Four years ago. I woke with the sunrise, walked through the gates of the farm, and proceeded to wrap my tefillin around my arm and my tallit around my head. Praying surrounded by tall herbs, I recited the Shema while sitting on a hay bale. I was a camper at Eden Village Camp, a pluralistic, Jewish, eco-farming, “hippie” camp in downstate New York.

During the course of the summer, we learned how to care for our four acre farm; weeding and tending beds, and watching the plants grow and bloom. We harvested the produce and turned it into food. We threshed, winnowed, and ground the wheat into a fine flour. That flour formed the basis of the pitas which we cooked in a clay oven that we had built. It was truly “Farm to Table” living.

While it was amazing to be part of this process, since we only arrived mid-July, we were not able to start this process, only care for seeds which others had planted. In my last year at camp, this changed. The oldest campers were not only participants, we were tasked with creating lasting additions to the farm. When a group of my friends decided to build grape trellises to shade one of the walkways. I joined them to research designs in the small library next to the herbology room. (At Eden Village Camp, the herbology room is the place where we learned about the properties of herbs and how to make teas with them.) We sketched out plans on the backs of recycled pages. Next we gathered wood. Slowly sawing and hammering it together, we created an arbor.

As this was my last year as a camper, I knew that this creation would not benefit me. It was a service I could give to the community that had given me so much allowing me to grow. Eden Village emphasizes selfless activism: we wrote letters to regulate fracking in New York, and we were taught how we could work to make our own communities at home more environmentally friendly. I brought these lessons home and built a chicken coop, raising six chickens on kitchen scraps in my back yard. I am so lucky to live in such supportive communities, and deeply feel my responsibility to help preserve this world.

I am now on a gap year program in Israel, at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, an orthodox, intellectually open place of learning and spirituality. Perched on ridge of the Gilboa mountain range, every day as I ascend to class I am awed by the sheer power and beauty of nature. On this mountain, we learn the texts of our tradition, with a deep feeling of our responsibility to use the wisdom to do Tikkun Olam. Our Rabbis are at the forefront of interfaith work and solving problems in the religious community. I am inspired to go out and help bring learning and radical openness to the all perspectives to wherever my life brings me.  Each morning I climb the mountain to the Beit Midrash. As I pray, I watch the sun rise, outlining the small avocado plant I have placed on the windowsill.

This blog post was written by Akiva Jackson, Eden Village Camp alumnus, currently learning at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, Israel, and Princeton Class of 2020.