Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability non-profit, officially opened submissions for The Shmita Prizes – an international arts competition with five different prizes. The goal is to draw attention to and raise awareness of the forthcoming shmita year (beginning Rosh Hashanah 2021). Categories include: ritual object, fine art, film or video, performance art/music/liturgy, plus a fifth category for the written word – essays and ideas.
Shmita is “a year of letting go”. It takes place every seven years in the Jewish calendar – it is indeed where the modern notion of a “sabbatical” comes from. “Shmita offers a remarkable framework for addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time,” said Hazon CEO, Nigel Savage. “Shmita is about our relation to land and food; to community and boundaries; to work, overwork and rest; and to debt relief and the amelioration of inequality. Each of these topics is a significant issue in contemporary life.”
The inspiration for the project came from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, who made the observation that everything else in Jewish life has an associated ritual except for Shmita – lighting candles on Shabbat, attending a seder on Passover, or eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah.
The Shmita Prizes aim to engage artists, teachers, and religious leaders from around the world in their own exploration of what a “Shmita ritual” might look like.
Shoshana Gugenheim, the project director for The Shmita Prizes, is a social practice artist and former Jewish environmental educator. She passionately believes that “connecting and reconnecting Jewish artists with the tradition is a profound and lasting way to strengthen Jewish life, to enrich Jewish experience for people who are already involved, and to bring new people through the door to Judaism who have not previously found a gateway.” The Prizes are open to people of any age or background and from any country.
A Shmita Prizes committee will select one artist in each category to be awarded a lead prize of $1,800 with three additional awards of $250 in each category. Submissions are open until May 19th.
The Shmita Prizes is a centerpiece of the wider Shmita Project, a significant collaboration of a wide and growing range of organizations. Each partner is planning to teach about shmita or produce programs in association with the shmita year. Project partners include leading educational institutions (such as the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem, Hadar, the Shalom Hartman Institute, Limmud, Pardes, Aleph and 929.org), as well as many JOFEE* organizations (Ekar Farm, Jewish Farmer Network, Organic Torah, Pearlstone, Shoresh, Shmita Project Northwest, Grow Torah and Wilderness Torah). Arts partners include Atiq, the Jewish Maker Institute, Jewish Arts Salon, Gold Herring, and the Greensboro Contemporary Jewish Museum. Sponsors include the Covenant Foundation and a number of individual supporters.
Dr. Jeremy Benstein of 929.org said “these partnerships are important because they provide accessible and engaging content for a wide variety of people from beginners to scholars. The more that you address the topic of shmita, the more fascinating and challenging it becomes.”