“It is a learning in reverse order. A learning that no longer starts from the Torah and leads into life, but the other way round: from life, from a world that knows nothing of the Law…back to the Torah.”
—Franz Rosenzweig, On Jewish Learning
Where does food go when we throw it away? This may not sound like a Jewish question, but just ask the campers and counselors at the 14th Street Y’s New Country Day Camp. They spent this past summer immersed in Jewish learning and living inspired by the theme of composting.
Powerful Jewish education starts with asking real questions that emerge from everyday life. There is no simple answer to the question of where food goes when we throw it away. As the campers learned, ideally the nutrients in food are returned to the soil and the cycle of life through composting. But more likely, our waste will end up in a landfill releasing dangerous gases. Every answer leads to another question, and ultimately to questions about why human beings act the way we do, and how we can take better care of each other and the earth.
Children at New Country Day Camp were immersed in Jewish learning as they explored these profound questions through art, music and movement. Each week at camp started with a story. For example, one week was devoted to the importance of planning for the future. The counselors told the children the story of how Joseph planted crops and built storehouses to prepare Egypt for 7 years of famine. They learned that preparing to plant a garden requires saving seeds and they made seed globes in arts & crafts.
Each Friday the entire camp gathered to prepare for Shabbat. The campers discussed the story they had learned. Demonstrating how education leads to action, the camp assembly ended with a “weigh-in” of the food waste that the campers had collected to be composted. By the end of the summer the apple cores and salad trimmings added up to almost 1 ton of waste diverted from the landfill.
This summer, this kind of powerful Jewish education took place at many Jewish Greening Fellowship organizations. With help from Greening Fellow Cantor Melanie Cooperman, interns at the Community Synagogue of Rye built a nature trail to encourage members of the congregation to ask what is going on in their own backyard. Signs and activities for each stop on the trail are based on Jewish teachings about protecting creation. While visiting Camp Eisner, Rabbi Jason Nevarez, Greening Fellow at Temple Shaaray Tefila, asked participants in the environmental club to calculate how much of the earth’s resources they consume and to consider the ethical implications of using more than their fair share.
Seven JCC summer camps received JGF Alumni Grants to support bringing Jewish environmental education to their campers at the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds LI. Laura Bellows and Batsheva Glatt (pictured to the right), educators from the Teva Learning Alliance, engaged the campers in activities based on timeless questions and provocative answers such as “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) While they held and fed red wriggler worms, campers brainstormed about what worms can teach people about waste. In another activity, the story of King David’s rescue by a spider raised the question of why there are so many creatures on earth. Do we really need them all? As the campers wove a spider’s web, they learned about the place of insects in the web of life
Jewish education is powerful when it starts with real questions about our lives and our world. The children at New Country Day Camp asked a simple question but the answer is profound. Where does food go when we throw it away? It depends on us.
As we celebrate the beginning of this new year, I want to thank all of you for supporting the work of the Jewish Greening Fellowship. L’shanah tovah v’yerukah, may this be a year of progress toward a green and sustainable future for all of us, our communities, and our world.