Recently, we sat down with OSRUI Alum Jill Zenoff. Jill is a Jewish environmental educator, agrarian, community organizer, chef, and Chicago native. She recently took top prize at the Cheese Monger Invitational (SF 2019). She was the founder of The Gan Project (with co-founder and OSRUI Alum Anne Axelrod), a Jewish food and farming organization that served the Chicago area from 2010-14, was a 2008 Adamah Fellow at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, and a 2009 intern on Henry’s Farm in Congerville IL. She started growing food in 2006, has been cooking professionally since 2004, and has been an eater of food since 1982. Jill is a 2004 graduate of DePaul University and served as the National Director of GrapeVine, an organization that uses technology and data to strengthen Jewish communities.
Years at Camp: I spent 9 years as a camper and staff member from 1993 to 2004, plus a few retreat chef jobs, but unfortunately I don’t think those count towards my 10-year sweatshirt.
Currently: I’m currently working as Sous Chef for Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, CA, after 2 1/2 years as Supervising Cheese Monger. It’s my dream job, getting to talk about (and eat) cheese all day while envisioning becoming a driving force in the local and regional food system back in Chicago.
Fun OSRUI fact: When I was in high school I took a photography class and we were given an assignment to tell a store about a path or trip that we travel regularly but never stop to observe. So I packed up my car with a few snacks and my camera and I started to drive to camp, stopping at all the places along the way that I usually drove right by in all the excitement to get where I was going … Mars Cheese Castle, the Bong Recreational Area, the Fond du Lac exit sign, The Kiltie, The Churches of Oconomowoc Welcome You sign, Olympia Resort sign, Mapleway Bowling (Derech), and the laundromat next to The Chocolate Factory. When I got to camp I took a photo of the welcome sign, the Bayit, and the original Avodah cabins before they were torn down. It was a solo journey, no one came with me, only my instructor saw the photos, but it felt like everyone I had ever known from camp was in that car with me.
How OSRUI has impacted my life: Back then, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, camp was where I could be the most myself. The rest of the year school, chores, etc. was everything you did to pass the time until you got to go back to camp. I loved it so much I thought I was going to become a rabbi, not because I felt I had a calling, or would be a great spiritual leader like some of the incredible rabbis my peers and camp friends have turned out to be. No, I wanted to be a rabbi because they were the only adults allowed at camp (or so I thought), and I never wanted to stop going to camp. Spoiler alert: I did not become a rabbi, but those experiences I had at camp, taking a hafsaka ha teva, Shabbat Shira, and just being immersed in a community that was so rooted to nature and to being Jewish, set me down the path that led me to where I am today. And today, I draw upon my experiences at camp every single day both at work and in life. Just ask any of my friends or family.