HEBREW NAME: Rifka
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Berkeley, Calif.
ALMA MATERS: Cohen Hillel Academy ’04, Swampscott High School ’08, George Washington University ’12
JOB: Farm and program director, Eden Village Camp West
FAVORITE FOOD: Breakfast for dinner, like eggs and
FAVORITE MUSIC: I like blasting the radio really loud, especially in the summer, and usually listening to whatever’s on.
FAVORITE MOVIES: “The Parent Trap,” “Book Smart,” “Call Me By Your Name”
FAVORITE BOOK: “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid
FAVORITE TV SHOW: “The West Wing”
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATION: Southeast Asia: Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON NOT IN YOUR FAMILY: Abraham Joshua Heschel
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Passover
WHAT WAS YOUR JEWISH BACKGROUND GROWING UP?
I grew up in a kosher-keeping Conservative household, and I went to Cohen Hillel Academy for K-8, and then I went to public high school, and from ages 9 to 19, I went to Jewish summer camp at Ramah New England, and I would say it was there that I really enjoyed being Jewish, in a way that at Jewish day school and at home, it was harder for me to feel the excitement around it. But surrounded by a bunch of kids your own age singing and dancing was where it was definitely solidified. And then even at public high school, no matter what we had plans for Friday night, we would always eat Shabbat dinner together, and then we could go do whatever, and that’s a tradition I carry through.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN FARMING?
When I was in college, I worked for this place called the Refugee Agriculture Partnership Project, and it was through the Department of Health and Human Services, and they gave lots of land to recently arrived refugees so they could either have supplemental income or just grow crops that weren’t commercially available in the U.S. And while I was working for them and I finished my time at summer camp, I was like ‘Oh, if I want to spend time outside in the summer like I’m used to, maybe I should look into farming’ …and loving going to summer camp and having the opportunity to run a farm out of summer camp was such a perfect fit.
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WORK MANAGING EDEN VILLAGE CAMP, A JEWISH CAMP FOCUSED ON ENVIRONMENTALISM?
The first summer that I was there was also the first summer in operation, so before camp we started a farm on the property that was one acre. I learned how to use all these tools, and crop plan, which means pick what you’re gonna grow and figure out when it will be ready, and write curriculums. The second summer I was the program director and farm director, which means I oversaw a farm manager and ran all the things that the kids do that’s not sleeping and eating. The way a day works at camp is the kids wake up and we have something called Modeh Ani, which is a morning spiritual practice, so it could be journaling about your dreams, or it could be traditional Shacharit [Jewish morning service] – we have a river, so going down and dunking in a mikvah down there. Then breakfast, bunk beautification, then village time – all of our campers pick between the farm village, the forest village, and the culinary arts village. So at culinary arts, you learn to cook and make recipes; in the forest you learn wilderness skills and hiking, and you carve yads [the Jewish ritual pointer used for reading the Torah] out of wood; and then on the farm, maybe you’ll plant seeds and make flower crowns, and learn about the biodiversity of plants and animals … then there’s “chug” or our elective time, which could be herbalism, or nature crafts, or drumming, or learning how to preserve the things we grow on the farm.
WHAT DOES JUDAISM HAVE TO SAY ABOUT FARMING AND SUSTAINABILITY?
Depending on who you ask, you might learn that Judaism is an agricultural tradition first and foremost – we see that in the Shalosh Regalim, or the three pilgrimage holidays, which were around harvest times and bringing your offerings to the Temple. We also see that Sukkot is a moment of harvest, and Shavuot – the omer that we count between Pesach and Shavuot, those seven weeks, was actually determined by if the barley in your harvest for Shavuot was ready, and if it wasn’t ready on time, that’s how we knew we needed to have a leap month. A lot of tradition has been modernized, but originally Jews were people of the land – they’ve always connected to it and find their traditions from it.