Bela Farm Grand Opening
Opening Remarks by Risa Alyson Cooper
Sunday, June 26, 2016
B’ruchim ha’baim. Welcome friends. My name is Risa Alyson Cooper, I am one of the Directors of Shoresh, and it is my deep honour and privilege to welcome you all today to the official opening ceremony for Bela Farm. Shoresh exists to nurture a regional Jewish community that sees environmental ethics as a core element of Jewish identity, and is actively committed to responsible stewardship of the earth. We do this through transformative educational programs that link Jewish texts and teachings with experiences of awe and wonder of the natural world; leadership opportunities that invest in the next generation of Jewish environmental leaders; and responsive action including environmental advocacy and the production of sustainable products that enrich Jewish life. We operate out of Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden in Vaughan; schools, synagogues, camps and community organizations throughout the Greater Toronto Area, and now at Bela Farm in Hillsburgh.
At Bela Farm, we are manifesting a 114-acre centre for sustainable, land-based Judaism. Today is about celebrating the work our community has accomplished towards this vision….the questioning, learning, planning, planting, building… And it’s about outlining our next steps…sharing the work that is to be done to manifest the fullness of what we are currently holding as kavanot/intentions. And, it’s about acknowledging the honouring the openness of potential…creating space for the pieces we haven’t yet figured out and drawing on the collective wisdom, vision, and skills of the incredible gathering of community we have here today so that Bela Farm can truly become OUR farm. Our community’s farm….our centre for exploring the complex questions around what it means to be in relationship with land, and how our traditions, rituals, holidays can shape those connections.
Shoresh is the Hebrew word for root. Before I talk about the present, or look towards the future, I want to take a minute to acknowledge and honour our past…our roots.
I want to acknowledge the people who have stewarded this land before us. For thousands of years, this land was part of vast tracks of land in southern Ontario that were home to various Aboriginal peoples. Unfortunately, the history of these indigenous groups is fragmented and it’s difficult to know on whose territory the land we know as Bela Farm is currently situated. We might not know the names of their tribes and families, but we do know, and want to honour, that there were (there are) people who are indigenous to this land, which is a unique and sacred relationship. In the early 1800s, the Township of Erin was established, and this land was settled by immigrants coming from Scotland and Ireland – that’s part of this land’s narrative. Most recently, Fred and Helen Cox have stewarded the land we are now calling Bela Farm for over sixty years – that’s a formative part of this land’s narrative. There’s the history of the land…and there is also the history of the people now entering into relationship with this land. Our vision for Bela Farm is rooted in Jewish texts, teachings, holidays, rituals…and open to all. Our Jewish farming roots are biblical. A dear friend of mine calls the Torah the Jewish farmer’s almanac…because the Torah is clear that there are rules that govern our relationship with the earth…how we grow food, how we harvest, how we share our resources, how we give thanks. Our biblical, and later our rabbinic ancestors understood on a very deep level how interconnected we are with the natural world and many of our holiday celebrations, rituals, and prayers reflect that deep connection. And our Jewish farming roots are local. In the 1920s, Morris Saxe opened the Canadian Jewish Farm School in Georgetown, just 15 minutes away to teach Jewish orphans farming skills so that they could obtain visas to come to Canada from Europe and establish lives for themselves free from persecution.
This land has deep roots. We have deep roots. And we are entering into this next stage standing on a strong foundation of wisdom, experience, history that will ground and guide us moving forward. And for that we are profoundly grateful.
-Thank you to Rochelle Rubinstein and her family, Bela Farm’s spiritual and legal stewards. Thank you for bringing us in…for trusting in us….empowering us….holding patience for us as we navigate the challenges that come with unchartered territory. We feel profoundly blessed to be a part of your circle of dear ones.
-Thank you to the family foundations, granting agencies, and individual donors that have supported our work…particularly in these early stages when we’re doing the hard work that happens before there is what to show. In particular, thank you to the Bill and Judith Rubinstein Foundation, Joshua Venture Group, and the Natan Fund for your support.
-Thank you to the Bela Farm Advisory Committee: Rochelle Rubinstein, Andrea Most, Zeke Kaplan, Alisha Kaplan…for visioning with us….and revisioning….and revisioning….
-Thank you to the Shoresh Board of Directors: Alexandra Kuperman, Carolyn Ruby, Jillian Rodak, Ellen Rosenbluth, Danny Richmond, Andrea Most, Adam Beder, Lisa Borden. Thank you for the 87 ways you help hold up our organization and push us to be our fullest and best.
-Thank you to the artistic team who helped direct today’s event, in particular David Buchbinder for coordinating music and Julie Tepperman for today’s theatrical elements.
-Thank you to Aviva Chernick for lending your beautiful voice to today’s celebration.
-Thank you to all the musicians, performers, and artists who are contributing their talents today (listed on your program)
-Thank you to Caryn Colman and Ellen Grossman for providing the noshes at this afternoon’s dessert reception.
-Thank you to the countless volunteers by whose hands all of Bela Farm’s people, plants, and creatures are cared for. From holding logistics, coordinating parking, watering plants, taking photos….we cannot do this work without you so thank you.
-Thank you to the Shoresh staff. Sabrina, Jodi, Maya, and Tiferet….each of you brings so much intention, talent, beauty, and integrity to everything you do. It is a blessing to work, learn, and experience moments of deep and profound radical amazement with each of you.
As I said before, at Bela Farm we are creating a 114-acre centre for sustainable, land-based Judaism. We have spent the last five years questioning, visioning, and experimenting with what that means. Today we are going to go on a musically and theatrically infused procession of this property, to tour the sites of our first points of connection and our first farm ventures. Some have you might have already walked down and visited the pond, the Mayim Chayim, Living Waters. In the last few years we have learned a tremendous amount about our watershed, how water moves through the farm, how water resources are accessed and shared in this region. Some of you may have already visited our Orchard of Memories, our first perennial trees, planted in honour and memory of community members and meaningful lifecycle events. Together we will walk by our first bee hives and meet the bees who taught us to see this land with new eyes….to stretch our sense of awareness to include pollinators in our visions as fully as possible. We will walk by the honey house, where we extracted our first harvest of honey a few years ago and realized that what started as one staff’s project, rooted in personal passions and development goals, could turn into a powerful way of connecting our community with this land through ritual foods and sustainable products. We’ll wind our way through our Edible Savanah, planted with 12 guilds, one in honour of each of the sons of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilha…the first place where we began to think how we can bridge the narratives of our tradition (particularly those dealing with issues of home and place) with our experience of being in relationship to this land.
Our procession will be infused with music, poetry, art, and text. We encourage you to take this opportunity to slow down. To arrive and be present…with the plants, the insects, the people. Experience this land with all of your senses and feel the different points of connection in your body, mind, heart, and soul. The first part of our procession is about grounding ourselves in the present…its about celebrating our arrival. Our procession will culminate at Dina’s Tent…a place designed to facilitate gathering and reflection. There we will reassemble to create space for celebrating the imminent future…the potential that lies just beyond a fenceline. But more about that when we get there.
So welcome again. Please join me as we wander….and in so doing create space for wonder.