When it comes to its core objective of educating and advocating for the environment from a Jewish perspective, the Pearlstone Center is certainly not kidding around.
Since the coronavirus pandemic forced the Reisterstown-based farm and retreat center in March to halt all onsite programming, the staff there has tried to find safe and innovative ways to “connect people to the organization and its mission,” says Rachel Feldman, director of business development at Pearlstone, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
A perfect example is “Pearlstone’s Goat Talent!,” a virtual visit with the 180-acre center’s goats and chickens facilitated by David Ben Yehuda, Pearlstone’s shaliach, or Israeli emissary, and recently designated “chief goat correspondent.”
The visits are available through such platforms as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and WebEx, and cost $36 for up to 15 minutes.
Customized programs can be arranged for an additional charge and may be fashioned for work meetings, class tours or — as stated on the Pearlstone website (http://pearlstonecenter.org) — just for “smiles.”
“When they first told me about [his new role as chief goat correspondent], I thought they were kidding with me,” says Ben Yehuda, 27, who was born and raised at the Kfar HaHoresh kibbutz in northern Israel. “But then I saw how much people were enjoying it, especially the children.
“We’re serving the community and nourishing nature,” he says. “It’s an amazing privilege.”
So far, the “Pearlstone’s Goat Talent!” tours have been well-received and served as a good means of raising funds for the center’s operations, says Feldman.
“People are delighted, especially when the visits are unexpected,” she says.
For example, in one case, “people were online expecting a traditional staff meeting and then they saw a goat on the screen,” says Feldman. “Someone said [to the goat], ‘I think you’re in the wrong meeting!’”
On another occasion, “someone thought he was being ‘Zoombombed’ by a goat,” she says, using the recently coined term for abrupt and unwanted intrusions during Zoom gatherings.
Not so sheepishly, Ben Yehuda says he’s enjoyed conducting the virtual tours so far.
“It’s been very nice meeting with people,” he says. “They ask questions, and we share the goats and the values of Pearlstone — bringing people together, caring for the environment and sharing love and warmth. It’s the way we treat guests and goats here!
“And we have some very special goats now,” Ben Yehuda says. “Our goat, Nechama, gave birth to two baby goats, Matilda and Mariah, about one-and-a-half-months ago. Matilda was rejected by her mother. So Matilda grew up in our offices. Every night, there was a line of people waiting to take her home. She came back to live [in the pasture] on Israel Independence Day [Apr. 29], to be independent at Pearlstone.
“People enjoy hearing that story.”
Feldman says upcoming “Pearlstone’s Goat Talent!” bookings include a virtual graduation party and a pair of Mother’s Day celebrations this Sunday, May 10.
“The virtual visits are a good way for us to connect to the community and to share Pearlstone’s outdoor educational experiences,” she says. “They’re also a great way to remember there’s a world beyond the computer screen.”
For information, visit https://www.pearlstonecenter.org/PGT/.