Jews Had Farm-to-Table Before It Was Cool: An Inside Look Into the Shtetl Skills Tribe

Our lives as Jewish people are heavily influenced by the values and traditions of our ancestors, but in the long and arduous journey of survival and assimilation, we’ve forgotten how to live off the land. Why are we taught how to make challah but not sourdough? Why do we celebrate harvest festivals like Sukkot but not how to grow our own vegetables? At least in my experience, there’s been a level of pride my family has had in getting to move past “shtetl life”.

Long gone are the days of the small market towns in pre–World War II Eastern Europe where Jews came together to share resources and responsibilities to ensure our survival as a people. And while many of us are blessed with not having to question where our next meal will come from, recent events have made us overly aware that we won’t always feel secure and knowing basic skills (like how to make your own bread) provides a sense of stability during challenging times. This need for resource-sharing and sustainable survival skills led Nati Passow to create the Shtetl Skills program at the Jewish Farm School, an organization that was established in 2006 with a goal of teaching the values and practices of sustainability and resilience through “practical environmental education.” When the Jewish Farm School closed in 2019, Shtetl Skills found a new home at Tribe 12 as one of our newest tribes.

Fall/Winter Shtetl Skills programs. From left to right, Woodworking, Seed Keeping, Winter Kitchen Medicine

What exactly do you learn in Shtetl Skills? Through monthly hands-on workshops in the fall, spring, and summer you can connect to practical, ancestral, and sustainable skills rooted in Jewish traditions and land connection. We focus on one skill/workshop and work with professional artisans, herbalists, bakers, and subject matter experts to offer an extremely high level of content while teaching you how each skill ties into the themes of the current Hebrew month.
Each workshop gives you transferable skills that can jumpstart you on a path of self-sufficiency. After Owen Taylor at TrueLove Seeds taught us how to keep seeds, I started my vegetable garden entirely using the seeds from last year’s harvest. I haven’t bought bread in months and have even ventured on to learn how to make phyllo dough and pasta from scratch! Learning about the fermentation process in sourdough has inspired me to make my own kimchi and sauerkraut (next step: setting up a fermentation station à la Brad Leone). My house is decorated in hanging planters that I learned how to make from NYAI Wood Craft—there’s no better feeling than a guest asking where you got your decor and getting to say, “Thanks! I made it!”. I’ve even survived cold/flu season thanks to my daily shot of Fire Cider we made during our Winter Kitchen Medicine workshop.

Whether you have an urban farm or still don’t know what composting is and at this point, you’re too afraid to ask, there’s a Shtetl Skills workshop for you! Join us for our upcoming Spring/Summer workshops of the 2020 season:

  • April/Nissan: Zero-Waste Matzah Ball Soup – Watch the video here
  • May/Iyar: Faith in Cannabis with Laurel Freedman – May 20 via Zoom
  • June/Sivan: Sourdough 101 with Ailbhe Pascal of Fikira Bakery and 1149 Cooperative
  • July/Tamuz: The Art of Mending Clothes
  • August/Av: Zero-Waste Living with Amanda Lindner of The Enviromensch and Avodah

If you’re interested in learning more about upcoming workshops or would like to volunteer with Shtetl Skills, please contact Davinica at


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