Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: Three things are of equal importance—earth, humans and rain. Rabbi Levi ben Hiyyata taught: Without earth, there is no rain, and without rain, the earth cannot endure, and without either, humans cannot exist. —Genesis Rabbah 13:3
If I had to sum up the whole of Jewish environmentalism in one word, that would be the word balance. We must grasp the concept of ecosystems and the notion that all aspects of creation depend on one another.
For example, in a forest ecosystem, there is no such thing as trash—the rotting carcass of one animal provides nutrients for a bush to grow sweet blueberries that are then pollinated by mosquitoes. The decaying bark of a tree is perfect food for a fungus to feed on, and so on. As humans, we must look for ways to balance our day to day lives within both our local and global ecosystems.
Yet many of us try to get off the hook by saying things like “I’m not an environmentalist” or “I choose to only focus on issues related to human suffering.” However, as more and more people are coming to realize, the environment is an issue that can no longer be ignored. The disastrous effect that humans are currently having on our earth is a dangerous threat to humans, animals, and ecosystems as we know them.
Again, let us recognize the importance of balance.
This past January, the students at West End Synagogue Hebrew School participated in four one-hour sessions of electives. Each elective had a focus for the students to prepare for participation in a Tu Bishvat/Shabbat service that would take place at the end of four sessions. The five options were:
Participants in the eco-activists elective discussed a variety of issues, ranging from steps the synagogue has already taken, such as recycling and fair trade organic coffee, to steps students have already taken, such as vegetarianism and using compact fluorescent bulbs. We agreed that preaching at those attending our Tu Bishvat/Shabbat program would probably not turn people on to making any changes—perhaps it would even turn them away!
Instead, keeping with the theme of balance, we chose a more gentle approach. Students did research in their school libraries and on the Internet, and brought in their findings. We brainstormed a list of a variety of ways a person could make changes, small or large, in order to have less of an impact on the earth. Then, based on a tried and true method of the Teva Learning Center, these ideas were compiled into a single document: Brit Adamah—a contract with the earth. The britot were introduced and distributed at our Tu Bishvat/Shabbat program.
[Attached to this article is a letter from the President of West End Synagogue to the congregation on the synagogues desire to become greener and instructions for playing a game that raises awareness about fruits and vegetables.]
Finally, don't miss a great chance to learn about all these issues and how to bring them to Jewish students at the 13th Annual Teva Seminar on Jewish Environmental Education
Sarah Chandler is a former Jewish environmental educator with Teva Learning Center, Sarah is the Education Director of West End Synagogue in Manhattan and Director of Programming for Zeek: Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture. A contributing editor for Jewschool.com and RadicalTorah.org, she is also part of creating the upcoming Jewish education and social networking site JewItYourself.com.
This summer, you will find Sarah teaching as faculty for the Teva Learning Center’s annual seminar (Congregational Track), Camp JRF (Week 2), and the National Havurah Institute (a four-day class incorporating local forest ecology, Jewish spirituality and the environment, and community building).
|West End President on Syn Environ Practices.doc||23 KB|
|West End Eytz-Adamah Game.doc||19.5 KB|