Jewish people love to nosh, but how much do we know about where the food we eat comes from? For Natalie Kogan-White, this is an important question. While grasping a hot cup of tea, Natalie sat down to discuss her passion for environmentalism, social work, and her Jewish spirituality.
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Natalie grew up active in the Reform Jewish community. She attended Sunday school, sang in the synagogue choir, and became a Bat Mitzvah. However, as it sometimes goes with adolescents, Natalie’s affinity for her formal Jewish education waned when it came time for Confirmation. In spite of this disinterest she traveled on a high school trip to Israel and in her words, “rediscovered the different layers of being Jewish…and realized that Judaism would always be in [her] life.”
This realization rang true for Natalie’s college search, as it was the ever-growing Jewish grapevine that lead her to KU. Prompted to visit the University by Jewish family-friends, Natalie visited Lawrence and fell in love with the town. She began her freshmen year in the fall of 2016.
Once settled on campus, Natalie found a connection to KU Hillel in celebrating the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. The holiday’s association with women and female empowerment piqued her interest.
“Rosh Chodesh gave me an opportunity to do some self initiated discovery on how I’m Jewish…I felt like I was growing and that I was connected to the Hillel community,” she said.
Natalie is on the planning committee for the upcoming KU Hillel Rosh Chodesh event, which will be held on Thursday April 26th. She hopes to lead a discussion for women about feminism and the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.
This coming summer, Natalie will continue her feminism-inspired work while in an internship at the Women’s Environmental Institute in North Branch, Minnesota. Of the internship she said, “This place is really cool because they aim to support women in underprivileged communities. It’s a really wonderful combination of the two things that I am interested in - social work and environmental work.” Natalie will spend her time at the Institute learning about organic farming and working in the farmers market. For her, this is a dream summer vacation.
After her time in Minnesota she plans to study abroad in Thailand for the fall semester and gain academic credit toward her degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies. Natalie will work to challenge her understanding of U.S. organic farming as she learns about the farming practices of South East Asia. She especially looks forward to focusing on her passion for global food systems. “There’s a lot of detachment…people don’t know where they get their food from,” she said. She wants people to understand what goes into making their food and how that impacts their health. For Natalie, everything is connected. She sees significant relationships between the earth, the human body, society, and even Judaism.
It is Judaism that Natalie believes sparked her interest in environmentalism and sociology. “There is this concept of ‘Jewish geography’,” she said with a smile, “everyone is connected…[and] being Jewish pushes me to understand the vast system that we are all apart of.”
Natalie’s philosophy on interconnection reminds us of the Talmudic phrase, “kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh” – “all of Israel is responsible for one another”. Today, it is often interpreted to mean that all people are responsible for one another, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or any other identity. Natalie, and others like her, drive our Jewish community in a more conscious direction – one where we see ourselves as part of a larger system and take responsibility for our impact.
After taking her last sip of tea, Natalie added one final comment.
“Do Shabbat…it will cleanse the soul,” she said.
With that final appeal buzzing in our ears, we can think of Natalie during our next Shabbat meal. We can ask ourselves the question, “where did this food come from and how does it impact our health and our earth?” We can start the conversation…and that deserves a l’chaim.