Our congregation is small, less than 100 families. We’re not large enough to have our own worship space - we meet in a church. Even so, we have an active Social Action/Tikkun Olam Committee. We are part of the Baltimore Interfaith Hospitality Network, providing housing and support for homeless families. We’ve participated in efforts to end the atrocities in Darfur. We presented Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth and used proceeds from the sale of popcorn to purchase compact florescent light bulbs. We were sponsors of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Conference and participate in the newly formed Baltimore Environmental Network of Synagogues.
Still, when a small group of members sat down to discuss what we would like to teach about, it felt like something was missing, and we needed to be doing more. We saw JRF’s 2007 Omer Initiative as a challenge to work harder on environmental issues, spurring us to create new projects involving more of our congregation’s adults and children. Specifically, we plan to both literally “Plant a Tree” and “Save a Tree” in conjunction with our Omer study project.
We looked to many texts for inspiration and felt the Jerusalem Talmud selection quoted above resonated with us the most. Why are we told to live in a place with a garden? We are forbidden to live in a place without one. Forbidden. This is not a suggestion. This is not a request. This is a command, an order. Why is living in a place with trees so important that we are forbidden to live in a place without them?
Greenery is not just an aesthetic choice. Trees are necessary for our survival. Trees provide food in the form of fruits and nuts. Trees provide building materials. Trees provide firewood. Trees purify and cleanse the very air we breathe.
Our congregation is located in the city of Baltimore. Currently, the average life-span of a tree in Baltimore is only 15 years. Development, auto emissions and pollution all take their toll on city plants. Baltimore City has been rapidly losing its tree canopy, the leaves and branches seen when viewed from above. Today only 20% of Baltimore is covered by tree canopy, impacting the quality of our lives as trees provide beauty, shade, and wildlife habitat as well as help keep our air and water clean.
Clearly we are living in a place that is in danger of losing its garden. This is a problem for many of us, not just those of us living in Baltimore. We are living on a planet in danger of losing its garden to overdevelopment and pollution. Our “garden” has been damaged and it is our obligation to repair and restore it.
Our Tikkun Olam Committee decided to literally “Plant a Tree” by partnering with “Tree Baltimore”, a new initiative from the City of Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation whose goal is to double the tree canopy in the city of Baltimore. Tree Baltimore hopes to increase the tree canopy to 40% in the next 30 years. We will be planting a tree on the church property where we share worship space. As four congregations use this space we hope to make our tree planting an interfaith project. We hope to hold an outdoor Shabbat service once the tree is in place, allowing us to reflect on the relationship between spirituality and the earth. As of the due date for this project we were still working with the church to coordinate a mutually agreed upon day for this event. We hope to post an update with photos on this site at a later date.
We hope to “Save a Tree” by encouraging the use of reusable dishes and utensils for Onegs (festive snacking after services on Shabbat), Seders and other community events where we currently use disposables. Each oneg and holiday meal, we fill up at least one large trash bag with disposable plates, cups and utensils. The Tikkun Olam Committee is looking to diminish this wastefulness by inviting congregants to make their own uniquely-designed, re-usable plates to bring to synagogue. On Earth Day we will be sponsoring a Plate Making Extravaganza where families can enjoy a dairy lunch, kibitz with friends, and design their very own re-usable plates. Plate designs will be sent to Makit Products Inc., where they will be turned into dishwasher safe melamine plates! Stay tuned for photos of this event.
Questions for Thought and Discussion:
Submitted by Beit Tikvah Congregation based on discussions by members Janet Felsten, Bill Marker, Wendy Matt, Elana Richman and Student Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum.