Friday, August 30, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - Circling Home

by Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman

Turning, always turning
To every turn, a season
To every season, a spirit
To every spirit, a soul
To every soul, a home

Ani l’dodi v’dodi li
I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine
Elul pours forth a call

Turn as the earth
Around your sacred truth,
Hold to your center
           but move from your place.
from a new angle, Who You Are
And who you need to be

We are fiery emotions
We are waters of compassion
We are centered breath of life,
We are steady solid clay

An eternal breath wrapped in dust and light
always turning

Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman,MSW is the Founder and Director of Rimon Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality in Great Barrington, MA. She is a former psychotherapist and feng shui practitioner with a life-long interest in comparative religion and the creation of sacred space and sacred time.

Earth Etude for Elul 24 - The Humility of Rabbits

by Leora Mallach

I am an educational vegetable gardener, that is to say, I facilitate learning about food and grow vegetables for people to eat. Vegetable gardens don’t happen by chance, but are manicured and maintained on a regular basis. There is pre-season planning, worry and hope as things sprout, groups of students to program with, volunteers to direct and family picnics to coordinate.

When I first saw evidence of the rabbits over the winter I didn't totally understand the implications. Ever the optimist, I thought they could hang out in the ivy, frolic in the playground (once the pre-school kids left) and generally leave me and my vegetables alone. They could have their space, and I’d have mine.

And then they ate my pea shoots.

Planting continued on, and weeks later who was I to tell the 9th grade boys who relished in cutting back ivy that the cute little rabbits had eaten up all their hard work? The volunteer who had gotten so excited when she planted her first seeds, (A trio of Blue Lake, Cherokee Wax and Purple Queen beans) that she took a picture of the patch of soil, would she want to know that her beans were now mere colorful sticks?

I raised my fists at the rabbits. I cursed at them. I chased them. They shook their white bunny tails at me and scurried away.

I called the experts, some helpful and some not. Fencing would have to be dug 6 inches down- how would the beds still be accessible? Would they ruin the aesthetic of the space? Wait it out some said, once the plants are big enough, rabbits won’t want to eat them. An exterminator would use a gas chamber… uh, NO.

The advice I went with was to become a rabbit harasser. I sprinkled fox urine around the rabbit hole so they would think they were being stalked. I had friends bring over their dogs to “leave their scent” in the area. I sprinkled bovine blood granules on the beds next to the vegetables.

When I could take it no more- I bought Havaheart trap. The first morning when I went to go check the trap, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to find a rabbit inside. Although I had located a lovely new home (more then two miles away, by the water, it also included a bridge and a bench, in addition to a wide grassy area) I was nervous. If I hold their lives as sacred, their creation as an act of divinity, then shouldn't we be able to co-exist in teh garden together?

I often wonder what these rabbis are teaching me. I am still learning. In this time of teshuvah, of love, of renewal, of working toward our best selves, I am humbled by the rabbits.


Leora Mallach is the Co-Founder of Ganei Beantown and this is her third year running the organic vegetable garden at Temple Israel of Boston. When not harvesting cucumbers she can be found writing experiential education curriculum, hiking in the mountains, or being crafty.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 23 - Adonai, Adonai

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Adonai, Adonai, G!d, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and truth, showing compassion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. (Ex. 34:6-7)

G!d speaks the Divine name twice! Wouldn't once be enough? Whose attention is G!d trying to reach?

The medieval commentator Rashi teaches that “Adonai” is G!d's attribute of compassion, and that the Divine Name is said once before a person sins and once after the person sins and repents. It’s a nice image. I think also about Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s understanding of the four letter tetragramaton as a breath that happens when we try to pronounce the unpronounceable name, and he refers to G!d as the Breath of Life. So, the Divine Name being spoken twice is sort of like G!d breathing deeply twice, one before we sin and once after we sin and repent, or, in the verse above, two deep breaths before naming the aspects of Divine mercy and forgiveness that are available to us.

Jewish tradition teaches that we are to walk in G!d’s ways. Accordingly, this means that we, too, need to have all the qualities of forgiveness listed in this verse. The compassion to a thousand generations might be tough for one individual, but at least we can try to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and truth, and forgiving of other’s transgressions. And taking two deep breaths can help us just as much, or even more, as it can help G!d! If we breathe deeply, letting the air in and out, with conscious awareness that we are bringing into our bodies molecules that were released from some other organism or from the Earth, perhaps we can better manifest in ourselves these amazing Divine qualities.

Philosopher and nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore writes in The Pine Island Paradox: “if you sit still in the dark, breathing quietly, the world will come to life around you…and then you will understand: you are kin in a family of living things, aware in a world of awareness, alive in a world of lives, breathing as the shrimp breathe, as the kelp breathes, as the water breathes, as the alders breathe, the slow in and out. Except for argon and some nitrogen, every gas that enters your lungs was created by some living creature—oxygen by plankton, carbon dioxide by the hemlocks. Every breath you take weaves you into the fabric of life."

When we are confronted by a difficult situation with another person, if we breathe deeply and remember the water, the oxygen, the nitrogen; the rain, the oceans, the mountains; the rain forests, the deserts, the water’s edge; the frogs, the salamanders, the bacteria – if we in those two deep breathes can allow such images to pass through our minds, reminding ourselves that we are but one tiny part of the amazing web of life on this amazing planet, and that the Breath of Life sustains us all, perhaps we will find it easier to walk in G!d’s footsteps and to be merciful and forgiving. Perhaps we will be able to look more kindly at our neighbors and ourselves. Perhaps an abundance of goodness and truth will seep into our beings, and bring healing to us and to the Earth.

With all my heart and all my soul, I pray, may it be so. Amen. Selah.
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen (ARJ '05) is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA, and a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.

Earth Etude for Elul 22 - For Lifts

by Nyanna Susan Tobin

I am helped by...Remembering that where ever I sit or stand, it is sacred ground. Sometimes it is hard to believe this wisdom. But, If I can re-remember my roots, and my strong belief that we are all apart of the on-going cycles of creation and of unraveling,  then I can wake up and realize the miracle of this moment.

One of my goals for this summer was to slow down, and honor my desire for living closer to the land and water, in my neighborhood. But in between watering and harvesting for a few backyards, I have traveled all over New England. I went to a Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, VT. I found and sold an antique (1740's) map in Hyannis, MA. I went to a Social Justice & Storytelling gathering in New Hampshire, and experienced the strong earth energy at The Round House in Colrain, MA. We also celebrated the crossing over of two special elders who live with me in Wayland Housing. And  participated in Ma'yan Tikvah's Shabbat in Nature retreat in mid-August. As Molly B. wrote, how does it all this cook nutritious bread? This summer, I have experienced so many others working to make our world work for the present and for the future.

Maybe all religions foster a love and awe of the past, our roots. The exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at The Boston Museum of Science, is a journey into the past. Two thousand years ago, our ancestors made pots, and ink, and parchment. They lived in uncertain times, but they left us with their seeds, the work of their hands, and their written instructions for meeting the end. The end of existence is what the scroll scribes predicted. They were getting ready for their last breaths.

What will we be getting ready for this year? We have the science, the evidence of global warming and the rise of the waters. We have people living under tyranny, and those trying to take back their humanity.Our people are recovering from nearly loosing our footing on earth. I imagine that while I continue to struggle with budgets, and making real food, hopefully, I will be thankful for these daily struggles and the awareness that I am standing or sitting on Sacred Ground.
Nyanna Susan Tobin is an Organic Storyteller, Member of Wayland Transition, loves real food, and can often be found walking with her dog and Wellness Partner, Ziggy.

Earth Etude for Elul 21 - How Do You Meet the World?

by Alexander Volfson

There are many ways to look at life. This lens through which we perceive reality affects how we feel and how we act. Elul, a time of returning, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our lenses. Is our outlook truly helping us be the best self we can be?

Sometimes we can get into phases where we're caught up in one particular lens. You might notice a particular pattern of thought you're reenacting, along with some habits. For example I noticed that I was in an "afraid of the world" phase where I was checking the national news multiple times per day. I was stressing about how the economic turmoil of our country is and will affect me and my community.

This certainly wasn't the only line of thought I had, but many of my thoughts were pretty grim. At the same time, you can't entirely dismiss this as some unfounded fear. The cost of living, food and energy continue to rise and though the financial experts keep talking about a recovery, real incomes and the rate of employment are not keeping up. On top of this we're getting more extreme and unstable weather from climate change. You can see how this might shape my outlook.

We can get stuck in a specific outlook, but there are alternative ways to approach at the world. When I recognized this phase I paused to connect with the specific emotions that came up for me: fear, mostly. Meditating on this, I soon remembered another outlook were I see my actions as the "Earth acting through me". In this frame, I feel connected to the world around me (instead of afraid of it) and focus on asking, "at this very moment, how can I contribute?" Notice how this opens me up to options. Suddenly I'm thinking about the solutions to our economic woes. Thinking about what could make our communities more resilient I start asking open-ended questions: How many different ways can I support local agriculture? Low-energy and low-cost transportation? Healthy living? Connection to the physical planet and real ecosystems of which we are a part? You can probably see how this approach is more likely to help me find a meaningful way forward.

In fact, this reminded me of why Tikkun Olam initially pulled me into the Transition movement (a grassroots, community-level-focused effort to transition beyond fossil fuel dependence to a world of renewable energy and local resilience). The Transition approach is to look at change as an opportunity. The other key element is that we act in groups because it can be overwhelming on our own. Ultimately a few of us got together and co-founded our local initiative, Transition Framingham. Look around, you might find a group in your town (Wayland, Ashland, Sudbury and more) or maybe you have the opportunity to start such an effort!

So in this etude I leave you with two lessons for the price of one.
  • What outlook have you adopted? Is it creating outcomes you like or behaviors you'd like to change?
  • How can we return to a stewardship relationship with the Earth we all call home?

Alexander Volfson, a humanist and Earth-ist, loves finding way to bring folks together toward sustainable lifestyles. When he's not fixing thing (from appliances to bicycles to computers) or planting them (for a permaculture designed garden), he's biking somewhere or learning something new. Alex is one of the founding organizers of the Framingham Sierra Club and Transition Framingham.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 20 - When the Land is Allowed to Rest

Photos by Robyn Bernstein, text by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

The sabbatical year, or shmita (meaning 'release') is the seventh year of the seven year agricultural cycle described in the Torah and applying to the Land of Israel. During the shmita year, the land lies fallow, debts are forgiven, and all of creation is allowed to rest.

In this country, land set aside as conservation land is allowed to rest for long periods of time. Such land opens up for us many wonders that we might otherwise miss.

These are images from our Shavuot hike at the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wachusetts Meadow Sanctuary.

Red Eft Salamander or Newt

Milk snake

The year 5775, beginning on Rosh HaShanah 2014, marks the beginning of the next Sabbatical Year. During this year, according to Jewish Law in the Land of Israel, debts are to be forgiven, agricultural land is to lie fallow, private lands become public, stored food and perennial harvests are to be redistributed to all. How can thinking about shmita change our thinking and our world? How can we use this year of 5774 to prepare us to observe shmitah? For resources to help your thinking, check out The Shmitah Project.
Robyn Bernstein is the President of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, a music therapist, and an active member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen (AJR '05) is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA (, a congregation that holds services outdoors all year long. She is also a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 19 - The Nature of Quiet

by Joel Wool

The blood is thrumming through my veins as, once again, Saturday, I wake up with the buzz of the week still driving my heart and mind, a sense of rush and to-do crowding out any notion of rest. A glass of water on the windowsill, dappled with light, catches the shifting beams of sunrise as I reach out to recharge my body, lukewarm moisture rolling on the tongue, and peer out the window, searching out the first signs of daybreak.

It’s quiet on the street, inner city, one or two neighbors of mine (Latino, Cape Verdean) walking to the subway to begin what’s likely their seventh consecutive day of work. The carefully manicured front yards they’ll pass by, beautiful gardens every four or five houses down the street, mark the homes of middle-aged Vietnamese residents, who hours later will be braving the heat to tend to their flowers.

If I want to pray in the language of my people, I’ll need to start walking in the early morning—not quite this early, but not so far ahead, up the hill and through Franklin Park, past the living zoo and the old, abandoned cages beyond that, past the Stadium to the bright oranges and blues of Jamaica Plain. The path is calm and welcoming enough, but often it isn't mine, I don’t make it out there.

More often, I’ll linger until, unable to comply with the urge to sleep, my body rustles out the front door, overfull key ring jangling in my pockets. At the top of the hill—another hill—the field overlooks the harbor, a rainbow painting by Coretta Scot King beautifully mars a utility building on the waterfront, a wind turbine sticks up from the electrical workers’ union hall and the air yields, swish by swish, to the rotation of the turbine blades.

Higher still, past the charter school, the old Church in Codman Square, my friend Paul—a faith leader in his neighborhood—is already outdoors, clearing garbage from the children’s playground he helped construct, moving furniture from house to house in the neighborhood, planning for the day’s activities with youth. Every few weeks, on my survey of green, vibrant spaces in the community I’ll catch him beaming like the sun itself, years of kind labor growing from the grounds which his hands have touched.

It is difficult to rest. The wind is whistling—I think about the dirty air drifting away from trucks on I-93, the toxins spewing out of smokestacks miles away where people no better-off than my neighbors burn up their lungs as they continue to burn coal for power. There will be a reckoning. But my body aches, and if anything can restore my being, it’s the sight of flowers spinning up from earth, the stretch of greenspace twisting between packed roadways and harried lives.

I can breathe deeply. There is such beauty, here.


Joel Wool is an environmental advocate from Dorchester and a native of the Bay State. By day, he works for the Boston office of a national nonprofit, Clean Water Action, addressing issues of energy and pollution. He spends his private living advancing efforts to bring healthy food to his neighborhood and working on community development projects. Joel is an alumnus of AmeriCorps and a graduate of the JOIN for Justice Fellowship.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 18 - Reflections on the Seasons of My Mourning

by Leslie Rosenblatt

Almost a year ago my husband Marty succumbed to the ravages of cancer, leaving us on a Fall evening in October. Although this event was not unexpected we had been hopeful that he would live longer with Hospice in place. We had no idea how very sick he was and how soon the end would come.

He came home from the hospital for the last time on Yom Kippur. Just days ago we had sat for a festive meal at our dining room table. Marty was anxious to teach Nina and Gideon our then 4 and a half year old twin grandchildren about those things that distinguished the Jewish Calendar from the more usual Gregorian calendar. “The Jewish Calendar was determined in large measure by the phases of the moon,” he said.  “Many of our holidays come with the full or new moon.” There it was, the reference to the outdoors, the place that Marty was most content. He held up the two calendars, side by side. The Gregorian Calendar had pictures of kittens and the usual names of the months, January, February March. The Jewish Calendar marked the year 5773 and its year began with Tishrei. “Here we are at the birthday of the world – the beginning of a new year.  What could four year olds know or understand of all this?  But we listened and we celebrated the joy of being together. We blessed the candles, the wine, the round challah and dipped apple into honey so that we might have a sweet year. These acts we did together. And then, as we had done for so many years, we ate a festive meal, brisket, potato pudding, fresh vegetables, fruit.

Marty died on Wednesday, October 3 and was laid to rest on October 7, a Sunday and erev of Succot. Thus the shiva was terminate by a festive holiday. How would I mourn? Two, perhaps three weeks later I decided to return to Hamlen Woods, a conservation area where we had walked when Marty was healthy and a place to which we returned as we thought he was healing. There I traced our steps, experienced the closeness of nature, the beautiful, radiant light of Fall and began to soothe my soul. I have walked almost every Wednesday, and other days as well. My walks are meditative, reflective and full of conversation. Each day I bring a stone, or pick one from my walk. I hold it in my hand, caress it, feel its sharp edges or smooth finish. It has traveled with me, through the beautiful light of Fall, the biting cold and snow of winter, the heat and humidity of summer and now again I can anticipate the Fall. Acorns fall from the oaks, an occasional golden leaf from the beech is there on the path, the Fall will come. I kiss the stone and place it on the marker “Given to the Sudbury Valley Trust in memory of Paul M. Hamlen – 1960.  I love you Marty, rest well.

This year has been a struggle – but I am strong. I will my endorphins to flow – those “feel good” neurotransmitters tide me though this time. I have found comfort in these familiar surroundings. I have found beautiful big birds here, the pileated woodpecker and the blue heron. Frogs shriek and turtles slip off logs, back into the pond. I have seen the beaver and mink. I have found the same friendly faces of dog-walkers, grandparents with grandchildren, even friends from the Temple. I take nothing for granted. All these have given me strength and confidence and hope to continue to live life with fullness and meaning.

                                    Ode to Hamlen Woods
The day is steamy, yet the pink water lilies stretch their petals toward the sun.
The pond is still, no cat’s paws cause the surface to ripple.
The heat has caused the edges to evaporate, leaving mud at its periphery.
Look carefully and you can see the bulging eyes of a green frog,
Move too quickly and with a shriek and a jump he has vanished.
The sky is clear and blue, a small cloud passes by,
A tree swallow catches its lunch – mid-air.
From a small bridge look down, there under a lily pad,
A fish takes refuge in the cool of the shade.
What a very glorious thing to be a part of this peaceful place.

Leslie Rosenblatt is wife, a mother, a grandmother. She is a registered nurse and patient advocate. She is a lover of nature and can be found outdoors most days, observing and enjoying nature.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 17 - Do Not Be Daunted

by Susie Davidson

Last week, my brother said to me, “Why do you spend so much time working for the environment and trying to change the world? It is hopeless.” He then cited an activist friend who, for decades, has been researching and trying to uncover the full story behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Despite a History Channel episode on this issue that he helped bring about, he has virtually gotten nowhere. This is also the case with much of his lifelong work to expose injustice, fight prejudice, and achieve equality for all people. “Jay,” he said to my brother, “I'm afraid all we can do is take care of ourselves and our own. I would advise that you follow that path.”

I had a ready answer for my brother: Rabbi Tarfon's dictum in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of The Fathers (2:16), which is one of the 63 short books that make up the Mishna, but the only one that does not deal with laws, but rather, moral insights: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” 'Nuff said. And my brother agreed.

I believe that Rabbi Tarfon's advice is so profound that indeed, he stated what most of us already intrinsically know. Still, it never hurts to hear it, especially at this time of soul-searching and new beginnings. It reaffirms what for many of us is a long struggle that, despite its frustrations, is still one we would never abandon.

In June, President Barack Obama exemplified this way of thinking when after years of fruitless efforts to pass climate change legislation, he actually stepped aside from the lawmaking body of America and took direct action on his own. And he did it forcefully, bypassing Congress with conviction and determination, with little regard as to how his words would be taken. “There is no time for meetings of the Flat Earth Society,” he pronounced. After laying out the price in lost lives and great governmental expense already affecting the world's population, which he said will only become higher, he invited us to work along with him. "If you agree with me, I'll need you to act," he said. "Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote."
And he also urged other, wealthy nations to join this “coordinated assault” on pollution. "The United States cannot do it by itself," he said to a group of young people in Johannesburg. "I expect it's going to be your generation that helps lead this, because if we don't, it's going to be your generation that suffers the most."

Obama then laid out new regulations on heat-trapping carbon dioxide that is released by new and existing power plants, as he described impending efforts to increase renewable energy production. These include raising efficiency levels on appliances and machinery and instituting protective measures for communities facing higher temperatures and rising waters.

And the striking part was that none of his plan's components require congressional approval.

Naysayers, even from within his own party, have complained and even threatened legal action, saying that his proposals will kill jobs, destroy the coal industry, and create other impediments to our usual, carefree way of life.

But Obama made his weekly radio and internet address and launched his campaign on his own because he knew it was the right thing to do, and indeed, the necessary thing to do. His was an ethical action that outweighed any risks.

"The question is not whether we need to act. The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late," Obama said.

Rabbi Tarfon would be nodding in understanding.


Susie Davidson, a local journalist, author, poet and filmmaker, is the coordinator of the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). She writes for the Jewish Advocate,, the Jewish Journal, the Jewish Daily Forward, and other media, and has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, the Boston Sunday Globe, and the Boston Herald. She coordinated the OccuPoetry series at Occupy Boston. She is also an active board member of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (AHT).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 16 - Memories for the New Year

by Carol Reiman

I think a lot about memory as I listen to my 93-year-old mother. Her short term memory has changed to the point at which she rarely remembers what or if she has eaten a few hours ago, but she thinks a lot about her childhood and into her married life 60 years ago. She says that she doesn't miss people so much but that she misses scenery.
While I know that my mother does miss people, nature has played a large role in her life. Often misunderstood and criticized at home, she found relief and comfort in the summer Catskills, able to explore by herself or sit on a porch in the company of her friend's dogs. Closer to the city, she remembers being at the beach, the women finding refreshment from the heat by splashing ocean water down their bathing suits. She says that she was touched by my father's concern over who would feed the pigeons in Central Park after a big snow.
My mother has passed along her love of the outdoors and exploring. To this day she notes how clouds resemble animals or faces. We have looked at the different types of dogs being walked on the street--the curly tail, the graceful walk, the intelligent eyes. We spent a lot of time outside during my childhood summers, enjoying trees, parks, the rivers, sunset at the beach, the bus/ferry/bus trip to the Tibetan museum set on a hill.
I do better with my mother when I remember how much we both love nature. Time with her often feels short. The crammed schedule of laundry/shopping/dishes while answering her repeated and incessant questions tries my patience and brings frustration. When I take time, however, to gently show her my outdoor photos, to let her talk about her associations, we are both comforted in our connection to each other and the worlds we have shared and continue to share.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not so different from the state in which my mother and I find ourselves. We all have a past, a present, and a future, however much of it we take in or know. The coming and going, the routine care of our physical needs, the frustration with obstacles (real, imagined, of our own making) bring us only so far. Remembering to remember, stopping to let something else take root, feeling who we are at our best. Knowing that time is short, we can yet again find comfort and strength to begin anew. Taking strength from the natural world, from our deepest inspiration, and from each other, we create the year anew. May we do a little better this year!

Carol Reiman enjoys the outdoors largely in the greater Boston area while traveling from/to home, library work, her mother, pets (care/sitting). She finds additional strength and comfort in other activities, including community in Temple B'nai Brith and Ma'yan Tikvah.

Earth Etude for Elul 15 - Caring for the Planet

by Rabbi Laurie Gold

“When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are; how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13)

I read this midrashic story only recently, decades after I was a teenager sitting in the pews at Temple Beth El of Great Neck. I was listening to Rabbi Jerome K. Davidson deliver his sermon. He was speaking about how it is against Jewish values to litter and to pollute the air and seas. He was disheartened whenever he saw people dumping the contents of their ashtrays onto the roads and sidewalks. Perhaps Rabbi Davidson was thinking about this Midrash when he said that Jewish ethics require that we do our part to take care of the earth. Maybe he was thinking of another Jewish textual basis of our obligation to care for the environment, for we find such bases in the Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Law Codes.

Jewish thinkers in every generation and in every part of the world have urged us to care for our planet. Why, then, don’t we remember? Why don’t we listen? There are many reasons. Some of us fall short of our obligation because we are forgetful, greedy or ignorant. Some of us miss the mark because we are lazy, oblivious or selfish.

Fortunately, at this time of year we are given the opportunity to ask ourselves tough questions, such as: How has my conduct caused damage to the planet? How can I change my behavior so that I stop hurting, and start healing, the earth? Can I encourage other people to make these changes too?

Changing our behavior isn’t always easy.  It takes time to undo bad habits and replace them with new ways of doing things.  All of us have been successful in modifying our behavior in the past. We can do it again. We can make the changes needed to help improve our world.  May we start today.  

Rabbi Laurie Gold was ordained by the Academy for Jewish Religion. She works for Chapin Home for the Aging in Jamaica, NY. Laurie also serves as rabbi for Holland America and Celebrity Cruise Lines. Laurie resides in Queens with her wife Nancy. They enjoy bike-riding, swimming, jogging and traveling together.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 14 - Seeing the Beauty

by Sandra Daitch

Last night I returned from a week-long trip out west with my brother and his family. My brother planned a wonderful itinerary and I was gifted with seeing and experiencing the magnificence and beauty in nature. I saw Muir Woods, Scenic Coastal Route 1 in California, the Grand Canyon, and the red hills/mountains, in Sedona. 

In these places in California and Arizona, it was easy to feel the awe and joy of the universe, and now that I'm back home, in my apartment, with all my things taking up space, I feel more challenged to stay in touch with the beauty and spaciousness of the earth.

But even with the heat and high humidity, it's worth shifting some of my attention from the discomfort of the heat and the tasks that need to be done to the beauty of the earth.

Looking outside my bedroom window, on a very hot humid day, I see the familiar beautiful large tree with leaves and branches moving in a gentle wind. I've lived here for over 15 years and always thought the tree was a maple, but in looking at the leaves now, I realize it's not. I'm not sure what it is, so I'm excited to have a chance to learn something new about this familiar lovely tree friend.

I've been away and my garden has lots of weeds. I can turn away with displeasure, or I can choose to appreciate the fertility of the soil that allows those weeds to grow. Some even have flowers. What is it about weeds that gives them a bad name? They are wild, uncultivated beauty-the gifts that come without asking. Perhaps, it's just a matter of perspective?

Looking out through the window of my study, I see a number of trees and bushes in the neighborhood. I'm enjoying the variety of hues of green, and the distant tree with purple leaves-maybe a red maple? I'm also enjoying the shadows that shift under the tree closest to my view. Oh, there are also houses and several telephone wires outside the window, and I ask myself how to see the beauty in them. A thought occurs that I can use the wires to look at slices of the scenes-looking at the scene between each two wires. There are lots of options, if I pause and ask what's possible in each situation. And I actually like the colors of the white and red houses within view.

There is so much beauty and good in the world, and, I get caught up in my daily chores and issues and forget to notice and appreciate the good and beautiful that's in my life. Going on vacation to beautiful spots in nature is a reminder to RETURN (t’shuvah) to a practice of regularly taking a stance of gratitude, awe, and/or appreciation for our many gifts.


Sandra Daitch lives and works in Arlington, MA, where she has a private practice as a Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. She offers Massage classes and private instruction for individuals and couples and teaches Infant Massage. Additionally, Sandra is a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader and enjoys leading laughter events in the Greater Boston area. HoHo! HaHaHa! Sandra has a small organic garden, loves to walk in all habitats of nature, and enjoys looking at the trees outside her windows. Her many other interests include doing crafts, singing, and dancing, especially English Country, Sacred Circle and Authentic Movement.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 13 - Resistance

by Lois Rosenthal

There is resistance to the waning of the year
These late summer days of afternoon warmth
Sun’s glare softened by a chill
A bit of orange creeps in to the solar yellow

Fall is almost upon us, Elul is here
Time to think about wrapping up this old year
And stepping into the next

There is resistance

Remember last year’s beginning?
The intentions, the clarity of changes to make
The possibilities of bringing G-d into one’s life
The realizations of what path to follow

Now we have questions to answer.
What happened to those efforts?
Some fruitful, some forgotten
Others too simplistic or too hard
Perhaps there were some moments of contact with the divine
And other moments so very human

Resistance expects an inner voice
To answer with a list of shortcomings

Yet Elul is a tender month, and guides us
To approach the new year with appreciation for the old
Appreciation of every mindful effort
And then to build on what has been done
Repair the weak spots

And keep building


Lois Rosenthal is a member of Temple Tifereth Israel in Winthrop, MA. In addition to participating in Shabbat services, she works with Hebrew School students, prepares students for Bat/Bar Mitzvah, and regularly gives divrei Torah. Previously, she was an academic in the sciences.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 12 - The Season of Change

by Rabbi Howard Cohen

Fall is the season of change. Leaves turn colors, days grow shorter, and birds begin to migrate. Animal fur grows thick; layers of fat are laid in.  Water warmed all summer by the sun slowly begins to sink to the bottom of the lake and displaces the colder less dense water.  Everywhere you turn, change is in the air.

When I think of the high holy days I think of change.  Our ancestors called this change teshuvah. Tradition understands teshuvah to mean repentance, which in turn implies contrition or regret for past wrongs.  It also generally assumes a personal commitment to change.  Change as a corrective activity has its place.  In fact, some say the fundamental difference between humans and animals (I think this really means all of nature) is that we alone have the ability to reflect upon, and review, our past actions; and presumably change.  In religious terms this means that we alone have the potential to do teshuvah. I suppose this is true and in any case it doesn’t hurt to believe it is so. 

However, what is true is this: change is fundamental to all of nature and despite a inclination to deny it this includes us, for we are no more or less a part of nature than anything else in the universe.  Change in nature is neither good, nor bad.  It simply is and that is enough. Our liturgy and rabbis are steadfast in urging us to “do teshuvah” this time of year.  It is good we are told, to reflect upon our past actions, seek forgiveness and commit to refining our behavior.  I wish our tradition put less emphasis on change as a corrective action.  I think this just makes it that much harder to embrace change in our lives as something healthy and natural.


Howard Cohen is rabbi at Congregation Shirat Hayam, Marshfield MA. He is the Senior Guide/Owner of Burning Bush Adventures, Co-Rabbi Congregation Beth Israel, and 1st Lt. Bennington Village Fire Department. He lives in Bennington, VT on Barefoot Farm.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 11 - A Thorny Dilemma

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

My younger son left on July 16 to take a job in Israel. As he was packing, he asked me when would I visit him. I choked out the words, "I'm not going to visit you."

Actually, I would love to visit, see what his life is like in Tel Aviv, and spend time with him. Yet, I'm afraid my trip would destroy his future. If I visit, flying 12,000 miles round-trip, my share of the plane's carbon emissions would be 3 metric tons. The worldwide per capita target for carbon emissions, if we are to control climate change, is 2 tons per year. I would exceed my annual goal in one trip. How could I do tshuvah for such huge emissions expended to satisfy my desire to see him?

Absurdly, I know one person's trip doesn't affect the climate, but our collective choices as a nation do. So I wrestle with the moral issue involved in visiting my kid, knowing my personal decision is meaningless.

Crazy? The dilemma gets thornier because my older son will soon become a father. What will the world be like as my grandchild reaches adulthood? How can I justify taking a trip to visit one son, if it will injury my other son's child?

While wrestling with this, I read America's Climate Century by Iowa Senator Rob Hogg in which he says, "I gave up air travel in 2002 for climate reasons." Flying, the most carbon intensive form of travel, releases carbon emissions in the upper atmosphere where they do more damage than emissions at ground level. Hogg emphasizes we don't have to eliminate air travel, but we ought to minimize it. He also argues that every time we decide to change our lifestyle for the sake of the climate, we should write to our elected representatives because they need to know their constituents want climate action.

Publicize our personal acts of repentance to guide societal repentance? A new type of communal Vidui?


Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA with her husband Alan. She teaches Hebrew Bible to adults, is co-steerer of Minyan Shaleym, and volunteers with Citizens Climate Lobby. Check out her web page at

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 10 - Ready for Withering Flowers

by Sarah Chandler

I'm familiar with your story
This gratitude you cultivate helps ground you
And yet, do you really deserve to ask for more?
The answer to this question will give you the balance you seek

Sometimes you need a reminder that we already said farewell to the month of Av
As it is written in Job: "Man born of woman is short of days, and fed with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers, and vanishes, like a shadow." (Job 14:1–2)
In Elul, you are instructed to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the flowers without worry of their withering
Since t'shuva/repentance is the name of the game, instead of fearing change we welcome it in

Every morning the shofar calls you to t'shuva/repentance
Are you listening?
How might you be more awake in order to hear its sound?
Allow the August blossoms a chance to bring you to the presence you desire.

Step 1 - gather flower petals into a large bowl- ideally four colors and four different species. Bowl is ideally wood but can also be glass or metal.
In New England this is a great time of year to find a diversity of lilies, Queen Anne's lace, chicory and aster.
Step 2 - fill your bowl with water covering the petals - ideally spring water but tap water is also fine. The chance to visit a river, lake or small spring will only add to the ritual
Step 3 - ASK FOR SOMETHING. This is for real. If you're going to open up enough to do real t'shuvah/repentance this year, you have to acknowledge that you are not yet whole - that there is something about yourself you want to change, or at least cultivate. A useful formula is "May I be…" or "Let me be…"
Step 4 - Pour the entire bowl of petals and water over your head and proclaim: "Horeini Ya Darkechaהוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ - reveal to me your path" - Ps. 27:11. This is both the sealing of our request and also a letting go of wanting only one thing.

Based on the teachings of the Eish Kodesh, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira

Sarah Chandler serves as the Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practice for Hazon's Adamah Farm at Isabella Freedman. She is a Jewish experiential educator, community activist, and spiritual leader. She has her M.A. in Jewish Communal and Experiential Education and Hebrew Bible from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Sarah is a student of Kohenet: The Hebrew Priestess Institute, a graduate of Institute for Jewish Spirituality's Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training, and serves on the Green Hevra Stewardship Committee.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 9 - Calling For This Year’s Blossoms and Weeds

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

This year I decided to take photos of my garden during each of the different seasons, and it is quite amazing to see the development of the various perennials and how the overall face of the garden alters. It is quite astonishing, too, to find flowers growing in places we never planted them – including a beautiful white hydrangea bush that seems to have come from an underground shoot far from its parent plant!! But weekly I also find certain weeds appearing, which I also did not plant nor desired them to grow.  All this only reminds me that as much as I MAY THINK that I am planning and planting this garden, it really is a masterpiece of our Creator, and that I am just a participant in this work.

As we begin the month of Elul with our thoughts turned towards the upcoming High Holy Days, we bring forth our own blooms and weeds of this year, some of which we may be surprised to find emerging in the patterns of our behavior, our speech, and our thoughts. Have we unknowingly cultivated these? Which ones do we want to encourage and support? Which ones do we want to cut back or eliminate? And as we recite the Psalms in the morning prayers of Elul, especially Psalm 27, we are reassured that our relationship to HaShem is still intact, that the work of Elul, as Rabbi Michael Strassfeld puts it. is “to recapture a sense of self-worth based on being cherished by the Holy One “and that knowing this we are then ready to not only look at our gardens but also do the pruning, trimming, and replanting for the next year.

We humans, who are God’s appointed stewards over this earth, let us not forget who our real Partner is, who is keeping things going here, year after year. Let us align ourselves to do all that we can to live up to the great gifts that God has given us, and bring this consciousness of God’s awesomeness to all that we do:

“You take care of the earth and irrigate it;
You enrich it greatly,
With the channel of God full of water;
You provide grain for humans;
For so do You prepare it,
Saturating its furrows,
Leveling its rides,
You soften it with showers,
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your beauty;
Fairness is distilled in Your paths;
The pasturelands distill it;
The hills are girded with joy;
The meadows are clothed with flocks;
The valleys mantled with grain;
They raise a shout, they break into song.” (Psalm 65:10-14)
Rabbi Dorit Edut was ordained by the Academy of Jewish Religion and lives in Detroit, MI, where she teaches and does s rabbinic counseling at the lay-led Downtown Synagogue, the only active synagogue left in the urban center of Detroit. She also heads the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network which works to uplift the youth and their families in the city, and builds bridges with the suburban interfaith community through numerous interfaith services, cultural events, and social action projects. Married to a now-retired Israeli landscaper, Dorit enjoys gardening, hiking, playing piano, and studying Talmud via telephone sessions with AJR rabbinic friends near and far.