Not a Farmer or a Gardener in Ten Generations

I just found a blog by a writer named Yonassan Gershom, who identifies as a Breslover Hasid, and lives on a farm in rural Minnesota. It’s so good to see a rural observant Jew! Not that I’m not a city person, but I’d go absolutely mad without some kind of access to green space, since I grew up roaming around a semi-rural area and in a provincial park that spans part of the (Canadian) Thames river.

In his post, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” Gershom writes about how excessive urbanism has cut a lot of Jews off from appreciating vast parts of HaShem’s world — including, may I say, the odd green vegetables

He writes

I was very lucky, in that I grew up in an area where I could go play in the woods –and my parents let me do it. This was not wasted time — it was learning in a very different way. It enriched my understanding of Torah in ways that my nature-deprived urban brethren often cannot grasp. And it ultimately led to me becoming a Breslov Hasid, because of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching about hisboddisus — the practice of spending an hour alone with God each day. He recommended doing it in a forest or field because, he said, the plants and animals would join in our prayers. And he meant that literally.

Breslovers still try to do that today, although in a city it is hard to find the solitude. But at least they have the teachings about spending time in nature, which many other groups do not. In fact, mainstream Jews have sometimes considered the Breslovers crazy to go wandering in the woods.

I’m certain that I wouldn’t like being a Breslover Hasid, but I do like nature, and I feel strongly attached to the mitzvot to be kind to animals, and to respect HaShem’s world. I’m also a gardener, and spent a lot of time on farms when I was growing up; I rode horses for twenty years, and spent enough time pitching hay and mucking out to be really unbothered by nature generally. And this is one area where I really seem to differ with my rabbi, alas, and most of my kehila, who seem to treat both living animals and plants generally with some vague suspicion. One of these days, I really should wander into the woods and daven, just to do it.

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I’m not entirely sure, but I think my sympathy for Jews and Judaism started because I found out they were this group of people who’d been collectively picked on and pushed out for thousands of years. As a kid who’d been relentlessly bullied, who was also “different” (because of the cerebral palsy), I guess it sort of made me feel like there was a whole group of people out there who not only would understand how I felt, but had it worse. That’s kind of powerful when you’re a stranded kid in the rural suburbs.

Imagine how I felt when I discovered that the Nazis got good at killing Jews by killing people like me.

Not to mention that anti-disabled hate crimes are actually a thing that exists in the world.

Then as I learnt more about Judaism, I found out that many of the things Jews believe are also things I’ve always believed, or believed for a long time, only sweetened the deal as far as I’m concerned.  To name a few — tikkun olam, ba’al tashchit, valuing right action, and of course, Hillel’s principle that he expressed roughly as “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to others.”  (I prefer this formulation better than “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” because it requires you to take better stock of what <i>you</i> find hateful to yourself, and puts more onus on your behaviour, and also leaves less of an out for vengeance — “Well, he did it unto me first!”  It’s also older, so it has seniority. ^_^ )