Friday, September 20, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 21 - A Little Omer on the Prairie

by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

I live on the prairie. In the Prairie State of Illinois. On a summer’s day with large clouds towering over the cornfields, it is spectacular. Awe-inspiring. I remember to be grateful.

For several decades, I have followed the practice of Rabbi Everett Gendler of planting winter wheat, rye or barley at Sukkot and harvesting it during the counting of the Omer, the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot. I have done this with generations of Hebrew School students and their parents. It roots the Jewish year in the agricultural cycle. It is concrete, hands-on, project based learning. And it is fun.

After celebrating Shavuot, the pilgrimage festival of “First Fruits”, we plow that winter crop under and plant our community garden, fulfilling the mitzvah of leaving the corners of our field for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, the most marginalized amongst us. We send weekly harvests to our local soup kettles who appreciate the fresh vegetables. Tomatoes, peppers, radishes, lettuce, spinach, kale. And surprise, Brussel sprouts. It turns out kids love eating Brussel sprouts if they grow them. Right off the stalk. Raw.

Every Friday night, as part of Kabbalat Shabbat, just ahead of singing Or Zarua, “Light is sown, planted, seeded for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart” I give the CKI Farm Report. We have had students who have never gotten their hands dirty. Never played in the mud. Never been to the grocery store and didn’t know that tomatoes grow on a vine. They begin to see the connection between Judaism and the earth. There is a deep spirituality in this practice.

In all the decades, this project works. We plant those seeds of wheat, rye or barley at Sukkot. It begins to grow and then it lays fallow over the winter. Then, just when the snows begin to melt, little shoots come up again. Magic. Each week we cut a little bit more and watch it grow. And we are grateful. By Shavuot it is fully headed out. Beautiful grain. Not enough to make bread or as some adults have suggested bourbon, but enough to decorate the sanctuary for Shavuot and receiving the Torah anew.

It has always struck me as a little bit of a waste. All that energy goes into growing that grain. The sun’s energy. The earth’s nutrients and the people’s work. This year, instead of plowing it under, we harvested the grain and took it to friends who own a dairy farm. Happy cows! Happy rabbi!

Yet, for two recent back-to-back years, we had a crop failure. Not a single stalk of grain, not a blade of grass. No one is sure why. Apparently there may have been a national issue of blight with the seed. We may have planted too late. The winter may have been too harsh. The spring too hot. Too wet. Too dry. It was a teachable moment. Instead of harvesting omer, we harvested 50 photos of joy. 

I am starting my eighth year at this congregation. For this coming Sukkot we are beginning to discuss whether we should rest the land or rotate the crops or make sure we plant for the sake of pekuach nefesh, saving a life, as we feed the most marginalized amongst us. I don’t know what we will decide, yet. 

However, as we enter the new Jewish year, I am astounded by the beauty of the prairie around me, and pledge to protect it. 

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, IL. She has become an urban farmer as part of teaching and leading this congregation. Her husband is proud of his dairy farming degree and experience. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi, and is the author of two books. One of the 13 Attributes of the Divine and preparing for the High Holidays. The other is being released this summer on Hope for Survival for domestic violence and sexual abuse in the Jewish community.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 20 - Past and Present Pain

by Rabbi Katy Allen

What if...the feelings we have when we pass through...zones of destruction are actually arising from the land itself? What if it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches—the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owls, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings? What if we are not separate from the world at all? It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses. What if this is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeping through us? We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wider self....Our souls are connected with the soul of the world, and it is through this bond that we acknowledge our interconnected lives.....The cumulative grief of the world is overwhelming. – Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
I have long struggled with PTSD as the result of childhood trauma. And I have long worked to develop coping skills to prevent myself from being triggered and returning emotionally to that time.

Recently, I've realized something deeper. Part of my journey to healing is about recognizing those triggers that are from current traumatic events happening in the world that I – like all of us – read or hear or see about. Part of my task is to differentiate between what is imagined and what is real.

It is a painful journey to allow into our consciousness the reality of what is happening in and to our world, to recognize that the delights of the planet in which we grew up are no more and will not be again, to know that more devastation is coming today and tomorrow and the next day, to hear the next threat to our democracy and our stability, to wonder who and what will succumb next.

The pain I've felt from awareness of the current status of our nation and our planet has touched and triggered old pain. I am slowly learning to separate them. This can save me from returning to the past, but it can't save me from feeling the pain of the present. Allowing myself to feel that and coping with it requires different but related skills.

Living with the pain of the present and the corresponding envisioning of the future requires – for me – a profound acceptance of what is happening. There are no magic bullets to save us and all living beings from ourselves and our lack of understanding and caring. Disasters are bound to increase. Devastation is now the norm. Both in the human world and beyond. Both in the political realm and in the natural realm. It requires not being surprised by the next horrific event. It requires acknowledging that injustice and inequality abound. It requires, for me, deep in my heart, knowing that whatever will happen will happen, and that my job is is to keep on living, keep on loving, keep on growing, keep on giving to the best of my ability, keep on holding others to the best of my ability, keep on offering forth something deeper of my soul, and recognizing my limitations.

That is my task in life, this Elul, and throughout the year, for as Rabbi Salanter teaches us, we must start to prepare for next Yom Kippur at the end of havdalah this Yom Kippur. T'shuvah is a never-ending task.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. Starting in September, she will be teaching an online class: Loss and Transformation: Maintaining Hope when Optimism is Elusive through JCAN. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 19 - Teshuvah in the Desert

by Rabbi Mike Comins

In order to acquire wisdom and Torah, one must make oneself hefker, open and abandoned, like this desert. (BaMidbar Rabbah 1)
Of the many reasons our tradition offers for why the Torah was given at Sinai, one is particularly relevant for Elul. The desert is an optimal environment to do Teshuvah. More than that. To reach our full potential, we are advised to become like the desert.

Why does the desert have the power to change us?

First and foremost, the desert is a dangerous place. Like Hagar* or Elijah**, you can easily lose the way, finish your water and find yourself facing collapse in a few short hours. Or you might fall prey to desert bandits. To be in the desert is to lack personal security.

Some places are hot, some are cold. The desert is both—at the same time! Since there are seldom clouds to block the sun during the day or hold the heat at night, and moderating oceans are far away, thirty and forty degree temperature swings are the norm. The word for the desert is extreme. If the day is pleasant, the night is too cold. If the night is temperate, the daytime heat will melt your candy bar, and perhaps your equilibrium. Light is too intense for comfort. The sun blinds, dehydrates, kills. You’ll never see a Bedouin resting in the sun.

In the desert, you get down to essentials. Water, shade and a bit more water. The body wants little food. A heavy pack draws moisture from your body, which evaporates so fast, you might not notice that you are sweating.

The desert, in short, is a place where people are tested physically, and thus spiritually. If you don’t know which canyons still have pools from the last rain or the secret water holes of the desert people, hope and confidence evaporate.

The desert can be mentally trying even when the body is not under duress. Quite often the horizon is a straight line. Indistinguishable wadis***, endless plains, the hot wind.Nothing to cling to. Nowhere to go.

Infinite space; infinite fear.

* * *

Infinite possibility. The only center is the center within, and so one looks inward. The desert is a place to become as straight as the horizon, as sharp as a thorn. Learn to live with little. Learn to live in light so bright that nothing in your soul can remain hidden. Learn to live at risk.

The contract reads: courage required.

No exceptions.

* * *

The truth is that life everywhere is just as extreme as it is in the desert. Only we do our best to believe that it isn’t, and in civilization, we can easily delude ourselves into thinking that we’re getting away with it.

The desert does not indulge those who cannot tell reality from a mirage. Take your rationalizations to the desert and they will lead you to your death. Pretense is not an option.

Teshuvah requires honesty. The desert demands it.

The desert is one of God’s most precious gifts.

*Genesis 16:6-7, 21:14
**I Kings 19:4
***Arabic for “dry riverbed.”

A yeshiva-trained, Israeli-ordained Reform Rabbi and a licensed Israeli desert guide, Mike Comins is founder of the TorahTrek Center for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality. Find resources and writings at He is author of A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism and Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do about It (Jewish Lights Publishing)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 18 - Elul: What I Hope to Be

by Joan Rachlin

The temperatures, sun, moon, breezes, trees, grasses, plants, and flowers all signal that change is in the air. We’re moving into a new season and a new month, Elul, with its promise of transformation and its possibility of renewal.

Elul is when we can hit the reset button and begin again. Sounds easy, but we cannot appeal to the “better angels of our nature” without engaging in Teshuvah, or “return.” There are many interpretations of what “return” means in this context but, in the end, each of us must choose our own definition and destination. I am anchoring my journey of Teshuvah to nature, for it is where my soul is most whole and energized.

Our Torah tells us that humankind came from the earth...Adamah. Long before I knew of that sacred teaching, though, I had already formed a primal connection to nature. As a child growing up in Florida, the beach, ocean, and horizon came to represent freedom, joy, and awe. Their beauty, vastness, and mystery brought me as close to God as I’ve ever been and it is thus the place to which my soul is forever tied.

There’s a Niggun that’s sung in many congregations during High Holiday services. Each time I hear it I’m hypnotically lulled back to the gentle waves at the seashore:
Return again, return again
Return to the land of your Soul

Return to who you are, return to what you are

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again.         --Shlomo Carlebach

Spending time in the landscapes I love calms, nourishes, and strengthens my soul, but those places are fighting for their very lives. How can I find my way back to the land of my soul when that land is burning, cracking, flooding, boiling, freezing, and being battered by elements and plagues of biblical proportions?

With thanks to Sheridan Brown, 
who has turned his yard into a butterfly, bee, and bird sanctuary.

Many Rabbis tell us it’s not enough to talk about Torah, we have to “Be Torah.” Similarly, it’s not enough to talk about the environment, we have to “Be Environmentalists.” So as I embark on this return to the land of my soul, my priority will be doing what I can to make it right with the earth. I want to evaluate everything I buy, consume, and use in terms of its environmental impact.

Another part of my commitment involves reaching out to others—without judgment — and asking if they might consider incorporating this kavanah, this intention to help heal the earth, into their lives? Protecting and preserving the earth is a daunting task, so most people surrender to either paralysis or despair. As with all long journeys, it helps to begin with small steps and to consider them in concentric circles:

—How can I personally Be more of an environmental steward?

—How can my family or living unit Be less wasteful? 
—How can I influence my friends, neighbors, and co-workers to Be more involved? 
—How can I help my city or town Be more energy efficient? 
—How can I help my state and country Be a positive leader in environmental action?

This is my kavanah. With commitment and action, change is possible. Be hopeful! Be involved! Be a change agent! It’s Elul. 

Joan Rachlin, JD, MPH, is the executive director emerita of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, an international bioethics organization. She has also practiced health, criminal, and civil rights law. Joan has been involved with the women’s health organization, Our Bodies Ourselves, for 45 years and served as its Board chair. An active member of Temple Israel, Boston, she serves on the Leadership Council, TI Cares, and is the founder and co-chair of its the Green Team. Joan is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Higher Ground Initiative, a coalition of reform congregations working on climate change mitigation education and policy. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 17 - Slow Down

by Nyanna S. Tobin
Slow food folding like a snail over her slime.
       I remember my Dad in his slow down days.
              Even his deep lined smile crept slowly over his face.
                      A thought made Jack Benny sound like a whirled-gig.

Perhaps my Dad was waiting for his angel,
       While she was waiting for him to scream her name.
              And he never did. 

He seemed to be a life-long prisoner of Fear.
       But my escape from that realm,
             Invited me to gaze around the corner
                   To play hide-and-seek at dawn with Curiosity.

We no longer need to scream.           .
      My older self carries little green hearing aides.
             Sometimes I see the bend of a leaf Curiosity flies by.
                  Today, she, like Tinkerbell, is silent.

Nyanna is a Social and Climate Activist, Teller of True Stories, and Woodland Singer. She lives in Acton, MA, with Ziggy Dog. She is a proud Charter Member of JCAN.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 16 - Prayer for the Two-Leggeds

by Daniel Kieval

This is the time for us to finally come home
This is the time to know that we are not alone
To find our selves in a deep ancient web

This is the time to be embraced by the land
Kissed by oceans, taken by the hand
Rooted down into this deep ancient web

Receive us now
Retrieve us now
Redeem us now

This is the way that we awake from a dream
Wander out into life's ever-flowing stream
Listen now to the deep ancient web

This is the place that gave birth to us in love
We are the children that Earth is dreaming of
Weaving us into her deep ancient web

Receive us now
Reweave us now
Redeem us now

Daniel Kieval is a nature educator and musician living in western Massachusetts. Hear more music at

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 15 - T’shuvah is an answer.

by Andy Oram

At High Holidays we speak intently and repeatedly of t’shuvah (תשובה), by which we mean repentance or returning to God. T'shuvah does mean "return", but it also means "answer." We have to answer both God's and a world that is dying before our eyes.

How can we answer? How can we approach the High Holidays with the urgency demanded us of from the modern world? In these times of imminent destruction, we also seek an answer to our plea for deliverance. And when seeking answers, Jews turn back to the riches of Torah.

The word t'shuvah derives from the simple foundation "shuv" (שׁוּב: again, or going back).So I used an online concordance to find significant events marked by variants of "shuv". 

Adam and Eve have just been expelled from Eden when God lets them know that their free ride is over. God says in Genesis 3:19: "By the sweat of your brow will you eat bread until your return (shuvkha, שובך) to the ground; for out of it you were taken." This reminds us of two key stances in regard to our spiritual connection to the environment: first, we are responsible for sustaining life, and second, we are inseparable from the Earth.

Exodus 14:26-28 describes the astonishing end of the Pharoah's persecution of the Israelites. After parting the Red Sea, Moses causes the waters to return (וישב, vyashav) and drown the pursuing troops. The root shuv, appearing three times in these three verses, reminds us that while destroying the oppressors and saving the Israelites, the return of the waters restores the natural state of the world.

This root appears also in Exodus 24:14, as Moses carries out the crowning achievement of his life, ascending Sinai to receive the commandments from God. He leaves his flock with Aaron, who will supposedly handle any matters that arise, and takes off with Joshua, telling everyone to wait for them to return (נשוב, nashuv). The problem is that he will not return in time to reassure them of God's presence, and with the help of Aaron they create the Golden Calf. This is a reminder to leaders to follow through on their promises. If you raise expectations and do not satisfy them in a timely manner, you will lose your followers.

I will finish with one occurrence outside the five books of Moses, in 2 Chronicles 32:25. Hezekiah, King of Judah, receives many good wishes from neighboring peoples but fails to reply (השיב, heshiv) because his heart has swelled. This brings down God's wrath for reasons not explained here, but we get the back story (pun intended) in Isaiah 39 and II Kings 20. It seems that the sin of pride came on Hezekiah when visited by emissaries from the rising imperial power Babylonia. He takes them into the Temple and shows them its fine riches, a lapse of crass materialistic boastfulness. For this, Hezekiah receives a tongue-lashing and chilling prophecy from Isaiah. By devaluing the Temple's holy mission and reducing it to a showcase for his wealth, Hezekiah brings on disaster.

Thus, the Bible has answers for those who want to address our environmental crisis. We must recognize our ties to the Earth and our need to keep it productive, smash oppressors in order topreserve its natural state; keep our commitments to those who depend on us; and avoid a fixation on material goods. Do these things, and your t'shuvah can help save the world.

Andy Oram is a writer and editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. Andy currently specializes in open source and data analytics, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Andy participates in the Association for Computing Machinery's policy organization, USTPC. He also writes for various web sites about health IT and about issues in computing and policy, and has published short stories and poetry.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 14 - Inner and Outer Climate Change

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

It’s been a year of change. Not just a move, but a move to a new climate zone and a very new culture. I moved from outside Chicago to Durham, NC, the South. The trees here are glorious – pines everywhere, wisteria in April blooming in the wild, crepe myrtle in vivid fuchsia and pale pastels just now. It’s hot. Average days are in the 90s and one can almost swim in the humidity. A long growing season brought daffodils in February, while I just set my second planting of pole beans. I’ve been graced by many a critter – my welcome basket was in the form of a 10-inch turtle on my front steps. I see many toads, frogs and praying mantises. The hawk that sits in my front tree visits regularly; as do so many species of birds that I hear and see living within the forest in my backyard. In a Dorothy moment, I would say to Toto: “We are definitely not in Kansas (Chicago) anymore.”

A local toad finds a home in the pot of a rooting
African violet leaf (yes, the leaf got displaced).
Being in this location with so much nature around me is a balm down deep. Yet I have already lived through two hurricanes. Then a snowstorm that brought more inches in one day than the annual average. The heat is often unbearable. Every day I see more forest being cleared for new townhomes. We live within climate change.

So what to do? Well, I plant. Everywhere I can I plant food and flower, vegetable, herb, fruit and tree. I compost, building back some of which I take away. I teach this to expand the vision, as well as the healing. But I also worry. I meet many 20s and 30s individuals who are reconfiguring their goals expecting our Earth to die off. Or at least to go through a major shift. I am reminded of the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow,” with most of the northern hemisphere winding up covered in ice.

Teshuvah is internal and external. Where inside are we feeling laid waste? Where are our inner tornadoes and hurricanes? Where might we be cutting ourselves off from our own resources? What work do we need to do to replenish the inner landscape? As we explore the inner, so too we look out. Is there an individual act of repair for us to take on? Is it time to join a communal program? Are we to put on our activism boots and start a project, or advance one that speaks to us? How do we pass the word to others? In the words of Hillel, the time is now.

It may seem that the inner answers are easier to address than those pertaining to the Earth outside of us. But perhaps they are mere reflections of one another. As we heal within, so too without. The reverse is true as well. May our work this Elul season bless us with these healings in abundance. May we simultaneously hold hands with others around the globe, reminding ourselves that we are one Earth family.

© 2019 Rabbi Robin Damsky

Rabbi Robin Damsky is the founder of In the Gardens, a nonprofit bringing edible organic garden design and meditation practice to people in food insecure communities and beyond. She is the rabbi of Temple Israel in Miller Beach, IN, boasting a 41-plot community garden. Robin offers scholar-in-residence opportunities combining garden design, contemplative practice and eco social justice. She is the upcoming co-chair of Hazon’s Rabbinical Council. Kenissa has identified her as an innovator redefining Jewish life. Robin is a graduate of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program and their Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training. She was ordained by the Ziegler School at AJU and earned her Masters in Jewish education at JTS. She has a BFA in dance from Ohio University and has been a medical massage therapist since 1977. Robin lives in Durham, NC. She is the very proud mother of Sarah., Instagram: inthegaredensIL

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 13 - Spiritual Lessons from ‘God’s Art Museum ‘

by Rabbi Dorit Edut
Ma rabu ma’asecha, Adonai; kulam b’hochma aseeta; malu ha-aretz kinyanecha - How numerous are Your works, O Lord; with wisdom You fashioned them all; the earth abounds with Your creations! 

These words from the weekday morning blessings before the Shema prayer, were on my lips constantly as I traveled through "God’s Art Museum" in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon this summer. At every turn was another gasp at an amazing sight – truly photographers’ and artists’ paradise! Using only wind, water, red sandstone, white limestone, and the shifting plates under the surface of our earth, God molded canyons, mountains, rivers, and rock formations that are among the most breath-taking on our planet. Trails take you so close you can touch these gorgeous masterpieces without a guard telling you not to do so – and yet you are awed by their other-worldliness. No wonder other people gave them Biblical and spiritual names – such as “The Patriarchs”, the “The Virgin River”, “Angels Landing”, and the “West Temple”. It is here that the Anasazi Indians and their descendants worshipped the Earth, Sun, Sky, and Water some fifteen hundred years ago. And here it was that in this ancient place of beauty, I was inspired to think of what was meant by praising God’s “wisdom” for creating such places.

First, it seems like a great idea to bring all this beauty to one place where many different people over the centuries could admire it and think about the One Creator of this Universe.

Second, people might begin to really comprehend that God also created great beauty and power in all living beings formed by God, and that this great variety of life is to be admired while our common origins are to be recognized, revered, and regenerated.

Third, in the presence of these magnificent sites, we experience our own humility, our gratefulness for these gifts, and our mission to preserve and protect the environments of our entire planet for all of them are interrelated.

Finally, the paths and roads leading into these parks had us all gazing and turning in every direction and, as we left, turning back for one last glance. We shall certainly look much more carefully at the pathways we have trod this past year and contemplate where we can apply what we have learned from the Divine Wisdom we perceived in the preciousness of this place and in all such places, and in all the different people we encounter in this place we call our earthly home.

Rabbi Dorit Edut ( AJR ‘06) is the head of the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network which is there to build a community that supports the families, children and individuals who live in the city of Detroit through strengthening their access to education, safety, health, culture and job opportunities.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 12 - Two Poems

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

Urban Garden

Urban garden
tiny patch of heaven
nestled amidst brick and stone;
kales and chards salute the sky
bok choy sentry elegant,
celery, parsleys hold court
while lettuce species dance,
each offering a breath of life
oxygen of garden’s greens
infuses air
lungs spared inhale

may urban gardens grace this world,
edible planted prayers of green
reviving life and city air;
urban garden
blessing ground and all

Urban garden
tiny patch of heaven
nestled amidst brick and stone;
kales and chards salute the sky
bok choy sentry elegant,
celery, parsleys hold court
while lettuce species dance,
each offering a breath of life
oxygen of garden’s greens
infuses air
lungs spared inhale

may urban gardens grace this world,
edible planted prayers of green
reviving life and city air;
urban garden
blessing ground and all

Seeding Our Future

Lentils, tiny seeds
vital mini spheres of life
sown power alternates
yielding nutrients
for health

Esau gave his kingdom
for a bowl of lentils
his decision
altered destiny--
red seeds cooked
were valued then…

Today might we exchange
destruction, greed, starvation
and extinction
for lentil fields
and humble bowls
of life
edible prayers of sustenance
for centuries to come

May lentils grace
our lives today
fields yielding
seeds of power
greening planet
saving earth
Elul’s lentil etude
for redemption
of our world

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a poetess, Clinical Psychologist, coach, 2nd generation holocaust survivor, hiker, dancer, walker, volunteer, lover of nature, gardens, wilderness, beach, ocean and mountains. Her work addresses issues of recovery, 2nd generation survivors, the natural world, gardens and harvests, life cycle issues, spiritual questing, social issues, community issues and personal requests. Her poems have been published and widely distributed in national and specific publications. She is a New York native and resident of new Hampshire. She frequents Long Beach and lives with her husband and two large rescue dogs at their camp in the White Mountains of N.H. and house near the ocean in Long Beach. She actively studies the mystical and esoteric aspects of Judaism and is a member of the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation and the Chavurah of Mount Washington Valley. She writes often and offers consultation upon request.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 11 - Return to Our Values

by Deb Nam-Krane

In 2017, I heard LaDonna Redmond, founder of the Campaign for Food Justice Now, speak at the Annual Gardener’s Gathering in Boston. An organizer working at the crossroads of food justice and racial equality, she laid out a familiar story: her child was allergic and/or sensitive to many foods, but to provide him with the food he needed, Redmond had to step out of her neighborhood because fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t available there. She started a community garden and cooperative, and each step in helping her family and community be healthier brought her up against the weight of the food system we all exist - and eat - in.

It was a relief to hear someone say that solving the built-in inequities of our food system wasn’t as simple as some food writers would have us believe. We are told by those trying to solve a problem in a short book or even shorter column that if we cooked from scratch, or followed the example of our great-grandparents (but I think they mean great-grandmothers), that we would all be so much healthier and happier. The relief was hearing another woman of color ask whose great-grandparents were really being held up as an example, and asking what other people in that generation were doing. Before we hearken back to this idyllic time, we need to ask whether we want to hold up as a model a system that required so many poor, usually non-white laborers to engage in low wage, back-breaking labor so other people could eat well, and while we’re grappling with that question, we need to step back and ask how we feel about the land this system was built on when we know that it was taken from other people.

There is no food justice to go back to, Redmond told her audience. We have to build it, and from the soil up.

I do not share this story to argue that “return” is irrelevant. On the contrary, I think it is necessary: We must return to the roots of our unjust food system so we can ask what it is we need to change. Who is it we want to feed? What is it we want to feed them? Who is it that will provide the work? How will we treat the land? 

Ultimately, what we need to return to are our values. L’ovda ul’Shomra is our reminder that we not only need to “till” the land we work, but “tend” to each other as well as the crops we bring forth. We need to honor these values as we create our new food system, and we need to return to it every season, at every meal, and every time we vote. 

Deb Nam-Krane is a writer, homeschooler, and master urban gardener in Boston-proper. A longtime member of Temple Sinai of Brookline, she has also worked with Beantown Jewish Gardens and the Jewish Climate Action Network planning teams.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 10 - Earth Mother

Carol C. Reiman

She holds us
in her arms,
charms us
with star sparkle
song of rippling water
over stone.

She tells us our story,
from deep
in the loam of her heart,
fed by
rains and heat, 
warmth, cold,
into the family
of breezes, currents, creatures—
those like us
and not.

Movement in spurts,
and slow,
creeping, climbing, sliding,
changing skins and gestures,
while we grow 
along with our
earth siblings, cousins,
at pause and in dance,
in mutual vibration.

We play, shift our balance,
lose our grasp of the limb,
leap out
from our source
to find the rest
of the forest.
We regain our purchase,
find a companion,
Fumbling, with stumbles,
growth rings, peeling bark.
Sifting tides 
fresh treasures
along the edges.

See what is around you,
what she holds along with you.
The soft moss, the mountain crag,
the courting bird.
The places dried with ash,
streams blocked by toxins,
the parched land, 
the hungry child, 
the thirsty soul.

Clear the trash,
sustain the ocean depths,
feed the child,
calm the fellow soul.
The earth’s arms are wide,
and it is yours to share
inside more love
somehow somewhere.

Raise your voice, shout, cry,
sway and shimmy,
wiggle to her rhythms,
know your joy in her.
Show your love 
of what begat,
bore and nurtured you,
will take you home.
Touch her scars gently,
wash away her tears.
Hear her heartache, 
as she bears yours.

You are not separate—
cannot be—
you are woven together.
As she goes, so do you,
if only in 
your time together,
you and your
good earth.

Carol is retired from library work in four states, with ties to several religious organizations. She does pet sitting and dabbles in a range of things from Sanskrit to dance. She enjoys exploring connections with people and non-human animals.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 9 - Elul: A Time to Start Shifting Our Imperiled Planet onto a Sustainable Path

by Richard H. Schwartz

As the world spirals toward a climate catastrophe, the current Hebrew month of Elul again provides time for heightened introspection, a chance to do t’shuvah (repentance), to improve our lives and our involvements, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High Holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond to the current reports of dire environmental and other environmental threats to humanity, including:
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organisation composed of climate experts from many countries, warned in an October 2018 report that the world may have only until 2030 to make ‘unprecedented changes’ in order to avert a climate catastrophe.
  • The average world temperature has increased every decade since, the 1970s, all 18 years in this century are among the top 19 hottest years since temperature records were kept in 1880; the hottest year worldwide was 2016, breaking records previously established in 2014, followed by 2015, the first time temperature records were broken in three consecutive years.
  • There are reports somewhere in the world almost daily about severe, often record-breaking, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, or other climate events.
  • Glaciers worldwide and polar ice caps are melting faster than projections of climate experts
  • Climate experts believe that because of self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles), the world may soon reach an irreversible tipping point when climate spins out of control with disastrous consequences, unless major changes are soon made.
  • In May 2019, The Global Assessment Report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that about a million species are now threatened with extinction, more than ever before and that ecosystems are now under unprecedented stress.
In view of all of the above and more, we should make it a priority to do all we can to awaken the world to the dangers and the urgency of doing everything possible to shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. We should urge that tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) be a central focus in all aspects of Jewish life today.

We should contact rabbis, Jewish educators, and other Jewish leaders and ask that they increase awareness of the threats and how Jewish teachings can be applied to avert impending disasters. We should write letters to editors, call talk shows, question politicians, and in every other way possible, stress that we can’t continue the policies that have been so disastrous.

The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the book of Jonah, who was sent by God to Nineveh to urge the people to repent and change their evil ways in order to avoid their destruction. Today the whole world is Nineveh, in danger of annihilation and in need of repentance and redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from greed, injustice, and violence, so that we can avert a global catastrophe.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and 250 articles at

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 8 - A Year of Travel, a Year of Wonder

by Susie Davidson

Over the past year, I've had many unforgettable experiences in different countries and regions, within amazing, varied landscapes. There is nothing like discovering and living in a new environment. The languages, cultures, geography, and people are so different. However, it is within these strange surroundings that I have conversely noticed what is similar. There are common themes of humanity. There is kindness and graciousness. There is joie de vivre.

And there is G-d's physical world. In Europe, I have noticed that natural areas are lovingly maintained and preserved. Like the great works of art so treasured abroad, parks, fields, gardens, mountains, rivers and waterways are equally revered. The Danube, the Alps, the Mediterranean hold the same importance as each country's museums and cultural centers.

Perhaps it is the majestic places of worship rising over public squares that remind visitors and residents of the gifts they have been given. Perhaps it is the relatively smaller amount of land in each country. But you will always see completely clean streets and well-tended green spaces. 

I returned to Boston with the wish that this environmental devotion could be the case here.

Last August, I flew to Brussels a few days before the start of "W-Fest," a 4-day new wave and electropop 1980s music festival. I arrived early so that I could travel to the Port of Rotterdam, from which my great-grandmother and her four children escaped the firing squads and devastating pogroms in their Russian shtetl. They walked all the way there, and ultimately arrived in Boston, where my great-grandfather had established a grocery business.

Along the way, I saw beautiful fields and quaint towns. As I said Kaddish for my ancestors and placed rocks along the pier in the beautifully , a white swan appeared under me in the waters.

In November, I flew to West Palm Beach to attend a Holocaust convention. As always, I was struck by the beauty of the harbor and coastline, all the way down to Miami. The water is sparkling, the sunsets exquisite. Tropical trees like the incredible banyan abound, and Florida has many nature preserves with paths lined with lizards, and I saw palmetto and palm trees.

My boyfriend and I visited Florida twice more over the winter. We stayed in Ft. Lauderdale and in Hollywood while exploring Miami, Key West (talk about sunsets!), and Sanibel Island.

Banyan tree, Miami, FL

In January of this year, I took a two-week Amtrak trip around the U.S In Chicago, I walked through Lincoln Park and along the shore of Lake Michigan. Outside of New Orleans, I observed abject poverty in the stark, humble Mississippi gulf plains communities.

I admired Lake Pontchartrain as we approached New Orleans, and after a stay there, beheld the swampy, Louisiana bayou from the train's observation lounge. The prairies, with cacti and tumbleweeds galore, and the distant mountains of Mexico then became my vista.

Louisiana bayou, from Amtrak
In El Paso I was awestruck by the adjacent hills of Juarez. Walking along the separation fence, crossing the border, mingling with Mexican residents, and visiting the El Paso Holocaust Museum was a provocative, and somehow, life-affirming personal journey.
Hills of Mexico, Del Rio, Texas

Author at El Paso border crossing.
In March, we attended the famed SXSW music, film and art confluence in hip and friendly Austin. In Dallas, we somberly toured Dealey Plaza and the adjacent Holocaust Museum.

This May, while attending a rock festival near Dusseldorf, I experienced the beauty of Paris, the remnants of the industrial past of Oberhausen, the timelessness of Antwerp. I compared the Rhine waterfronts of Dusseldorf and then Cologne, where the city is rebuilding and reconstructing its ancient Jewish quarter. One month before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I toured the Normandy beaches and Allied landing sites. I then spent two days in Keflavik and Reykjavik, the breathtaking land of glaciers, waterfalls, lagoons, volcanoes -- and Icelandic chocolate and smoked salmon.

I also traveled to Montreal and Toronto twice, in September and again this May. And next week, it is back to Brussels for W-Fest 2019, and a long layover in Copenhagen.

Maine foliage, from bus to Canada
Travel is an opportunity for excitement, discovery and wonder, and for making universal connections to nature and humanity. By seeing our beautiful world and interacting with its inhabitants, we appreciate the gifts of Creation, and reaffirm the need to preserve them.

Susie Davidson, a Boston-based journalist, has contributed to HuffPost, the Houston Chronicle, the Jewish Daily Forward,, Shalom Magazine, and other national and international media. She authored a 2005 book and documentary film, "I Refused to Die," about local Holocaust survivors and liberating WWII soldiers.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 7 - To Everything There is A Season

by Maxine Lyons

Growth takes many forms and like other Jewish seekers, I rely on the life-cycle events to provide a framework for growth, celebrating nature and new life, knowing that to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. I started this year’s Elul preparation in June, with conscious gratitude for the experience of becoming a grandmother for the first time in my 70’s and ready to welcome a second grandbaby due to arrive before Rosh Hashanah.

Through my work as a professional educator with older adults for several decades, I have cultivated a positive approach to growing older and now more than ever, I am responding to the passage of time with excitement. This season offers me a clear purpose and a time to review my life.

As a new year approaches, being with my precious grandson and looking into his eyes helps me reflect with wonder, curiosity and hope as I imagine what my grandchildren will become and how they will grow and express themselves. The uplifting side of having grandchildren later in life is feeling deeper gratitude for life; likewise, I feel the sadness of knowing that there will be many life-cycle events that I will not be there to participate in over the coming years.

In the spirit of Elul, a time of renewal and meaningful “turning,” I am committed to grow and change along with these two new babies. For years I have used my gardens as a measure of growth, learning about change and renewal from the forgiving nature of my gardens which have lived through the harshness of winter to become emerging sprouts in the spring and then flowering with colorful life in summertime. I have also measured my personal growth by my own subjective standards, asking myself, am I growing into a more empathic and caring person? Does my growth enhance the lives of my dear ones and many others?

The growth of a totally dependent child creates generational continuity with his parents and grandparents; this intergenerational connection strengthens my relationships among all my loved ones. I believe that as our children become parents and grow their own families, they are carrying on the ancestral heritage of their past as well as forging a new and vibrant future. 

These reflections deepen my practice of seeing and naming blessings that honors the continuity of life, change and growth. Interdependence of close family ties parallels the interdependence of gardens that require enriched soil and responsible caretaking by us gardeners to ensure that our flowers, shrubs and vegetables flourish.

Our children were once saplings and have become more securely planted, branching out with their own rituals and practices that are meaningful to them. They were nourished with love and aspirations. They are the seeds that are now producing their own saplings. My fervent hope is that they will offer their sheltering arms, ripeness, and growth for future generations to come. May we, the parents and grandparents support their growth with clear values, well-intentioned activism, and limitless tikvah.

Rosh Hashanah represents the beauty of renewal (hadesh yamenu k’kedem), returning us again and again to the opportunity to renew spiritual values. My hope is that we will experience true growth of our personhood and offer our lives as worthy legacies to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Maxine Lyons, retired for several years as an educator, has been enjoying studying both Mussar and other Jewish teachings as well as Buddhism in a “garden sangha" in Newton following the practice of Thich Nhat Hanh. She is also actively involved with interfaith spirituality through Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries. Her new life’s role presently is learning to be a grandma to Judah as she awaits the birth of her second grandchild in CA.