Tribe 12 Takes Over Jewish Farm School’s Shtetl Skills Program

Ryan Platt, Ross Weisman and Rachel Abramowitz shell seeds
From left: Ryan Platt, Ross Weisman and Rachel Abramowitz

The new year is the perfect time to plant the seed for new beginnings. Responsible planting and seeding practices are one way to ensure a more sustainable future; they may also be a window into our shared Jewish past.

That is, at least, one plank in the platform guiding Tribe 12’s Shtetl Skills program, a series inherited from the Jewish Farm School after its recent closure.

From its beginnings, the goal of Shtetl Skills was to connect people with Jewish agricultural values, those longstanding farming practices and rituals that date to Jewish communities in the Russian Pale of Settlement and beyond.

This history and tradition will be included in Tribe 12’s iteration of Shtetl Skills, but so will a focus on the present and the future.

“A lot of it is focusing on self-sufficiency,” said Davinica Nemtzow, a graphic designer, amateur-but-serious green thumb and Tribe 12’s LGBTQIA+ coordinator. “It’s teaching people, especially living in an urban landscape, more sustainable skills that they can have, just for better practices for the Earth and for connecting to their Judaism in a more agricultural way.”

Each of the Shtetl Skills workshops will be connected with the Hebrew calendar and follow a theme associated with that month. For example, this month, Elul, found Tribe 12 focusing on autumnal themes, where rejuvenation and attendant thoughts of the natural life cycle predominate.

Through that lens, the particular focus of Shtetl Skills’ latest workshop was a practice known as seed keeping or, put simply, preserving fresh, ripe seeds for future use.

Enter Owen Taylor of True Love Seeds, a seed company offering rare, open pollinated and culturally important vegetable, herb and flower seeds.

Taylor led the interactive and hands-on workshop, as the assembled 20- and 30-something Jewish professionals extracted ripe seeds for future use from okra, calendula and a variety of bean pods. One courageous gentleman donned gloves to extract and preserve the seeds from hot peppers. Thankfully, no eyes or taste buds were burned in the making of this particular Shtetl Skills.

Not only did Taylor provide attendees with practical knowledge and seed-keeping best practices, he enlightened attendees to one particular plant that helped Jewish people in their time of greatest need.

You may not know this, but the calendula flower actually played a role in the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation.

“During the Nazi occupation, which was really pretty extreme in Holland, the House of Orange (Holland’s royal house) was in exile,” Taylor explained. “So one way to show both your allegiance to the House of Orange and your friendliness to Jewish people —that you would help them hide, et cetera — was to wear a calendula, because it was orange.”

Forthcoming Shtetl Skills workshops will focus on carpentry and woodworking (October/Tishrei), homemade wintertime cold remedies (November/Cheshvan), and candle and gelt making to usher in the Chanukah season (December/Kislev).

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