Creative Approaches to the Sabbatical Year: Debt Relief, Gleaning, Sustainability

The following reflection was written by Lily Brent, Executive Director of Repair the World Atlanta.

In the second month of 5782 (Cheshvan), I’m still thinking about the shmita, or sabbatical year.  The Repair team, and our Atlanta Jewish community, are finding creative ways to interpret this ancient practice for our modern lives.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 states, “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts… everyone who owns a debt, who has one in their hand, shall not press it against their neighbor nor their brother, for God has called for Shmita.” On September 29, Rabbi Samuel Kaye hosted us in the sukkah and taught us about The Temple’s transformative approach to living the spirit of shmita.

“For hundreds of thousands of people living in Atlanta, recovering from illness is not only a physical and spiritual burden – but an extreme financial one as well. Medical procedures cost unfathomable amounts of money for services, and insurance companies denying coverage seemingly at a whim, all while we are at our most vulnerable. Everyone has loved someone who has fallen ill, and most know the dread and shock of opening a medical bill to find out that they owe far more money than they expected; or could ever afford…As a Jewish community, The Temple is taking it upon ourselves to live by the ancient words of our sacred Torah and do our part to alleviate that suffering. We can do this because for everyone $1 we set aside for debt relief, RIP Medical Debt can forgive approximately $100 dollars.”

Atlanta Repair partnered with The Temple and generous donors–small and large–in our community to raise $70,000, which will relieve $7 million in medical debt. Atlantans who earn less than 2 times the federal poverty level, whose debts are 5 percent or more of their annual income, or whose medical debts are greater than their assets will soon be notified that their slate has been wiped clean. I am truly humbled to have been a part of The Temple’s inspired effort where Jewish practice is tangibly changing lives for the better.

Many of us are more familiar with Shmita’s agricultural aspect. Exodus 23:10 reads, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it.” This will be Repair’s third year with a fellow supporting our partner Concrete Jungle. As you will see in the spotlight below, Concrete Jungle practices foraging and gleaning year round–“transforming overlooked and underutilized fruit trees and land into a healthy food source for communities in need.”

Finally, in honor of Shmita, I am deeming 5782 Atlanta Repair’s year of organizational sustainability. We have created, invented and expanded rapidly over the last three years–bringing Repair’s Fellowship and Service Corps to Atlanta. This year, I am setting the intention to sink our roots deeper, to cultivate and broaden our base of support, to deepen our learning and reflection, to get even better at what we do best, so that we can grow sustainably far into the future.


Our Fellows’ Insight on their Service Partners
The people at both Rebecca’s Tent and Historic Westside Gardens have been my favorite part of my experience thus far. Their commitment, drive, and genuine passion for their missions is admirable and they inspire me to root down in my community. They’re also so much fun to be around and make coming to work such a pleasure.

Palmer: The first thing you notice working with both Concrete Jungle and Mind Bubble is the sheer level of care and compassion they bring to the table. They both work in vastly different spaces (food justice and education, respectively) but both are prioritizing the communities they work with above all else. It’s been an amazing start to the fellowship because of them.

Clara Sophia: I am so struck by the joy that the team at PAWkids brings to the work each day. The work can be really heavy, but Miss Latonya and her team choose to meet each person and day with a positive attitude. Even more than attitude, they have the courage to envision a different world. It is so wonderful to be back working alongside the PAWkids team.