Jacob Siegel, Summer 2010
My first visit to ADAMAH was in the winter of 2009, when I came up to Connecticut to do my interview for the summer fellowship. I arrived on a particularly juicy day. In the early winter morning, Shamu and I walked out to meet Naf and Anna Hanau, alumni of the program, who came up to shecht and process the old hens getting picked off by a hawk. That morning, I helped the staff pluck and clean the birds, the bloodiest job interview I’ve done to date.
During my time at ADAMAH, Naf came up from New York to do a demonstration for the group. He performed several shechitot and taught us about the categories of invalid shechita under Jewish law. His presentation and his work starting a sustainable kosher meat company inspired me on a deep level, and I began to dream about one day training as a shochet myself.
At the time I had been a vegetarian for nearly five years, mostly for convenience and economic reasons. I remembered a particularly challenging class at ADAMAH with Aitan, goat manager, who argued that meat and milk (and eggs) are inextricably connected in our food system. Was it possible that eating eggs but not chicken was, in fact, unsustainable? After that class, I longed to produce my own sustainable kosher meat.
After ADAMAH, I worked with a non-profit organization in Washington, DC. A local rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld, and I studied the laws of shechita once a week. The laws of shechita are first outlined in Hullin, a tractate of the Talmud (the traditional compilation of Jewish thought and law from the 2nd-5th centuries CE). They are consolidated in the Shulchan Aruch, written in the 16th century, and then again in a work called the Simla Hadasha, published in the 1730’s. Nowadays, every shochet studies the Simla Hadasha and is expected to know all of its laws by heart before becoming certified. Rabbi Herzfeld and I worked our way through the Simla Hadasha over the course of the year, and as my learning continued, the dream of certifying as a shochet became more and more vivid.
I moved to Jerusalem this fall to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. My goals in coming to Jerusalem included finding a rabbi who could teach me practical shechita skills. I got connected with a rabbi living near Mea Shearim, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood in Jerusalem. The first time I visited him, in his uniformed white shirt, black pants, and black kippah, he saw my brilliantly purple shirt and commented on my neck-long hair. “It would really be better for you if you cut it – to win community respect. You’re reflecting on me too, you know, as my student.” I had been growing it out for two years – how much was I willing to sacrifice to learn shechita? I asked my roommates to help me chop it off.
I started learning with the rabbi and a hevruta (study partner) every night for two hours. He told me where I could buy a shechita knife, and we practiced sharpening it to a perfectly smooth, perfectly sharp edge. Some nights the rabbi would unexpectedly cancel, for a bar mitzvah or a bris. Sometimes his teaching was gruff, and he said nothing except “wrong – fix it.” It felt like a scene from the Karate Kid, the wizened and demanding master watching over the fumbling students.
We shechted for the first time at an agricultural moshav an hour west of Jerusalem. We rented a car for the day, put on dirty overcoats, and brought our knives. I slaughtered five birds in a kosher slaughter and got to take them home to cook myself. I was aware, during the slaughter, of the gravity of our act – taking the life of an animal in a traditional, divinely inspired process, in order to feed myself and my community. I keenly felt divine eyes throughout the process looking on and assessing: are your intentions pure? Are your movements competent?
Two weeks ago, I received my official, signed certification from my rabbi of my status as a shochet of fowl. I feel proud to be a part of the ADAMAH community – to have learned and been inspired by the teaching of Naf and Aitan, and many others. Now I get to bring my skill and contribution back to the community. And together we get to make our food, and our Judaism, sustainable.
From the leaders of the Adamah/IF poetry group:
one tree kneels down and puts out roots to form another
crowded with light.
my hand and arm at sunrise, beaming and blue–
where asphalt dissolves into gravel
a jacked-up black truck rumbles past.
inside, the world is lungs and heart and creeping vines.
pine needles fall and vines creep along the edges of the road.
noise of race cars through the distance and heat,
2 turkey vultures circle.
airplane passes over the field
crowded with light: aster, basil, amaranth.
pile of people on the overlook, stop at the top, curious
constellations, eyes on each other, colors in the sky
kale chips and cheap booze, lamplit walk, talk of
how we would survive if we never made it back and
ice cream, twice, twenty chickens in the morning, a visit
from two people I love, small town, permaculture mint,
food fight in the kitchen, saying goodbye, twice,
yellow raincoat, yellow bike, nettle tea, twenty chickens
in the evening a walk with someone I admire,
The goats are a valuable part of the agricultural system here at Adamah: they provide a good quality fertiliser in the manure and the possibility of creating and selling the value added products made from their milk including feta, chevre and goatgurt (yogurt). In order to produce milk they must have kids annually. Once a year a ‘buck’ is hired from a neighbouring farm and spends a day servicing the female goats. The does then give birth in the spring; they produce milk, nurse their young and begin providing the dairy with a steady source of milk. By the end of June the kids no longer require their mothers’ nutrition. They are ready to be weaned.
We all took the weaning process very seriously, aware that this was a big day for the goats and inevitably projecting human emotions of forced familial separation onto the animals. All the male goats were removed and weighed one by one and placed into the back of the truck. At first it was easy for Aitan, the goatkeeper, to catch them. By the last two they seemed to know what was going on, requiring two people and a rugby tackle to catch the kids. One got away and rushed to his mother for a last goodbye. Once they were all in the truck we all cycled on ahead ready to great them on the other side of the farm in the newly set aside “boystown”. There the kids were unloaded, welcomed ceremoniously by us and ran off together, gracefully, beautifully to explore their new green pasture. The male goats will stay there and grow. In the autumn they will be sold and then slaughtered for meat. The next day the dairy’s milk production more than doubled. The cheese and goatgurd making process really began. For a dairy to be economically viable the male goats must be killed each year.
The next day my fellow British Adamahnik, Poppy, was working in boystown. She counted the goats: there were only 5 of the 13 were there. She quickly cycled back to site and alerted the staff. The goat search began. They were eventually found back beside the swimming pool on the way to find their mothers. Through scent, the sun or just a remarkable sense of direction, they had escaped under the fence, reached the road, walked down Beebe Hill, crossed Johnson Road, entered the retreat centre passed the “Slow down” sign and had found themselves on the lawn. All available hands were called in and everyone rushed to grab and pick up a goat and secure them beside the swimming pool, the nearest enclosed area. One kid managed to escape this and managed to make it all the way back to the barnyard and their mothers. With the reluctance to leave and the desperation to go back to their mothers, it was impossible not to project painful human emotions on to these animals.
For many in the group this was difficult: we were forcing these animals to go against their instinct. Yet most people thought that it was reassuring to be a part of this process at a small-scale farm. We can see that the goats are being treated respectfully and given plenty of green pasture; this would certainly not be the case at industrial farms.
The does will be milked until January and then left for the process to begin again in the spring. Witnessing the weaning process was a great opportunity to think more about what it means to domesticate and breed animals for our purposes and to see the economic necessity of the link between dairy and meat farming.
– Submitted by Daniel Lichman, ADAMAH Summer 2010. Read more about Daniel’s travels here.