Elizabeth Kaplan is a Program Director at JCC Greater Boston where she runs Discovery Club, engaging kids with interactive workshops that fuse their interests with Jewish content. Blending topics like robotics, cooking, and farming, she helps kids and families to connect to Jewish holidays, rituals, and stories. Originally from Connecticut, she relocated to Boston for graduate school at Tufts, where she studied Food Policy and Applied Nutrition.
Before moving here, she participated in the Urban Adamah fellowship in California in 2012. She says, “My time at Urban Adamah was the beginning of my connection to the “Jewish food movement.” I had always been interested in how food fuels the body (or doesn’t), eating locally, and minimizing waste (to name a few), but the deep connections between Jewish practice and the growing, caring for, and consumption of food really spoke to me.
When I learned that the 39 categories of labor (Melachot) that are forbidden on Shabbat are actually related to agricultural practices, everything suddenly made sense. Applying Jewish customs and values in a way that more directly relates to our modern society is very powerful for me personally.”
In searching for like-minded local community, it was through the Adamah alumni network that she connected with Beantown Jewish Gardens. In coordination with Moishe Kavod House, she taught educational homesteading workshops (hot water bath canning, applesauce making, and cheese making) over the years. She says, “I love connecting my peers with the rhythm of eating seasonally. The social justice, Jewish-values driven mission of MKH also resonates with me – so much that I served on the board as Development Chair for 2 years.”
Shortly after finishing her degree in 2015, she was the workshop coordinator for the Boston Jewish Food Conference. The theme was Food Justice – and it was an opportunity to highlight work that is being done on a local level, via institutional and public policy, to create more equitable food systems. It was also a great way for Elizabeth to bring together her professional and personal passions for a day of learning.
Elizabeth was also an educator with The Amir Project; where she grew ¼ acre of vegetables and ran children’s programming at URJ Camp Kalsman in Washington State. Having strong ties on both coasts, and excited by the national growth of this movement, she recently participated in the JOFEE Fellowship (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education). While situated locally in a professional capacity at the JCC, she connected with other JOFEE educators all over the country to build professional skills and share ideas, as well as visite some of the flagstone national sites like Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Pearlstone Center, and her beloved Urban Adamah. Reflecting, she says, “It was an incredible experience to learn from my peers in the cohort, who are some of the most creative, warm, and inspiring people I know.”
The synergy of her work with Beantown Jewish Gardens and JOFEE work at the JCC culminated last fall when she had the opportunity to co-facilitate a training day for various staff and leadership of JCC Greater Boston. Just down the road at Powisset Farm, staff connected to the rhythms of the seasons, and to each other during a wintery farm walk and a participant-cooked lunch. Since the language of food removes barriers, it was fertile ground for discussion of cross-departmental collaboration.
Says Elizabeth, “One ancient practice I love is Jewish food blessings. They are an amazing entry point for connecting Jewish practice with gardens and farms, and with where our food comes from. As an example, at Discovery Club we partnered with a chef to run a Japanese bento box cooking workshop that highlights the fruits of the tree, vine, and earth- and each ingredient linked to a different blessing. It was an amazing way to connect our learning and practice.
Contact me anytime for resources about integrating Jewish content into something you didn’t think was Jewish at all, I love finding the connections!”
If you find yourself inspired by Elizabeth’s dedication to farming and community building, consider a donation to Beantown Jewish Gardens. Your gift will sustain our work and expand our reach, helping more people live their values.