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#URJBiennial: Food, Glorious Food!

#URJBiennial: Food, Glorious Food!

These days, when it seems like our food choices are unlimited—organic, seasonal, (eco)-Kosher and more—how do we as Reform Jews turn to our tradition and values for help? Panelists and participants tackled this question at “Food, Glorious Food!”, a learning session held earlier today here at the URJ Biennialin National Harbor, MD. Several dozen participants attended to learn more from the session’s four panelists about the broad spectrum of issues within the Jewish food movement.

At the URJ Biennial, a panel addressed where the Reform Movement stands at the intersection of Judaism and food. For more on these issues, check out "The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic" (CCAR Press)

Rabbi Carole Balin, Professor of Jewish History at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, spoke first and contextualized the afternoon’s discussion with Jewish texts and teachings related to food justice and ethical eating. Following Rabbi Balin, Rabbi Mary Zamore, Associate Rabbi at Temple B’nai Or in Morriston, NJ, addressed the challenge of navigating through the many choices we face at the intersection of Judaism and food. Rabbi Zamore is also the editor of The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic (available at, an anthology of essays about Jewish dietary practices.

Next we heard from Robert Nevel, an architect and member of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago, IL who helped establish one of the Reform Movement’s most successful food justice programs. As chair of KAM Isaiah Israel’s social action committee, Robert manages an urban garden based at the synagogue that regularly provides food to a number of soup kitchens and shelters. The project has been so successful that it has spread to a church in the neighborhood and at least one other Chicago synagogue, and it received a 2011 Irving J. Fain Award for Outstanding Synagogue Social Action Programming, one of the highest honors available to congregations within the Reform Jewish Movement.

Nigel Savage, President of Hazon, concluded the presentations by speaking about his organization’s bounty of food programs, including the Hazon Food Conference and the thriving CSA Network. The RAC recently hosted a webinar with Hazon to encourage congregations to set up their own Community-Supported Agriculture programs (CSA), an innovative partnership between synagogues and local farms. The complete recorded webinar is available in the URJ Webinar Archives.

A lively Q&A session concluded this highly anticipated Biennial event. “Food, Glorious Food” was part of this Biennial’s special focus on Reform Jewish social justice work in honor of the RAC’s 50th anniversary.

Food justice is clearly a hot topic in the Jewish community, and congregations are actively looking to do more. Eating local and ensuring healthy food is affordable and accessible to all are good choices for our health and our planet—and these actions encompass Jewish values as well. For more information on these issues, visit the URJ’s Green Table, Just Table Initiative or contact me.

Image courtesy of CCAR Press.

Published: 12/14/2011

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