Here's an article that just turned up on a religious community, starting from scratch. I've found it to be very healing to get out into nature, and to include the healing and good-natured power of religious wisdom in my life. I think this group demonstrates some fine qualities about teamwork, etc. I've found that abusive thinking and perpetrators often are preoccupied with goals that make teamwork more challenging. How does it compare with your understanding and experience?
For Orthodox Jews, an Experiment in Farming and Faith
By PAM BELLUCK
UNDERLAND, Mass. — The newest farmers in this quiet valley will not milk their cows on Saturdays. Every seventh year, they will let their land lie fallow. Following biblical injunctions, they will not pick fruit from their orchards for the first three years, or plant certain vegetables next to certain fruits.
If the men, with their wide-brimmed black hats and wiry beards, seem out of place tilling the land, that is understandable. This farm will apparently be a first, at least for the modern world: a kosher, organic, communal farm run by ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The project, the brainchild of a Lubavitcher rabbi, intends to meld the tenets of the Torah with a back-to-the-land ethos not usually associated with Hasidic Jews. It also aims to be a model, to be replicated elsewhere, a self-sufficient community with synagogue, Torah study center, schools and a ritual bath called a mikvah — a place where Orthodox Jews grow their own food according to Torah and Talmud rules and educate outsiders about their beliefs.
"We're starting off on a new plane from scratch, living communally, working with each other to perfect each other, living a Torah life, the most perfect community you could imagine," said Rabbi Chaim Adelman, who expects about 25 families to move to Eretz HaChaim, the Living Land, a 70-acre communal farm north of Amherst, an area of corn and cucumber growers and several universities. "In my vision, if it takes off, and I think it will, I wouldn't be surprised to see Eretz HaChaim 2 somewhere and Eretz HaChaim 3."
So far, seven families have joined, three from Crown Heights, and inquiries are coming from Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, even Israel.
Jewish scholars say that Eretz HaChaim, while apparently ground-breaking, seems to draw on aspects of Jewish history, like the shtetls of eastern Europe, and aspects of the Lubavitch movement, a Hasidic sect also called Chabad.
"Hasidism has become a very, very urbanized community because that's where the economic opportunities are," said Shaul Magid, an associate professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. "This is kind of an attempt to recreate rural isolated communities as existed in eastern Europe, a place to live Judaism organically."
Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology and Jewish studies at the City University of New York and author of "Defenders of the Faith," a study of Orthodox Judaism, said Eretz HaChaim had "potential for success," although few Hasidic Jews now have agrarian backgrounds.
"The early Zionists were Polish young people who decided they were going to move to Israel, and they didn't have much agricultural background either," Dr. Heilman said. Eretz HaChaim "won't have some of the problems they had: marauding Arabs, malaria, swamps, an unfamiliar environment."
Beyond its self-reliant setup, Eretz HaChaim will also emphasize an important Lubavitch mission, to embrace others, particularly less religious or secular Jews, and introduce them to religious Judaism. Eretz HaChaim founders envision internships for college students, working weekends for city youngsters, even a bed and breakfast where urban families can experience a religious farm.
"They want to set up a model Hasidic community that people who are nonaffiliated, nonreligious Jews can have an affinity for," Dr. Magid said. "These people are not going to get turned on getting off the subway in Crown Heights. If you get out in a rural environment, you can have this experience that can't be matched in the urban world."
While they prepare to build on the land, a former trout farm that they purchased this year, the group screens interested families with essay questions about their spiritual goals and how they resolve conflicts.
"I don't want people to move here and then all of a sudden find out this is too much for me and my family," said Chana Luba Ertel, one Eretz HaChaim member.
All members will work, at least part time, for the farm. They plan to grow produce, make maple syrup and raise sheep, goats, chickens and cows. (Cows will be milked by gentiles on Saturdays because the Talmud forbids Jews from milking on the Sabbath, but the Lubavitchers do not want unmilked cows to be in pain.)
For Orthodox Jews, an Experiment in Farming and Faith
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Besides feeding themselves, they expect to sell products, including eggs and goat cheese. They might sell kosher organic chicken, which will not be fed grain during Passover, or use wool from kosher sheep for tzitzit, fringes Orthodox Jews attach to undershirts. "There is definitely a niche market for organic and kosher," said Yosef Lifchitz, a computer networker and Eretz HaChaim member.
Rabbi Adelman said he did not expect the venture to be very profitable, if at all, but he said, "We aren't opposed to money."
Shmuel Simenowitz, 45, an former-New York City lawyer with a small kosher farm in Vermont who will let Eretz HaChaim use his draft horses and maple sugaring expertise, said the community was serious about mixing religious ideals with real-world applications.
"There's a story about a man who kept praying, `God, let me win the Lotto. God, let me win the Lotto,' " said Mr. Simenowitz, who once dabbled in stand-up comedy. "And finally God says, `It would help if you would buy a ticket.' We believe in divine providence, but that's no substitute for skills. God will give you the miracles, but he wants to see a business plan."
Eretz HaChaim also has a charitable mission, following Torah rules that "the corners of the fields" should be left for the poor. The farm may let the needy pick from the corners of its fields, or may donate food from that land to food banks.
Word of Eretz HaChaim has caused barely a ripple here; the Lubavitchers say people mostly want to ensure that much of the land stays undeveloped.
Dana Kennan, Sunderland town administrator, said the academic community made the area fairly tolerant, and farmers would not oppose another farming venture.
Rabbi Adelman, 46, a chaplain at the University of Massachusetts, said the idea of Eretz HaChaim stemmed from his work as a mashgiach, someone supervising companies making kosher products.
Since a mashgiach makes only periodic checks, Rabbi Adelman could not be sure everything was completely kosher, and decided that for such a guarantee Jews would have to grow the ingredients themselves.
The organic concept came when he realized that many Jews had a kind of Grape Nuts gestalt, attracted to what Yamiz Bouti, Eretz HaChaim's director of development, calls "an earthy-crunchy face of Judaism."
"The organic idea is an example of acculturation, the outside world bringing in a non-Lubavitch perspective," Dr. Heilman said. "This is not something you think of if you grew up in Crown Heights."
Indeed, several Eretz HaChaim members were not raised Lubavitch, but joined as young people. Most are young families with children, eager for a spiritual community with roomy homes, a nearby synagogue and religious schools, a pool (because the Talmud says children must be taught to swim) and baseball diamonds (although there is nothing in the Talmud about that).
The community bought the $620,000 property with a $220,000 down payment, much of it from Scott Nielsen, a real estate developer who comes from a Reconstructionist synagogue and who sees both admirable philosophical underpinnings and a potentially good investment.
The community is trying to raise money from private sources, but also through government grants for educational programs or experimental energy, like geothermal power.
Leaders of the international Chabad Lubavitch organization said they would not consider Eretz HaChaim an official Chabad program until they see how it works out.
Rabbi Yisrael Deren, the New England regional director for Chabad, said there was a danger that such a community would become divorced from the real world. But he said: "Can it work? I think it can. Will it work? I hope it will. Am I prepared to say that we will be using this model. I am still leery of it."
But Eretz HaChaim families say they are determined to engage with the outside world.
"Hasidism is like a coconut," Devorah Lifchitz said. "We're inside with the milk. The outside world comes up to the edge of the coconut and sees a hard shell and they get repelled. But once you hit it with a hammer, it's the most rich fruit and juice. I think with this farm people are going to see a crack in the shell."