable and healthy society.
According to the Torah, Shmita involved a sort of yearlong Sabbath, a year of economic rest and agricultural and financial renewal, during which people would devote themselves to more intellectual and spiritual pursuits, working only to fulfill their basic needs. Agriculture, commerce, and loans were simultaneously readjusted to create a more equitable, just and healthy society. Debts were remitted, the earth lay fallow, private lands reverted to the commons, and staples such as food were redistributed and made accessible to all:
“Six years sow your land and gather its yield; but in the seventh let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat…” (Exodus 23:10-11). “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts… every creditor shall remit the due he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun him…” (Deuteronomy 15:12).
Shmita bolstered a small-holders, free-market economy with punctuated periods of economic and personal renewal. This economic approach prevented entrenched poverty. The central message is that Shmita structured all economic activity so that it served citizens and society, not the other way around.
The ancient traditions of the Sabbatical Year certainly do not provide us with ready-made answers for today’s global financial, social, or environmental challenges. Rather, this biblical construct calls us to ask disquieting questions about our individual choices, our societal organization, and our commitments to social and environmental justice.
One foundational question it raises is about the possibility of renewal. People, animals, and land rested during the Sabbatical Year. Just as silence is an integral part of speech, punctuated periods of fallowness are crucial for guaranteeing continued creativity and fertility. People, indeed, are like land: when overwork leads to exhaustion, too often we engineer continued vitality for both, not with healthy renewal, but with the chimera of chemical invigoration.
As we launch the Sova site, we envision several areas of discussion, including:
- Assessing Our Wants and Needs
- Work and Rest
- Land Ownership, Stewardship and Usage
- Food Production and Access
- Wealth, Responsibility and Generosity
- A View from the Field: Models and New Possibilities
- Creating a Roadmap
The choice of the word “sova” as the title of our project indicates our belief that the world has sufficient bounty to provide enough resources for all of its inhabitants, if we choose to use these resources wisely and fairly. To achieve this lofty goal, we must commit ourselves to honest, informed, and creative engagement with issues of environmental and economic sustainability. This involves renewed and sustained reflection on what we can do individually, communally, and globally to transform our world.
We look forward to engaging with you in meaningful discussion and action in the weeks and months ahead!