All trees speak with one another. All trees speak with other creatures. All trees were created for the delight of other creatures. (Genesis Rabbah 13:2)
Spring is a time of regeneration in nature and, for parts of the northern hemisphere, a time when familiar sounds return after a long absence: birds chirping, insects buzzing, trees speaking.
Trees speaking? I’m referring to the sound heard from the trees when the wind carries their message: the rustling of leaves. For me, this is the most soothing sound of the season. According to Genesis Rabbah 13:2, all trees speak with one another and with other creatures. If we take the time to stop and listen, what would those leaves have to say to us?
Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, GA, has launched a project to tune our ears to the sylvan message. They are taking an environmental focus for the Omer period that draws attention to the actions and attitudes that can bring about an ecologically sustainable world.
Inspired by Genesis Chapter 1, and subtitled Project New Leaves, the experiment attempts to engage congregants in simple, personal actions for the purpose of transforming habits and mobilizing hope. The ecological theme of each week of the project is based on a successive day of creation from the Genesis story. These linkages are inspired in part by the work of Jewish activist and scholar Ellen Bernstein in her recent book, The Splendor of Creation.
Project New Leaves has its own web site. The following description of the project is from the website:
The name Project New Leaves suggests turning over new leaves in the sense of learning new habits. The new leaves that grow at this time of year also represent one of nature’s marvels of sustainable design—little solar-powered nutrient factories that become food for the web of life when no longer in use.
As each of the seven weeks of the Omer is counted, participants will review the profound and beautiful imagery of one of the seven days in the first two chapters of the Torah. We rejoice in the gifts of Creation as we recognize their boundaries. We aim to strengthen our commitment to learn to live within Creation’s constraints.
For each week, a message distributed to e-mail lists will include a habit of the week, a Try This list of actions that exemplify that habit, a Kavanah (connection to text in Genesis), and a proposed outing. Also, for fun, there will be an environmental cartoon of the week drawn from those solicited from congregants during March. The short message will contain links to more details on the Project New Leaves web site. The website is an interactive Wiki site, so congregants and others can conveniently collaborate in adding resources, kavanot, and suggested actions.
As interest permits, a weekly outing will bring the community together around the ecological theme of the week. For example, this, the second week, which emphasizes the air we share, will be the occasion for a bike ride. Readings, available through the More links in the weekly e-mail message, will focus on inspiring examples of progress toward ecological sustainability, insights from our tradition, and practical steps. A weekly bibliography will encourage further explorations.
This is a multi-faceted, interactive example of environmental education and action. We encourage everyone to visit the Project New Leaves website to learn, participate, and brainstorm ways in which this project can serve as a model for future projects in your own communities.
The trees have much to teach us—if we listen.
Questions for Thought and Discussion
Derek Rosenbaum is the Tikkun Olam intern at the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. He is currently a first-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA. A native Philadelphian, Derek returned home after working two years for Young Judaea in Washington, DC and teaching English last year in the lush bamboo forests of Anji, China. Having studied at Hebrew University and lived on a kibbutz in the Negev, he has a deep love for Israel and looks forward to returning this summer to staff the No’ar Hadash Israel Experience. Derek is also a Hebrew school teacher and a Flesher Campus Rabbinic intern at Temple University Hillel.