In the last twenty years, more than 100,000 Jewish children, teachers and young adults have participated in the transformative experience of Teva: immersing themselves in the rhythms of the natural world, learning about the Jewish values of stewardship, and developing a deep commitment to tikkun olam.
Kedusha-Lives of Sacred Purpose
The program integrates the study of ecology and environmental education with Jewish concepts and values through hands-on activities in a cooperative outdoor setting. By using the forest as their classroom, Teva students also develop a greater sense of responsibility, independence, and self-esteem. They leave the program having forged intimate connections with each other and the natural world and with a deeper knowledge of how Judaism can inform our interactions with the rest of creation.
Teva’s curriculum follows a three-part thematic progression of “Awareness,” then “Ecology,” then “Responsibility.” At each step, environmental teaching is specifically tied to Jewish teaching. As part of the Responsibility curriculum, Teva students focus on ways that they, individually and as a class, can make better choices that contribute to creating a sustainable world. All students participate in designing a project to implement throughout the school year. The projects not only help to reduce waste and empower students in their daily lives, they also keep the spirit of Teva and experiential learning present in the classroom. Past projects have included reducing lunchtime waste by starting a composting system, starting and improving upon recycling systems, and creating school and community gardens. Most students also leave Teva with a commitment to change at least one personal behavior, such as turning off the water while brushing teeth, turning lights off when leaving a room, recycling more, or even turning off electronics for Shabbat.
Each fall, we recruit a group of 10-14 young adults and train them to serve as Teva Educators to lead Shomrei Adamah and our other children’s environmental education programs. Guided by a structured curriculum, weekly feedback and reflection, and training workshops in experiential education, the program supports the growth of our educators into confident teachers with the creativity to develop their own unique teaching styles. Over 250 young adults have been trained as Teva Educators. The Teva staff, including all of the Teva Educators, live communally in a winterized house on the Isabella Freedman campus. Just as the ability to communicate and work as a team is an important pillar of our student curriculum, so too we emphasize communication, teamwork, and community among the staff. Communal celebrations of Shabbat, holidays, and day-to-day life are an important part of the experience. The connections that are forged in this intentional community are essential to the teamwork required to be successful in the work week.
The Teva program was founded in 1994, and the program has evolved each year since. But the founding principles – connecting students and young adults to Judaism through the lens of nature– has stayed the same. One of the ways to look at this topic from an environmental standpoint is to consider how natural resources are extracted from the earth and how society generates so much environmental pollution. Last year, Teva’s educators wrote a new social justice curriculum which focused on these and other topics. One of the activities explores a factory in New England. We explore where the factory is, the communities that benefit from the factory’s goods, and the communities that are impacted by the pollution produced by the factory. Students learn that the community that is most negatively impacted by the pollution is a community of color with a lower socio-economic profile. These are individuals who cannot afford to move and who have the most difficulty treating their children for things such as asthma. Other curricular activities also explore these themes, and advocacy-centered activities, such as letter writing to congressional leaders, helps students not only identify such issues, but begin to understand the mechanisms by which such issues can be addressed on a personal and political level.
As the Director of Education for Hazon, Elan Margulies aims to inspire joy and reverence for the natural world by introducing students to earth-based Jewish traditions and the wonders right outside their door. In his free time, he enjoys finding wild edibles, brewing ginger beer and working with wood and metal.
Hazon is one of five organizational co-sponsors of Kenissa, a network connecting individuals who are leading contemporary efforts to re-define Jewish life. It identifies and convenes leaders of new organizations and communities and creates a capacity building network to help these emerging communities of meaning thrive.