JOFEE Anyone

We did it! Thank you to everyone who participated in our 10-day Passover4All campaign effort. In ten short days we exceeded our $5,000 goal and raised over $6,600 so over 120 Jewish families in the Greater Portland area will have food for Passover. On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Congregation Kesser Israel, and Jewish Family and Child Service – thank you!

I was recently watching old episodes of Portlandia and saw the skit about “Colin the chicken.” If you ever saw the episode you know exactly what I am talking about. The two stars of the show are in a restaurant ordering dinner and wanted to know more about the “free range chicken” on the menu. They were not interested in how it was prepared – instead they wanted to know more about the chicken itself. The waitress returns with a dossier. Inside is a photo of the chicken, its biographical information, and its name (Colin). But that was not enough. The customers then wanted to visit the farm to see where Colin grew up to make sure it met their specifications. It was Portlandesque and very funny.

I bring up that story because earlier this week, a host of national funders and Hazon released a study on experiences that blend Jewish learning with the outdoors, food, and the environment. These activities are attracting a growing number of diverse Jews to engage in a more meaningful and inspiring Jewish life. The first-ever national survey on Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) – Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) provides interesting details on a growing phenomenon in Jewish life.

The report was intended to answer a series of questions that funders and local community leaders have been asking for a while. What’s the nature of this space? Who attends these programs? What’s the Jewish background of participants? What impact – if at all – are the programs having? And behind these questions the larger ones: What should we be doing? How can we achieve the most significant long-term outcomes?

“For the last decade, a growing number of young Jewish people have been connecting Jewish tradition, on the one hand, with food, the environment and the outdoors, on the other,” said Nigel Savage, president of Hazon. “What the study makes clear is that these programs are having an enormously significant impact – on people’s individual identity and Jewish commitment; on leadership development; and, in relation to food and the environment. JOFEE programs are strengthening Jewish life, and are having a significant viral impact as last year’s program participants become next year’s program founders.”

Several key conclusions:

  • Connecting Jewish tradition with key contemporary issues – the outdoors, food, environment – in ways that are pedagogically serious has a profound impact on participants;
  • Participant impact measures do not show particularly high rates of affiliation with traditional denominations or synagogues. But they show high and significant impact in the actualities of Jewish life – observance, friends, commitment, etc.
  • The Jewish community often draws an implicit distinction between affiliated and unaffiliated Jews. Many JOFEE participants seem to fit a third profile – people who had to some reasonable degree a traditional Jewish upbringing; who subsequently became alienated from Jewish life; and who then stepped back into Jewish life and leadership through a JOFEE portal. One striking finding was that 63 percent of study respondents noted that throughout their lives they may have felt disconnected with Jewish life; 32 percent of those individuals have now found ways to reconnect to Jewish life through JOFEE experiences.

People choose to participate in immersive JOFEE experiences to connect their interest in the outdoors, food, and environment with Judaism, and to learn more about both areas. And the more engagement these individuals have with JOFEE programming, the more Jewish-related changes they experience in life, work and community.

This is all “so Portland.” And many JOFEE programs are already happening here. We have a Jewish professional “outdoor adventurist” and a Hazon affiliate in Portland. We have had a First Fruits Festival, Jewish Community-Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) programs, tashlich bike rides, Jewish camping experiences, Jewish schools participating in gleaning activities, and even our Food for Thought Festival last year.

Think what our community can do if we put more focus and additional resources behind this:

  • Build gardens (or even a working Jewish farm) that are utilized in programming across institutions
  • Introduce new Jewish environmental rituals, such as blessings for plantings
  • Create new JOFEE programs on college campuses
  • Host food festivals that celebrate the intersection of Jewish tradition and food
  • Build nature learning spaces and outdoor classrooms to enhance experiential education
  • Expand Jewish Community-Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) programs that bring local produce directly from a farm to Jewish institutions
  • Honor Global Hunger Shabbat to broaden awareness about global food insecurity
  • Initiate Jewish hiking groups for all ages on a regular basis

The opportunities are endless, including engaging more people. So, Jewish Portland and SW Washington – JOFEE anyone?

This weekend marks the festive Purim holiday. Enjoy the myriad of synagogue “shpiels” and eat a few hamantaschen. In fact, Portland’s Congregation Shaarei Torah made front page news in today’s Wall Street Journal with their hamantaschen.

Shabbat shalom.


PS – Thank you to the 800 volunteers who participated in last Sunday's Good Deeds Day. We had volunteer opportunities across the community and we are grateful to our organizational partners and everyone who gave of their time and energy.

Thank you to for articles and information about the JOFEE study.


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