If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah (Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 31b)
Our native woodland and native prairie project started at Congregation Beth Shalom one year ago. The plan has four phases, each expected to last one year:
Our immediate goal is to repair the small portion of the planet that we own by returning it to nature. We wish to demonstrate the benefits. A woodland will add beauty and a welcoming appearance and will feed and house songbirds. A garden of native grasses and wildflowers will attract butterflies and also to serve as a peaceful resting place or meditation garden for our membership. Our secondary goal is to educate and encourage membership to incorporate native gardens on their own yards.
… God, from the very beginning of creation, was occupied before all else with planting … and first of all the Eternal God planted a Garden in Eden. Therefore occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting” (Leviticus Rabbah 25:3).
We are only planting trees that are native to our area. Different varieties exist in the different regions of God’s earth. And with them are the birds, insects and animals that depend on native plants for survival. The timing of the birth of baby birds in any given area is synchronized with the blossoming time of the berries and flowers in their region.
But in these “modern” times, garden shops and landscapers market non-native plants (“exotic” means from far away). These non-natives crowd out and damage our native plant communities in our yards and in our wild places, as birds carry seeds from yards to forest preserves. When we restore native plant communities, we also restore native wildlife habitat including food bearing plants and protected places for wildlife to raise their young. Importing non-native plants for the sake of looking at something unusual or convenient in your yard is not justified.
It should not be believed that all the beings exist for the sake of the existence of humanity. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes, and not for the sake of something else” (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 456).
The project has cost our congregation very little. Families who wish to support the project pledge money for a specific tree from our approved list. Tags, donated by one congregant’s company, list the name of the tree, the donating family, the date planted, and educational information about that tree’s role in the wilderness or historical significance.
Twelve trucks of mulch were donated by tree trimming companies who were happy for a place to dump the chips. In our newsletter, a monthly column keeps the membership updated on project status and information they can use to inspire and guide them in installing such gardens at their homes. We also had a popular speaker from Wild One’s visit us and present a slide show with some mind-boggling statistics on the state of nature in these United States.
Finally, we are hoping to expand our project to include planting for energy savings. In these days of rising energy costs, it is prudent to incorporate a landscape plan that utilizes the properties of trees to absorb the heat of the sun and block the cold winter winds, instead of using our building to do those things. We can’t afford not to! Plans are currently being drawn up by two of our congregants, a native plant enthusiast and a professional landscaper.
Questions for Thought and Discussion:
Laura Sosnowski is a member of the Tikkun Olam Committee at Congregation Beth Shalom, Naperville, Illinois. Laura’s love of native plants began by falling in love with forests during childhood camping trips and adult extreme adventure trips. She studied gardening at the College of Dupage, is an active member of Wild Ones and Sierra Club, and is working on the installation of native gardens at four locations in the Naperville area.