In October, enormous winds blew off parts of Congregation Beth Evergreen’s (CBE) sukkah. In early December, even stronger winds hurled a giant tree branch onto the roof of the synagogue with such force that it penetrated through to the inside of the building, leaving gaping holes and several surreal-looking limbs pointing down as if, given the season, a reindeer stepped through and got stuck.
Biblical authors have long used natural forces as metaphors for Divine power to both create and destroy. Rabbi Toba Spritzer added human power to the equation, comparing tzedek with the flow of water and its ability to impact real change, “… something we humans can either block by our unjust actions or channel in positive ways.”
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg from Sweden is “a force of nature,” influencing righteous action, and modeling the value and power of young voices. So, too, is the CBE religious school and youth group, in addition to students and families, living their values through a commitment to and engagement with tikkun olam in immediate as well as longer-term impactful ways.
Many years ago, the youth group purchased and constructed an outdoor greenhouse. At the time, the wind (sensing a theme here) asserted an opinion and rearranged the design, leaving us with an “open garden.” You know the expression; when you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.” So we adjusted. Rather than yearlong gardening as originally presumed, religious-school students now plant seedlings at Tu B’Shevat (in a small INDOOR greenhouse) to be transplanted to that open garden in May which we harvest in September to start the next religious school year; our own mini farm to table model. Living in the social hall, the indoor greenhouse gets much more attention than the outdoor garden as it turns out and encouraged several congregants to initiate the same practice at home.
Two years ago, the religious school took on the plight of bees, studying how Jewish learning presumes the invaluable contribution of students who transform Jewish culture, knowledge and commitments to justice and truth into a joyous experience that sweetens, nourishes and beautifies our world. Students designed and built honey-bee hives and solitary bee hotels. Some of the beehives succumbed to that righteous wind of ours (another was taken out by bears), with the remaining few perhaps providing next year’s High Holy day honey.
The bee hotels live at CBE appropriately next to the open garden.
Last year, we applied for and received a grant from Hazon to change out bathroom lighting for motion sensors and swap our most used toilets for low-flow versions. Our motto at that time was “Greening Isn’t Always Glamorous.” And indeed, it wasn’t. For we were reminded how big things may come in small packages, such as the adorably tiny low-flow toilets installed for the preschool classes, which were no match for their, let’s say, “productivity.” All part of the learning process.
This year, students are taking on efforts to compost (not easy in our Colorado climate) and recycle on grander scales. We enjoyed our first congregational zero-waste event during Rosh Hashanah luncheon and are looking forward to at least two more this year. Several students are looking at worm composting either at home or at the building (maybe my office?) and seeking volunteers to transport materials that existing services don’t yet offer. Classes may take on hosting zero-waste, religious-school days, building that awareness into habit.
And we just finished our Hanukkah Bizarre Bazaar. This annual holiday event honors ways to reduce, reuse and recycle as part of gift-giving; kindling joy in thinking about others; and awareness of the abundance in our world and personal lives. The congregation donates gently used or never-used items for adults, such as jewelry, candles, books, Judaica, games, tools and more. Students “shop” for important adults in their lives (parents, teachers, etc.) using shekels earned in religious school. Even the wrapping paper is used. Anything not “purchased” at the bazaar is donated to our local resource centers to become available for little to nothing.
Guided by Jewish learning, partnership for a better world harnessing the forces of nature in all its forms!
By Tara Saltzman, director of lifelong learning at Congregation Beth Evergreen in Denver.