Weeks before the pandemic hit, GrowTorah’s Co-executive Directors Yosef Gillers and Sara Just-Michael started dreaming of their first-ever in-person fundraising dinner. Two-and-a-half years later, on Sunday evening September 18, 2022, staff, friends, and family helped make those dreams a reality.
Supporters of Grow Torah’s mission to cultivate a more passionate, compassionate and sustainable future came out to celebrate at Cropsey Community Farm, a member of the Rockland Farm Alliance. Guests experienced firsthand how GrowTorah incorporates their values into everything they do. Their core value of incubating emunah was embodied by a unique Mincha minyan held in the “field shul” overlooking the picturesque, pastoral landscape.
A delicious, sustainable and locally sourced meal was served by Moss Café—whose owners, Emily and Dr. Alex Weisberg, further their personal and professional commitment to GrowTorah’s second core value, environmental stewardship, through service on the organization’s board. All tableware was recyclable, compostable or reusable. Most of the evening’s waste will be converted to compost, becoming nourishment for the land that supported it. Guests were also encouraged to carpool in order to minimize their carbon emissions.
The third core value that guests got to experience was cultivating compassion for all creatures, an effort that has recently become a renewed focus for GrowTorah through their Rabbi Joseph Friedman, z”l Tzaar Baalei Chayim Initiative. As they enjoyed the melodies of Yoni Stokar of Ta Shma Orchestra before dinner, guests infused local honey from bees in Rockland County with herbs from the farm, supporting pollinators in the micro-region.
Living tzedaka, the fourth core value, is embodied by a collaboration with Rockland Farm Alliance (RFA). RFA is a natural partner for GrowTorah, as an organization on a mission to preserve, create and enhance sustainable food production in Rockland County; they donate a significant amount of their crops to local food relief organizations. By hosting the dinner, RFA was able to work with GrowTorah to unite the community in the holy effort of providing fresh, healthy food to the needy.
Co-Executive Director Sara Just-Michael impressed attendees with recent program highlights including GrowTorah’s 25 school and camp garden partners; nine summer college interns (whom they fondly refer to as “inchworms”); 3,242 participants in their shemita and Tu B’Shevat workshops, and five straight years of doubling the size of Camp GrowTorah! During their first week back in the garden for the 2022–23 academic year, over 1,000 students at GrowTorah’s partner schools were taught by one of their four educators.
In addition to the celebration, the lovely evening was a chance for Co-Executive Directors Yosef Gillers and Sara Just-Michael to give hakarat hatov to all of the partners who have helped GrowTorah flourish (affectionately called “The Farmily”): their full-time team, their “inchworms,” camp staff, donors, board members, and the families and teachers who entrust their students across the country to GrowTorah.