Recognizing the growing interest among individuals and families in experiences that integrate Jewish learning with learning about food, the environment, and the outdoors, a group of national and local funders have awarded a grant to Hazon to oversee new research in this area. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, and Rose Community Foundation, the research will explore how participation in immersive Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs influences individuals’ Jewish growth and leads to increased Jewish involvement.
While organizations have invested time and resources to develop and sustain these immersive educational programs, to date there has been no formal evaluation or research conducted in this field. Nor has there been a review of existing research from outside the Jewish world to inform practitioners and funders.
Among other areas of interest, the research will examine such topics as the kinds of learning that occurs in these experiences that deepens Jewish identity; to what degree these experiences influence participants to become involved in their Jewish communities; and the relationship between local and national programs.
The grant announcement comes a week after Hazon and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center announced a merger of their organizations, both national leaders in the Jewish Food Movement and Jewish environmental movement in particular. The merged organization also will include the Teva Learning Alliance, which began in association with Isabella Freedman in the 1990s. The merger builds on the success of the existing Isabella Freedman campus and Hazon’s track record of re-connecting American Jews with the natural world. The new entity will have a wide range of programs, staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and will be positioned to have a greater impact across the country.
Along with reaching out to alumni and former participants of programs run by Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva Learning Alliance, the study will reach out to alumni from a range of other related programs including Eden Village Camp, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, Kayam Farm, and the Jewish Farm School. Their program offerings include Jewish farming programs, environmental bike rides, conferences about food and sustainability, group camping trips structured around Jewish holiday celebrations, backpacking and outdoor adventure trips, and environmental educator training fellowships.
While the exact number of participants in these programs is unknown, field leaders estimate that in 2011, as many as 2,500 individuals participated in an immersive Jewish food, environmental or outdoor education program lasting four days or more.
The research will build upon early planning efforts being led by the Green Hevra, a network of key Jewish environmental organizations of which Hazon is a participant. The Green Hevra received a $65,000 startup grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Morningstar Foundation earlier this year.
The research will be conducted by an outside firm and managed by Hazon with oversight from an advisory team that includes both funders and practitioners.