Like many setups, this one started with some Jewish mothers.
Brooke Saias, who was working for Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, thought it would be a good idea to bring a CSA (community-supported agriculture project), to the synagogue community where she had been raised, Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor.
“When she came back this past winter, we talked to the rabbi, who was very interested,” said Sharon Saias. “He’s very interested in sustainability, and he championed this.”
When it was time to find a farmer, Sharon circulated an e-mail within the congregation. Janice Kirschner, another longtime member of Sons of Israel, suggested that her son, Jonathan, who works at Stone Wall Dairy Farm in Cornwall Bridge, Conn., might be interested in working with the synagogue.
“It was just like a match,” said Sharon Saias, who was one of the co-organizers of the shul’s venture into the world of community- supported agriculture, adding that the personal connection between Jonathan Kirschner and the Sons of Israel community probably generated “a lot more interest” than working with an unknown farmer would have.
All 25 shares in the CSA were sold (families often divide the shares, so there are about 40 families participating in total).
“Everyone fell in love with the idea that Brooke got Sharon into Hazon, and that the farmer happened to be Jonathan,” said Helene Rude, a Sons of Israel board member as well as CSA committee member. “Here there was this nice Jewish boy, who grew up in the shul and went to Brandeis — the full circle.”
One goal of CSAs is to support local farmers, and this match of synagogue and farmer was about as homegrown as it could be.
“The idea of it being a community is multiplied by [the fact that] our farmer and the person who put it together both grew up in the synagogue,” said Rabbi Steven C. Kane, who officiated at Brooke Saias’ bat mitzvah years ago. “We hope that a part of what they learned here at CSI was applied when they put us together.”
While there are more than 40 Jewish-sponosored CSAs, under the auspices of Hazon’s Tuv Ha’Aretz program, it is rare to have a Jewish farmer.
Several Westchester synagogues work with Adamah, the farm that is part of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. But the Kirschner-Sons of Israel shidduch “is is very unusual,” said Anna Hanau, who worked at Adamah and is now Hazon’s associate director of food programs. “There are not that many real-live Jewish farmers.”
For Jonathan Kirschner, who worked in finance and recycling before finding his calling as a farmer, there is something meaningful about supplying produce to the Sons of Israel community.
“These are a lot of the people I grew up with,” said Kirschner. “I feel very connected to the community. It’s a very familiar setting, and I’m glad that everybody appreciates it. I appreciate their support. It helps to have people who are supportive of the idea. I want them to feel it’s their farm, and to feel they’re benefiting from our connection.”
For Brooke Saias, who worked at Hazon as part of her AmeriCorps placement, “I had this idea of bringing it back to my community. It really came together very fast. This is perfect, to have a small-scale farmer and small CSA, where they are growing together. It’s a great story. I grew up in the synagogue; Jonathan grew up in the synagogue. That special connection made it exciting for the congregation. Our families have been friends. To come back as the younger generation, to come back to the synagogue, is really great.”