Sunday, September 18, 2011

Earth Etude for 21 Elul

The Many Shades of Green

It is forbidden to live in a town that does not have a green garden.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12)

Funny how cities, the predominant sign of societal progress, are largely overgrown with concrete, glass and stone. Not so in Ireland where I recently spent my summer vacation.

The greens of Ireland come in all different shades, visually and symbolically. Spanning every rugged hillside, they range from deep dark evergreen to lemony moss. To top off the greens, the verdant landscape is peppered with an endless variety of wild flowers. Even in the cities, of which there are relatively few, gardens, parks and flower tiers are found at every turn.

I was also struck by the cleanliness. In the city streets, gardens dominate over graffiti. R ecycling depositories are prominent in every town and village. SUV's are noticeably absent, and destinations of choice are often Garden Centers and Natural Heritage Parks.

My summer reading included Bill McKibbon’s Eaarth, {Earth with one “a,” according to Mc¬Kibben, no longer exists. We have carbonized it out of existence} I have become highly sensitized to the environmental hazards threatening our petro guzzling world. Coming from Metropolitan New York, where suburbia consists of town upon town, connected by strip mall after strip mall, and a Super Mega Mall for accent, I was presented with quite a contrast in Ireland. Instead of town after town, it was green after green, with an occasional village between. There wasn’t a Mall or bill board for hundreds of miles in any direction. For that matter, there weren't many roads wider than a truck width either. Smokestacks and pollution do not mar the horizon. On the other hand, Wind Turbines are making such a noticeable appearance that, ironically, there are those who are concerned that these new clean energy machines may themselves become an eye-soar to this natural green paradise.

Build yourselves houses and dwell in them, plant gardens and eat the fruit of them.
(Jeremiah 29:5)

From Ireland I went to Israel. Quite a contrast! Green is not the dominant color of Israel.

At first I was disheartened by the many ways in which Israel has yet to go green. Plastic is everywhere, littering streets and open spaces. Recycling exists but is lax. Pollutant standards are embarrassingly low.

The dominant color is tan to brown to concrete gray. Until one takes a closer look.
North of the Negev, forests have revitalized the hillsides devastated during the years of Roman occupation. In the South, the desert presents its sandy border … but, lo and behold, it is in bloom!

Dunes have made way to thriving hothouses filled with bell peppers, cucs, tomatoes and eggplant. I was fortunate to take a tour of organic hothouses plunked down on vast stretches of tan. Agricultural high tech masterpieces, these acres and acres of hothouses yield produce almost year round with their state-of-the-art computerized drip irrigation, fertilization, and temperature mediation systems.

Just as impressive are the recycled water treatment plants imbedded into the landscape. A significant percentage of sewage water in Israel is treated through a stringent process of detoxification, and then recycled for agricultural watering purposes.

Israel is not as naturally blessed as Ireland when it comes to precipitation, which explains it's less than green out look. But the net effect of this condition is Israel's successful reliance on creative innovation to develop greenery through a unique synthesis of hi-tech agricultural invention, and sacred spiritual intention. The latter is expressed through our daily prayers for rain, in acknowledging the Grand Creator:
Mashiv ha’ruach u-moreed ha’gamshem … Who makes the winds blow and brings forth the rains
Moreed haTal … who settles the dew upon the earth

My two summer destinations provided insights on the many shades of green. If we can color some of our global environmental issues with the innate greenery of Ireland and the innovative green of Israel, perhaps we will be able to live up to the dictum of the Rabbis … that long into the future, we will continue to be able to live in cities blessed with gardens, in many shades of green.

Suri Levow Krieger is the Rabbi of Kerhonkson Synagogue, in upstate New York, and Chavurat Bet Chai in Westchester, NY. She also teaches at University of Bridgeport and Sacred heart University. Her mission includes building bridges between communities and peoples of different faiths by learning, singing and doing together. It includes pushing the creative Jewish envelop, fostering alternative liturgy with spiritual resonance, challenging the traditional text until it yields current meaning, and working proactively towards tikun olam.

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