Photo: Ben Baker
Devout Jew and foodie Nigel Savage is the founder of Hazon (Hebrew for "vision"), a Jewish nonprofit based in New York City that runs the largest faith-based community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, in the country. The group pairs synagogues with nearby farmers to provide locally grown food for more than 4,000 families, and donates any leftovers to the poor—this year it expects to give away 30,000 pounds' worth.
His eco aha! moment: "My first career was as a fund manager at Rothschild, a bank in London. In the mid-'90s, I took a year's sabbatical to work in Israel, and a friend invited me on a 31-mile hike from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. I had come from a nerdy, intellectual wing of the English Jewish community, and that was the first instance when I had spent any great amount of time outdoors. I started to think about our obligation to the physical world through a religious prism—about the way that religious environmentalism was capable of not only creating a better world but also rejuvenating religious communities."
His work: Hazon is putting Jewish purchasing power behind local organic farms, while helping CSA members reexamine ancient traditions in the context of the modern world. Says Savage: "For 3,000 years, we've asked, 'Is this food fit for me to eat?' The word kosher literally means 'fit.' And in creating a Jewish CSA, we wanted to devise a mechanism for people to start to ask that question in a different way for the 21st century. For instance, I only eat eggs that come from hens that have not been stuck in an eight-by-eight-inch cage. For me, that's what keeping kosher means."
What's next: Last year Hazon helped launch the Jewish Climate Change Campaign to promote radical shifts in synagogues' eco-practices by 2015. "What would it mean to put a bike rack in every synagogue in the world? What would it mean to change food policy in every synagogue so we're not serving industrialized food?" Savage asks. "It's those sorts of questions that we want to put on people's agendas."
What keeps him motivated: "One of the powers of religion is that it offers a long perspective. Historically, the Jewish people have faced down challenges just as daunting as climate change, and we've never, ever lost hope. We've never lost the determination to roll up our sleeves and make a better Jewish community and a better world."
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