Thursday, September 4, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 10 - Topsy Turvy Bus

by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

The world seems a little topsy turvy these days. A plane missing. 223 girls kidnapped in Nigeria. 3 teen agers kidnapped and murdered in Israel. A plane shot out of the sky. Israel in Gaza. Rockets in Israel. Too many children killed in the streets of Chicago. Too many deaths. When does it stop?

In the Fox River Valley, Illinois, after a punishing winter of epic proportions, it is nice to be outside. Six congregations, part of the nascent Prairie Jewish Coalition, sponsored the Topsy Turvy bus.

What is a topsy turvy bus? It is a school bus, bright yellow, with half of another school bus on top, welded together and running entirely on used food oil. It is a project of Hazon to draw attention to climate change.

Draw attention it does. You have never seen anything like it. Part school bus, part RV, part camper, five  people (and two support staff) are driving this bus from Colorado to Isabella Friedman Retreat Center in Connecticut.  Inside the bus there are sleeping quarters, a kitchen, storage space and even a library!

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s commissioned the bus. The first tour raised awareness of wasteful spending at the Pentagon. Maybe this Topsy Turvy bus can bring peace! The second tour promoted the White House Organic Farm project. So it makes sense that on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, my congregation, Kneseth Israel, and Pushing the Envelope Farm have come together to host this event.

The residents, drivers, educators engaged all ages who turned out. There were yummy blueberry smoothies made by a bicycle blender. Even better vegan chocolate chip cookies made with three different models of solar cookers. This led to an interesting debate about whether you could use a solar cooker to cook a chicken for Shabbat.

The solar cooking and the bicycle smoothies remind me that I want to install a solar ner tamid, eternal light at our synagogue.  The brainchild of Rabbi Everett Gendler, one of the first Jewish environmentalists, Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley installed the first one in 1978. It raises awareness about the power of the sun and the need to protect our environment, to be caretakers with G-d, in this glorious creation..

People could tour Pushing the Envelope Farm, owned by Rabbi Fred Margulies and his wife Trisha who built the farm from spare acreage on their Continental Envelope Company land in Geneva, IL. They are using it primarily as a teaching farm, with programs for schools, synagogues, churches and scout troops. With 14 acres, there is an organic CSA, various crops and farm animals.  A portion of everything they grow goes to the nearby Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The kids who came loved playing with the chickens and the goats. They loved making their own smoothies and solar cooked cookies. I loved seeing the signs in English, Hebrew, Spanish. And while the bees are critically important, to sustainability and our celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, I gave them a wide berth as I hiked by.
But maybe what I loved most is how this Topsy Turvey bus got all of us—from six congregations and from two years old to eighty, outside on a beautiful, summer day. It would seem that the world is not so Topsy Turvey. Maybe there can even be peace.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, IL, and the author of A Climbing Journey Toward Yom KippurShe blogs as the Energizer Rabbi, at

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