Monday, August 31, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 12 - Our Rabbis Teach

by Judith Black

Our rabbis teach us that:

What we feel is our business

What we say can help or hurt

But it is what we do that marks our lives on this earth.

Let us live lightly on this mother planet

Let us treat all living beings with dignity

Let us create nations that honor all their citizens' needs.

Judith Black is an internationally know storyteller and a climate activist.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 11 - Planting Hope

 by Rabbi Judy Kummer

Hope is planting a tree, knowing that we will be feeding the worms under the tree’s ground before the tree yields fruit....

Hope sees the rays of light in the depth of the dark night.

Hope is an active act of faith, refusing to surrender. 

—Omid Safi

Early in the lockdown — that odd, isolating and scary time filled with unknowns and fears about survival, filled with daily tallies of diagnoses and deaths, filled with terrifying questions about one’s own survival and the survival of everyone one holds dear — I found myself making lists. Now, making lists is a fairly consistent thing I do, and it has helped carry me through some challenging times in my life. If only I can keep on top of the myriad thoughts and tasks running through my mind, says this trope, I can keep a semblance of order and can see my way forward, out of wherever I am. 

Usually my lists are composed of the many, many tasks I have to do — items for work, calls I need to make, errands to take care of, groups to plan for, things to set up or to buy or to get rid of. 

But during the pandemic, my lists were different. Oh, I still had my seemingly-endless lists of things I had to get done, both for work and in my personal life, but during the many weeks of the lockdown I found myself engaged in an entirely parallel effort, an effort that came out of a deep place in my soul. 

Now, my list-making had changed. Now I was noting consciously what was helping me get through that strange and scary time: 

—Tending to gossamer-thin video connections with my loved ones; 

—Furry, warm moments of engaging with my pets; 

—the luck of having purposeful work, and the connections that came along with it; 

—Daily exercise to feel the life-affirming pulsing knocking in my throat;

—the pleasure of favorite books and TV shows and movies, and the spill of laughter from Covid-silliness circulating on the internet;

—Making art, on a daily basis, and savoring beautiful images and soulful poetry;

and in some ways most important in sustaining my soul: planting seeds and watching them grow. 

For years now, I have had a practice of saving the Indian corn from my Sukkot decorations and planting it indoors during Passover, with the hope of transplanting it into my garden in warmer weather to grow my own s’chach for the following Sukkot. I also have a practice of purchasing vegetable and flower seeds and starting them indoors in the spring— even knowing that their survival is not guaranteed.

This year, I was intent on seeing those seedlings thrive and make it successfully into my garden. I made late-night trips to Home Depot and Lowes, when I thought there would be less chance of Covid exposure, and I purchased grow lights and set up a much more careful planting system than in previous years— and the result was a veritable indoor Eden. 

I watched with daily anticipation as the seeds I had planted sprouted and pushed their little noses up through the earth and then grew at a pace that was almost visible to the naked eye. Each day I marveled that my little seedlings had seemingly grown another inch or two since the day before, and they gave me the gift of having something to tend to, closely, lovingly, in that odd time of isolation. Daily, that corner of my dining room grew more lush and green, stems lengthening and vines spilling over to launch themselves into friendly thin air. From the simple actions of basking in warm light and soaking up moisture, my little plants were heading toward being planted in the garden. 

It seems that with filling planting cells with soil and tucking seeds into them and then placing them under grow lights, I was doing more for myself than just growing shoots to fill my vegetable garden. I was, in reality, planting hope. I was planting a vision of a time and a place that would remind me of summers past and would bring me back to a sense of greater normalcy. And in planting those seeds, I was making a declaration: I believe in the power of life and nature and generativity. I was choosing to believe in a future lush with promise, with optimism, with growth, with hope. 

I am glad to be able to report that most of those seedlings made it successfully into my garden and have been rewarding my care with abundant fresh food to nourish the body and also with beauty to nourish the soul.

It seems that while I was the one planting and tending and watering those seedlings, they were providing me with so much more. While I staked their sprawling limbs, they supported me in my faith that good things might lie ahead. 

May we all be blessed with hope for a good future awaiting us. 

Rabbi Judy Kummer is a board-certified chaplain working as Program Leader for the Community Chaplaincy Initiative at Hebrew SeniorLife. She is a contemporary liturgist, composer, hiker, artist and organic gardener. She gardens outside of Boston, MA. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 10 - The Dream

 By Nyanna Susan Tobin

The past few years, I have been inspired by R. Katy to write my Elul reflections. This year I find that I am looking backward rather than into my future. As I age, memories seem more in focus than the daily details. I remember as a young woman, I wanted to be a forest ranger. I wanted to care for and protect trees with a passion. My parents and teachers advised me that girls could not be forest rangers. An older relative named Bud told me that Jews could not be forest rangers. My struggles with chemistry led me to believe that I was not smart enough to learn the science of trees. Case closed for fifty years.

I had no Idea that in 2020, I would be working with Joan Maluf and her Old growth Forest Network, looking upward at majestic trunks, exploring for old trees.

The last Friday of May, 2020 was magical. I was walking in an old growth Hemlock forest. Ziggy Dog and two forest folk, one a Botanist, the other a climber/naturalist were my adventure companions. In March I had been recruted by the OGFN, Old Growth Forest Network, to find trees in Eastern Massachusetts that could be documented and possibly protected for family recreation.

For this first foray into the forest, we walked on an even, winding path from 10 am til 2 pm. The cool misty air was a relief from the early heat wave and drought. As Ziggy checked out every root and pine needle, his three two-legged friends gazed skyward. We were gifted with clear views of some of the tallest Hemlocks in Eastern Massachusetts. Then we reached a clearing that showered us with soft, glowing sunlight. As I comprehended the far off tall trunks, they looked like a fleet of sailing ship masts. An old ballad came to mind. In my joy, I sang way out to the fleet:

The men in the forest, they once asked of me.

How many strawberries grow in the blue sea? 

And I asked back of them with a tear in my eye. 

How many dark ships in the forest?

I just had to sing out, and again, as the woods cradled my voice. Like an old lullaby, I remembered my fifty-year-old dream. This year at Elul, I wonder how long must I wait to step into another.

Nyanna Susan Tobin is an Organic Storyteller andTree Advocate. She marches and works for Justice and a sustainable future from her home in Acton, MA.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 9 - Fear God, Love the Earth

by Andy Oram

The terrifying spread of COVID-19 has also led to a spike in gun sales in the United States, causing an estimated increase of anywhere from 70 percent to 501 percent in different areas. Less notice has been given to bicycle sales, but demand here has also accelerated somewhere between 121 and 700 percent.

A bicycle is an optimistic approach to the pandemic. Perhaps buyers recognize that public transportation is risky and either don't own a car or don't want to burden the streets with one. They may have more leisure time for touring, or may be trying to replace a physical work-out after the closure of their gym. Bicycles show a respect for the Earth, the people in it, and the physical health of the rider.

Gun purchases represent an adaptation as negative as bicycles are positive. I am not opposed to gun purchases in principle: guns can be useful and sometimes necessary. But as a reaction to the pandemic, they are not only irrational but deleterious.

Americans are buying guns out of fear. They tell news sites that they anticipate the collapse of basic civilizational functions such as food supplies. Obviously, they also fear what their neighbors would do in the face of that collapse.

But fear paralyzes. Lurking behind guns, people lose their appreciation for the acts they could take to sustain the structures and systems that in turn sustain them. These structures and systems include the extensive roots of plants, the rich swells of the sea, the swarms of creatures completing the cycle, and the workers who prepare food for consumption. Gun owners may be capable of love for the Earth, but their fear can crowd out this consciousness, leaving only consciousness of the risks they face when life-giving systems fail.

The Jewish tradition has a response to this fear. Kabbalah centers this response on the injunction found throughout Jewish texts to fear God. If we focus all our fear on God, we overcome the everyday fears of hunger, pain, and violence. After all, what is really worth fearing? Shouldn’t we worry more about the potential disappearance of life on Earth than any of our everyday fears?

In short, fear of God frees us from the fears that drive us to irrational and deleterious behavior. Embrace the fear of God and you don't need a gun to fight a virus. With fear of God, you may even learn to love the Earth.

Andy Oram is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects have ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Print publications where his writings have appeared include The Economist, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, and Vanguardia Dossier. He has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for more than 30 years. His poems have been published in Ají, Arlington Literary Journal, DASH, Genre: Urban Arts, Offcourse, Panoply, Soul-Lit, and Speckled Trout Review.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 8: Counting the Months: A Reflection on Rosh Hodesh Elul

by Emily Nadel

The skies these nights are dark & bright 

the moon collecting herself

the stars are 


Elul. [Elul.]

Elul: the month of return. 

Elul: when the goldenrod covers the fields and tall, thin purple flowers line 

                the roads and highways. A couple maples have shown some color — 

                not many, and among all the green the color is calling to those 

                who are listening. 

Elul: A call to see the turning trees. To feel the cooling air, the shorter 


Elul, and the New Year is just around the corner, 

and the call of the shofar calls me home

leads me home

builds a home.

We began this time of isolation during the celebration of planting. 

Nissan:     the beginning of longer days and warmer air, 

Pesach:     a new year grounded in home, a holiday for the home, celebrated 

                    in a home I had not left for weeks before, and would not leave 

                    for months after.  In these weeks of isolation, 

Counting the Omer brought meaning to monotonous days, guided me to look 

                    around - to watch the seasons, watch myself, watch our 

                    world change… culminating in 

Shavuout:    a day of revelation. This day of revelation, days after the murder 

                    of George Floyd. This Shvuous, I understood our task to be 

                    hearing the call for justice, and knowing that the call the need - 

                    for justice comes from a place of hurt, hurt with history. 

So the summer months: Sivan, Tammuz, & Av are concerned with history. with hurt. with holding loss & holding love. 

Adina Allen writes [in the Adamah Guide to Jewish Time], “Our task during this month of Elul then is to cultivate light even in the places that feel dark. In so doing we allow for something new to burst forth, a light whose brilliance we have not yet known.” 

This Elul, most places feel dark. 

Interconnected darkness; darkness that feels impenetrable and pervasive. 

Still, we cultivate light. 

We cultivate light - we must - with resiliency, 

       with tenderness, 

       with practices learned and ones developed new for 

                               these times. 

[Elul. Elul. Elul.]

This Elul, I am grateful for my friends the goldenrod and the shofar - 

        grateful for all that is grounding and familiar 

grateful for the call to return, 

    to see ourselves as beloved,

            and to cultivate light amidst all this darkness. 

Emily Nadel is fascinated by human impact and the ways human history is visible in our landscapes and cities. Since graduating from Macalester College with a focus in Jewish history, Emily has canvassed for Planned Parenthood, led the 9th grade unit at Ramah in the Rockies, studied at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and worked as a Teva Educator. You can find Emily exploring a new habitat, reading about eco-Judaism, and seeing what's new in her garden!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 7 - Tiers of Love

by Rabbi Suri Krieger

Ordained from the pluralistic Academy for Jewish Religion, Suri studied with Reb Zalman  Schachter-Shalomi in the early days of Jewish Renewal. Adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University for 8 years, Suri is currently Spiritual leader of B'nai Or: Jewish Renewal of Greater Boston.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 6 - As Above, So Below

by Deb Nam-Krane

What is the difference between dry, grey soil that’s one step up from clay, not too far removed from dirt, and dark, rich soil that you could grow almost anything in?

The answer, of course, is biodiversity. As above, so below, as they say. The more diverse the plants above ground, the richer the microbial life and the amazing mycorrhizal network (think “plant internet”) that nutrients travel through. Strong networks and vibrant micro-organisms in turn lead to stronger individual plants that are able to, almost miraculously, fight off the pests so many of us dump poisons on, with diminishing returns. (I promise you, this is true, but you have to try it yourself to believe it.) much biodiversity? Dr. Christine Jones, the eminent Australian soil scientist, has answered this question.Shorter answer: the more, the better. A plot with five species can still fail to thrive, but at twenty-seven you see the kinds of aggregated, chocolate cake-like soil all farmers (and gardeners) dream of. It would seem that the minimum amount of diversity the soil needs is about a dozen species.

As we begin another cycle of demanding equity in this country, I cannot help but be struck by the parallels between ourselves and our plant kingdom cousins. We thrive in diversity along every measure as much as they do, and when we lack it, we are in as much danger of withering away as they are. For us, applications of biocides are the equivalent of racist or otherwise prejudiced policies that artificially prop up some segment of us at the exclusion of all others, including discriminatory lending, race-based exclusion from government programs like the GI bill, or using race and/or socioeconomic status as the primary determinants of what classroom a student is taught in. 

Let’s learn not just from plants and microbes, but from soil. If we want to thrive, we need to bring in as much diversity as we can, both into our communities and into our lives.

Deb Nam-Krane has been an urban gardener and compost enthusiast for over a decade and an activist for over three (somewhere there's WBZ footage of her from 1989 protesting against fur). She is deeply concerned with the connections between climate change, food injustice, and human rights abuses. Deb leads JCAN-MA's Land Use/Soil Carbon team with the goal of educating people about the connections between agriculture and climate change and what they can do right now to help. Since the team’s inception in March of 2020, they have hosted four webinars, a film series on land use solutions, and a class on Trees (two more to come on August 26 and September 2!). She’s excited about the upcoming three-part book discussion series, as well as JCAN-MA’s upcoming Spring 2021 conference. A homeschooling mother of four, she genuinely enjoys working with youth and is constantly looking for ways to authentically bring them into decision-making and leadership roles. Please email to find out more.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 5: Aleinu to Jews: Have Faith in the Future

by Mirele B. Goldsmith

As we strive to heal the earth and reverse the damage caused by climate change, I find hope in recognizing that we are part of the greatest movement in human history.  This movement crosses all borders and includes people of every nationality, race, and religion. Forced to confront a global challenge, we have come together.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, I’ve been praying more than ever before, and I have been inspired by the words of the Aleinu.  In the words of Rav Tiferet BerenbaumAleinu is a “pep rally” to get us motivated to go out into the world and do God’s will.  Originally composed for musaf  on Rosh Hashanah, its message of hope and confidence in the future was deemed so important that it was made the conclusion of every service. 

Aleinu starts with a reminder that God is yotzer breishit, creator of the world with which we are entrusted. It goes on to say that it is our role l’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai, to act with Godly purpose to repair the world.  And it reminds us that we have our unique role as Jews to play in this universal quest.  Finally, the Aleinu concludes with the promise that one day all people will come together in “sacred unity” - we will be united in our understanding that we are creatures who share one earth and whose destinies are interdependent. Bayom hahu, on that day, when we accept and behave in accordance with this immutable truth, we will live in peace with each other and in harmony with nature. Our great movement can bring about that day.

Mirele B. Goldsmith is co-chairperson of Jewish Earth Alliance, a national coalition empowering Jews to raise a moral voice for action on climate change to the US Congress.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 4 - Coming Home

 by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman

  1. Tekia! (One long blast)

My toddler cuddles in my lap, shy in the backyard of new friends.

Look Abraham!” I say. “Look, who is this tree?”

He peeks out and his face breaks into a smile.“Ah-buh-VI-tay!” 

And who is this, with the sharp needles?”

Spooce!” he says.

Shyness forgotten under the branches of old friends, 

Abraham squirms off my lap and explores the sandbox.

  1. T’ru’ah! (Three wailing blasts)

When I commit myself fully to the personhood all around me -

the agency and the uniqueness of trees, especially -

a pervasive loneliness lifts, and I am folded back into Her

with a welcome as warm as sunlight in July.

So I encourage my son’s love of trees and we learn their names

like kids learn the names of trucks or dinosaurs

because I believe it will save his soul - and mine.

To crawl out of the loneliness of humans-are-the-only-people 

takes intention. 

It takes tolerating the heartbreak

of what is happening to other kinds of people.

It takes bearing the ecstatic joy of belonging again.

  1. Sh’evarim! (nine staccato blasts)

I leave behind the pronoun it and never give the burden to my son,

instead massaging English into a new grammar that I hope will be his native tongue.

She has grown new buds. He is giving us shade. Who smells so good in the garden?

We leave it behind in the wreckage of the industrial age

And pick up shehetheysomeone, and who like smooth stones 

To hold in our pockets on the long hike towards a new paradigm.

  1. Tekia G’dola! (One very long blast)

In Hebrew the word for God is used as a noun

But is really a verb that means is, was and will be all at once.

In Potawatomi there is a unique verb that means to be a tree

And another verb like it for every natural thing

Because we are not things but beings,

conjugations of a living God.

  1.  A Still, Small Voice

Mama, what dis tree called?”

Abraham reaches for the beech’s branch on our walk.

Mama, I wanna hold his hand.”

Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is a mother, wife, daughter, sister and aunt. She serves as the Director of Professional Development at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. Find her blog, music and more at

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 3 - This Elul

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.


This Elul

I will meet You in our fields 

 of shattered dreams

desires not sustained

supplications unrequited

Earth in hovering between

  pending diagnosis, treatment,

 and precarious recovery

Our state and fate, of You

I bring our ailments 

  sown in self and soil

  to be plowed

  to wisdom’s strengths

through ceasing, owning, pausing,

clearing, tilling, working in

Tikkun Olam with You

© J.Felsen, Ph.D. 7/29/20

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a N.Y.S. Licensed Clinical Psychologist who resides in Bartlett, N.H. at the edge of the White Mt. National Forest. Judith is a lover of and advocate for nature and all life, a hiker, walker, dancer, meditator, poetess, volunteer, gardener, wife and dog mother of two rescue dogs. She offers consulting upon request and spends time practicing and studying various treatment and healing modalities. She is on the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation, the Mt. Washington Valley Havurah and Neskaya Center for Movement Arts. Since Covid-19 Judith and Jack, her husband, have lived in Long Beach, New York where she practices, walks the beach, boardwalk and delights in the garden Jack cultivated. Judith participates in virtual services and is active in the Jewish community of both New Hampshire and New York. This year, Judith and her husband were awarded the JFNH Shem Tov Award for work on Holocaust and Genocide Education, related studies and offerings to the public and other organizations and audiences. Judith and Jack are second generation survivors and work to enhance the end of genocide for all.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 2 - Reflections on The Challenges of Living With Fear and Hope

by Maxine Lyons

I find new signs of hope and gratitude for the changes that I feel are beginning to surface despite the anxieties and sadness I feel for the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, and for the heightened consciousness of racism. We are living through a time when many forces are coming together with the potential to change our daily lives, setting in motion systemic reforms to our institutions that could dismantle systemic racism. I feel fearful that social upheaval or outright rebellion could de-stabilize us as a country or alternatively, could re-set the direction for substantive, positive changes. Here are a few themes describing how I am experiencing living through these challenging times of fear and possible hopeful change.

Change agents: I am heartened by the gatherings of protesters and social justice advocates who fill the streets, people of all races and ages who are "living into" the signs they carry, but are they going to carry on the messages of those signs in meaningful ways? How can we share the communal responsibilities that our practices teach — that we all are of equal worth and importance? I ponder how the tragic consequences and deaths from the virus and undoing of racist practices might serve as tipping points to move us so we can begin to enter a real paradigm shift. 

Heroic health professionals: I gain strength and hope from this inspired doctor, (Katherine Gergen Barnett from the Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center) who, in an exquisitely sensitive voice, says: “In practicing medicine through the pandemic, I can no longer place my hands on the shoulder of a patient or give them a hug for comfort. But I can help guide their storytelling with some gentle questions, and I can listen. This telling and receiving of stories help my patients start to make sense of what is happening in their lives and what is born becomes a kind of control to regain their agency and begin to heal their traumas."

Naturalist perspective: At Walden Pond in Concord, Thoreau “sheltered in place” not because of a dangerous virus but believing that his cabin in the Concord woods was a place to pursue his total immersion into and appreciation of the natural world. As Cody O’Loughlin says (in Lessons in Constructive Solitude), (For Thoreau) “nature was a communicating consciousness and he wanted to make himself available to it.” Many of us have known in these past months the pleasures and relief in outdoor activities in natural places for their regenerative influences and healing.

Perennial questions to answer: What do I value most, where will I set new priorities, what really matters, after all? How can I meaningfully keep tikvah (hope) alive? My personal response is to love my close family and friends more fully with an open heart and mind. In this past year, I embrace my grandchildren and cherish their laughs and continual changes, as they crawl, begin to walk, and gain the confidence to stand bravely. Adults too have to stand up bravely against injustice, to stand in support as allies and anti-racists, and to be in good standing with the best intentions for the right transformative values.

My teshuvah, my personal turning: 

In these uncertain times, I am using my Jewish and Buddhist practices to find meaning in crisis, living the unknowns with no road map to show where this journey ends. I am focusing on enabling myself to become a more peaceful “warrior." We need to elect more courageous and humane leaders in our government as we also become the most holy versions of ourselves. My teshuvah means acquiring an ometz lev (a courageous heart) to work with ongoing dedication to integrate my thinking, studying and feeling so I am able to contribute my part to the radical changes that are needed.

Maxine Lyons enjoys sharing her annual submission to Etudes that starts her preparing for Rosh Hashanah. She continues to participate in multi-racial interfaith gatherings, and finds involvement in Zoom classes and joyful times with friends and family. She loves summer gardening and enjoys her indoor gardens and succulents throughout the seasons.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 1 - Elul Is Here

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I turned inward with the lockdown. I didn't want to go anywhere.

My garden saved me. I worked outside almost every day.

In early summer, I started again to lead outdoor services with small groups. But no walks on my own, in nature.

After the depths of despair of Tisha B'Av, as the weeks of consolation began, knowing Elul was approaching, I started to turn outward.

I spent a week of early mornings in a little-traveled conservation area, before the heat settled in. 

Reveling in the blooming flowers


Staying in the moment

Picking blackberries

Settling in beside a deer resting spot


Lying back, looking up

Letting the more-than-human world heal me

And strengthen me

And prepare me

To go out into the world

To do what must be done


And tomorrow

To try to make the world a better place.

Join me in journeying through Elul.

Note: This is the first in a series of Earth Etudes for Elul that will appear here most days of Elul. The etudes are reflections on teshuvah and Earth during a pandemic when we are acknowledging more deeply that Black Lives Matter.

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. 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.