Sunday, September 25, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 23: Tandem

by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman

Biking home on Orchard Street
With the wind behind me, and Jamaica Pond
Wrinkled and clear beyond the houses,
A peregrine falcon winged down
A feathered grace, gliding on my right.

For a breath, two, we flew side by side.

My grief, of late, has become more precise.
There are worlds
Beyond worlds, the eons will stretch
Over bedrock and magma, blue and green.
There is life and Life and God unending
No matter what we do, where we are.
So I cry for us, for here, for what we know and love
And for the winged, hooved, scaled, wriggling, tender and fierce
Creatures who love it too, and live it.

In tandem with the falcon
Another neighbor
Traveling this beloved and troubled home.

Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi for Engagement at Temple Sinai of Brookline. She is a leader in the interfaith climate justice movement. For more information visit and

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 22: Earth Rituals

 by Molly Bajgot

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.  ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth came into my life by way of the T.V. screen this past week. Her words remind me of my own spiritual practice, both looking to Judaism to provide a structure for my spiritual practices, and rounding out my own ritual needs by design Earth based ceremony.

This time of year, our Jewish tradition has ritual that takes us through an incredible process of taking stock of ourselves over the past year in order to bring ourselves fully to G!d. I feel thankful for this time and space because - as Elizabeth’s puts it - we need this ritual so we don't carry these feelings around forever. It’s difficult, to drop our emotions off, our misgivings and wrong doings, and leave them. I tend to let them shrink around in the corner of my shadow long after I’ve told them goodbye. I tend to treat them like they have permission to follow me. 

How can we truly forgive, others and ourselves, when healing may take more than a High Holiday season? A practice I’ve picked up in the last few years is one that gives my feelings away to the Earth. The Earth, her perfect systems, cyclical in nature and always regenerating, is a master of receiving and rebirth. Two years ago, I lead my Jewish Justice Fellowship through an exercise of trying this: sitting on the ground, hands planted in the Earth, and asking her to ritually safeguard our heavy things. To take these worries off our mind - the ones that float around and aren't moving right now. Carry them, and I will take them back, once you’ve done some of your cyclical magic; once they’ve had some space to breath, decomposed some. 

 We do this with reverence for Earth, her majesty; for the creator; for the amazing ability to rely on Earth with all our might. Not with a teenage attitude, dropping our backpack off at the door once we’ve come home. No, with respect for the Earth’s ability to hold and process so much of our human-ness. She can hold them. This trusting ritual helps me to round out the practice of teshuvah, turning and repentance, rounding out our time-tested ritual. I offer this practice to all who meditate, walk, and enjoy connecting with the Earth. May she be included in this practice - because we all have so much to carry. 

Molly Bajgot was born and raised in Sudbury, MA. She is a singer, songwriter, and has a big love to the out-of-doors and vocal harmony. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 21: The Food We Eat

by Leora Mallach

The severe drought affecting the northeast this growing season is causing farmers to apply for federal disaster relief (they must prove at least 30% crop loss to qualify). According to USDA data, Massachusetts topsoils were 25% drier in July 2016 than the 10 year mean, and there are mandatory water restrictions in many towns.

The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), established at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1995, tells us:

Drought is an insidious hazard of nature. It is often referred to as a "creeping phenomenon" and its impacts vary from region to region. In the most general sense, drought originates from a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time--usually a season or more--resulting in a water shortage for some activity, group, or environmental sector. Its impacts result from the interplay between the natural event (less precipitation than expected) and the demand people place on water supply, and human activities can exacerbate the impacts of drought. Because drought cannot be viewed solely as a physical phenomenon, it is usually defined both conceptually and operationally.

The interplay between natural events and demands of people is heightened in times of scarcity and stress. It is easy to buy and support local when it’s convenient or cost effective, but we must acknowledge the impact of our actions and maintain such principles even when times are tough and dry.

Our local sustainable agriculture farms are supported by diversification of their revenue stream, and many rely on a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. In this, shareholders buy into the farm at the beginning of the season, providing off-season revenue and a market regardless of crop variety, size, or quantity. They are in relationship with the farm and assume the risk of a tough growing season, such as the one we have had this year. For those shareholders in eastern MA, or most of the Northeast US, that has meant smaller produce, smaller shares of vegetables or weeks with none.

As Jews, much of our religious practice is rooted in the rhythm of the seasons and agricultural practices. Many of our holiday celebrations are based on them. From Sukkot to Passover, as the grains are developing in the semi-arid grasslands of our biblical heritage, we insert daily prayers for rain into our practice. We recognize our reliance on rain water, and on the forces of nature to nourish our crops and our community. There is language to describe the early rain (Yoreh), heavy rains (Geshem), and later season rains (Malkosh). We have a heritage rich with reverence for cause and effect that recognizes the interplay between human activities and natural cycles.

At each meal we have the opportunity to make choices that affect the community around us. May we make food choices that support our local community- the workers and the infrastructure, such that it may nourish us for many years to come.  

Leora Mallach is the co-founder and director of Ganei Beantown: Beantown Jewish Gardens, building community through experiential food and agriculture education rooted in Jewish text, tradition and culture in the greater Boston area.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 20: An Old Problem

by Rabbi Jacob Siegel

I like to think of climate change as an old problem.

True, human-made climate change and the potential it has to wreak disaster on our earth’s ecosystem are new and unprecedented. Every year extreme temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more common. These are challenges we have never faced.

On the other hand, this is an old problem. We as the Jewish people know what it means to face a crisis of existence after a cataclysmic destructive act − the destruction of the Temple – which itself was destroyed because of a moral failure of society, sinat chinam, or baseless hatred. We also have a deep wisdom of thousands of years of debate on issues of moral and societal responsibility – an entire heilek (section) of the Shulchan Aruch, a formative code of Jewish law, is devoted to them, as is an entire seder (section) of gemara, the Oral Torah from 1500 years ago containing the words of the rabbis.

In fact, one whole chapter of one book in the gemara, Bava Basra, focuses on the responsibilities of property owners to their neighbors and to common space. Mishnah (paragraph) Five outlines how far away one must keep a dovecote from a town in order that the doves not eat the seedlings in the gardens, and Mishnah Seven notes how far away one must plant a tree in order to protect the appearance of the city.

It is an interesting question how to frame climate change from a halakhic, or Jewish legal perspective. There is a halakhic category of deeds, performed in my own domain, that cause damage after a delay of time. Does climate change fit into this category? But the Talmud considers such deeds permissible – I am doing them in my own property and not immediately damaging others.

Or, is climate change more of a special case, a societal imbalance demanding intervention, like when fish sellers in Eastern Europe were raising their prices before Shabbat to exorbitant amounts? The Mishneh Brurah, written in 19th-century Eastern Europe, argues that in such a case, the town should impose a decree and have no one purchase fish for several weeks until prices declined again (242:2).

Or, is climate change a personal moral problem? Of a sort that even if we can’t find a technical prohibition against emitting too much carbon, it might be “hayav be’dinei shamayim” – liable in the heavenly courts?

I often feel tempted to see climate change as something new and unprecedented. This can contribute to a sense of fear and desperation, a panic that can sometimes lead us to reckless choices in forming our long-term strategies. I remember once hearing a quoting of the Talmud, though I regretfully don’t remember the citation: “life is very short, so we must move very slowly.” Let’s work together to delve into our rich mesorah (tradition) of experiences and texts, so we can approach climate change with the full wisdom of our Jewish experience.

Rabbi Jacob Siegel is a passionate and dynamic Jewish educator on environmental issues. He received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, an open and modern Orthodox rabbinical school based in New York. He is a certified shochet (kosher butcher), having first trained in Jerusalem and received additional certification with Yeshiva University. He offers demonstrations and workshops at Hillels and congregations across the country on issues of kosher and sustainable meat. Jacob has directed the wilderness program at Eden Village Camp, directed a community Hebrew School in Westchester County, and served as student rabbinic fellow at Hazon, the country's largest Jewish sustainability organization. He received his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis. He currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 19: Canopy to Heaven

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

There is a canopy of trees that open to the worlds above
so those who come to rest beneath their arbor
can transcend both worlds.
Their trunks are pillars reaching heights
we dream to touch and do not dare to try,
and yet we come to rest and seek reprieve
from weariness of life within their shelter.
Can you see this canopy within yourself,
its crown and all its glory yielding to still greater heights?
This resting place was made for you
and offers you its peace and wisdom
in release from worldly thoughts and cares.
Will you not let yourself now journey to that grove
and give yourself respite from all your ills?
Be glad in what awaits you there
and all that you will gain upon your visit.
Be grateful for the forest of this canopy
and happy for the weariness that leaves upon your entrance.
In cloud specked daylight and in nights of starry skies
the window of this canopy or crown shines down upon you
blessing you with peace, with life and light. Enjoy and stay a while.

 Copyright 2016  Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

Judith Felsen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, certificates in hypnotherapy, NLP, Eriksonian Hypnosis, and Sacred Plant Medicine. She is a dancer of sacred circle dance, an AMC kitchen crew, trail information volunteer, trail adopter, and daily student of Torah and Judaism. She is enrolled in Rabbinical Seminary International. She has studied Buddhism, A Course in Miracles, and other mystical traditions. She is a hiker, walker, runner, and lives in the White Mountains with her husband and two large dogs. Her life centers around her Jewish studies and daily application.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 18: Help the Honeybees

by Susie Davidson

I always enjoy perusing the Jewish holiday-themed emails from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center

Earlier this year, Rabbi Waskow pointed out that Earth Day ended just as Passover began. "As the traditional Haggadah says," he quoted, "In every generation we face destruction -- and so in every generation all of us -- every human being --  must seek freedom, justice, and healing anew." Waskow suggested passing around an inflatable Globe at the end of the Seder, and singing a song that began:

We have the whole world in our hands.
We have the frogs and the forests in our hands,
We have the wind and the honeybees in our hands....

Honeybees, of course, are integral to our much-loved New Year ritual of apples and honey.

Two years ago, I wrote about a "Sweet New Year Beekeeping & Havdalah" event at Temple Beth Shalom of Peabody. Anita Deeley, a biologist and Massachusetts State Bee Inspector who maintains 30-50 treatment-free hives at Beverly Bees, showed children an actual hive, taught them how to identify honeybees and spot the queen, and discussed their role as pollinators of both flowers and agriculture -- including the fruits, nuts and veggies, even the coffee -- we love.

For this article, I also researched the Natural Resources Defense Council document "Vanishing Bees" about the Colony Collapse Disorder. First noticed in 2006, it describes a phenomenon where bees don't return to hives. I then found a disturbing 2014 National Geographic report by Sasha Ingber which stated that "the number of U.S. honeybee colonies has been halved over the past ten years, to everybody's detriment."

Last month, a Jewish Advocate editorial linked Colony Collapse Disorder to the use of neonicotinoids, pesticides that disorient bees so that they either fail to return, or carry the neonic pesticide into hives, thereby disorienting the whole colony.

The editorial spelled out some hope. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D - Holliston) has introduced a bill, HD2336, An Act Protecting Massachusetts Pollinators, to limit neonics. Moreover, the Israeli company BioBee is breeding predatory insects to take care of agricultural pests naturally. And gardening suppliers, including Home Depot and Lowe's, are beginning to phase out neonicotinoids. But change comes slowly; an EPA study on the pesticide may not be completed until 2018.

I have decided to take action to help HD2336 move through the legislature. Hopefully, something substantial will come out of this effort by Rosh Hashanah, so that I can feel more personally invested in my slice of honeyed apple.

Susie Davidson, a freelance journalist, contributes to the Huffington Post, the Forward, the Brookline Tab, the Jewish Advocate and other national and international publications including The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz. She coordinates the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 17: Ode To Water

by Rabbi Laurie Gold

Walt Whitman’s beautiful poem, “The Voice of the Rain”, has always moved me. I hope you appreciate it, too.

And who are thou? said I to the soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d,
altogether changed and yet the same,
I descend to have the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin,
and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfillment, wandering,
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)

Throughout our long history, rain has been important to the Jewish people. We have recognized that we need water to live. We also know that animals, plants and trees need water to survive. There has been, in most parts of the world, a shortage of usable water. Therefore, it is not surprising that we created prayers for both rain and dew. Sadly, water scarcity has increased over time, due to the effects of global warming and man-made pollution.

Merlin Hearn writes that most of us take water for granted. Most of us don’t know, or we choose to not remember, that there is a shortage of water. Because of this, we don’t do enough to lessen the problem.

It is actually pretty easy to do our part in solving the problem of water pollution. I recall that I learned one trick from Rabbi Katy Allen many years ago. She wrote that when we brush our teeth, there is no need to keep the faucet running the entire time. I had never thought about that before. I can’t imagine how many gallons of water I have saved by following Rabbi Allen’s simple advice.

Merlin Hearn offers some additional advice:
  1. We can urge our elected officials to enforce existing clean water acts and create additional laws.
  2. We can stop using pesticides, which infiltrate and harm nearby waterways.
  3. We can drive our cars less often. This can be accomplished by using public transportation, consolidating trips to stores, carpooling, walking and bike-riding.
  4. We can start to use green personal care and household products.   
  5. We can stop littering and start using fewer plastic products.

It is not always easy to change our behavior, even when we know that it is in the best interest of our community and planet. Yet, this shouldn’t be an excuse for us not to at least try to do our share to reduce or eliminate water pollution. Let us join hands and do our best.

Rabbi Laurie Gold resides in Queens, New York. When she is not working, Laurie enjoys spending time with her relatives and friends, and swimming, bicycling, running, reading, and going to the theater.