Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Earth Etude for Elul 5 - Early

by De Fischler Herman

Leaves yellow, wither, and fall

Acorns drop, clacking on the street

It is only the middle of August

The creek shrinks, stalls, and stagnates 

Leaves floating, halt, holding in place 

We wave the flag for Independence Day 

Air swells, heats, and suspends

Strawberries redden, picking time already

And it’s not yet June

Azaleas bloom and leaves unfurl 

Long before Mother's Day 

Cherry trees blossom, the river retreats

And April’s parade is weeks away 

March winds don't blow 

February's snow pays no visit 

January's weather brings forth no complaint 

Hineni—Here I am

In the land of riches 







Humans regard Early as a virtue 

But Nature begs to differ

Early is okay every so often

But not as a steady diet

Too much Early

And Nature, 

Like Jacob wrestling the angel, 

Struggles for its very survival

Time speeds 

Earth chokes 

Land broils 

Ice caps melt 

Whales beach 

Oceans rise 

Rivers swell 

Cities flood 

Creatures thirst 

And trees weep 

Mother Earth and Father Time Yearn for TLC from us, 

Their bipedal offspring 

It’s Time to wake up, you sleepy heads! 

Oh, brothers and sisters, 

Can’t you see?

Our parents, and all planetary life, crave 




And hazanah—nourishment 

Not only from one another 

But from us two-legged children 

Who've been playing way too roughly 

Long past our bedtime

We've trampled on this Cadillac of playgrounds

(This amazing gift from the Holy One of Blessing, 

Who has entrusted it to our care)

We’ve been ignoring our Mother's call to return home Early

So we can have Time to get ready 

For Shabbos 

It’s high Time we see that menucha--rest is in order

We need to return to the family table 

With our precious parents and each other, 

Enjoy the fresh fruits of the local harvest, 

And repair our wounded senses

Only then may we all reconnect with the One

Source of Life

Creator of the Universe

Rabbinic Pastor De Fischler Herman, ordained by the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP), served as hospice chaplain until retiring in 2019. She serves AOP students as a Director of Study (DOS) and is a climate activist, writer, artist, gardener, avid bicyclist, and food distribution volunteer in her community. De lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with her husband and cat. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Earth Etude for Elul 4 - We Must Try to Finish the Work

by Harvey Michaels

There is a tradition that in the month preceding the Jewish New Year in September, we begin our contemplation about our failures, and returning to our true selves - our Teshuvah. We can consider climate change a failure that we all share; a problem created by us all. And since we haven’t yet healed the Earth’s climate, we have more frequent extreme weather, fires, drought, floods, glacier melts, sea level rise, habitat displacement, infestations, and diseases, and the devastation that these cause in some places. But we all feel environmental loss: we recall wonderful days in beautiful places, especially with those we love, and realize that they were precious. But when I look at my young grandchild, I worry – will he still have access to them?

I remind those of us getting more advanced in years, such as myself, that we have to take more responsibility: we’ve cumulatively created more emissions than those who are younger, and also we didn’t do enough to discourage the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, carbon-emitting agricultural practices, and deforesting, which we’ve known to be necessary.  We could have done more. 

This has happened, despite many of us being dedicated to improving the Environment; and some pursuing education, careers, and political acts towards that goal.  I was one, inspired as many were by the wonderful Earth Day 1970; an unparalleled gathering of more than 10% of the population. Our collective work that followed did help clean poisons from our air and water, save energy in our homes, and develop new forms of cleaner energy from the sun and wind, and other things; but nowhere near enough.    

In a text of ancient maxims, there is a famous quote of a leading second century Rabbi: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. So as one at work in his sixth decade since that first Earth Day, I consider this season: I haven’t finished the work, but have I done enough? Although older, I fortunately can still do much, along with many of my older peers:

We can reduce the emissions we cause, and teach others how to do so. In so doing we can try to encourage and inspire others to Look Up, see what’s coming, and work to prevent it.  We can dedicate ourselves to helping those most impacted by what’s been lost. And we can raise our voices in support of those ready to lead us towards the possible solutions that do exist.  

When is enough? For me, not yet: I encourage my peers to keep going too. Only when climate change stops, and begins to reverse, have we done enough.  For those we love, as well as all those that follow us, for as long as we can, we must try to finish the work

Harvey Michaels enjoys being an MIT faculty member, teaching and learning about Energy and Climate Innovation, while investigating climate initiatives for cities, the state and federal government. He also engages in environmental justice advocacy, and faith-based environmental initiatives. Before returning to MIT in 2008, Harvey led an energy efficiency company for many years.  

Monday, August 29, 2022

Earth Etude for Elul 3 - How will seeds of light and kindness grow?

by Rabbi Michael Birnholz

It is an adventure to be a garden educator. For me, while I plant produce for food for my home table, I am also planting on my synagogue campus to use the garden to teach Jewish values and the Jewish values of taking care of the garden and appreciating nature. Like many gardeners, I do plan my beds and planting spaces. I have many copies of elaborate maps so the right plant gets into the right spot. However, like many garden educators, hoping to bring my students into the planting experience, the outcome of the planting seldom matches my (elaborate) plans. How often do we say “Humans plan, God laughs?” I have updated it. Gardeners plan and kids plant. Sometimes it is frustrating (those cucumbers need to be next to the trellis) and other times a miracle (those tomatoes are happier near the sprinkler). I have seen the results, as my plan differs from the reality of the planting, range from waste (of a plant, a space, and energy) to wonder. 

The challenge of “gardeners plan and kids plant” came to mind as I heard the story of Clay Elder (Act Two: Spring Awakening) In a time of great personal challenge and adventure, a random stranger gave him $200 to attend Sweeney Todd on Broadway. The performance rocked Elder’s world and changed his life dramatically, leading ultimately to a Broadway career. It's an amazing story of a figurative seed being planted, with no plan in mind except to make an impact on the world.  

I was reminded that planting seeds is both literal and figurative. Witnessing “gardeners plant and kids plant” in the garden is instructive as we move through the world. Now each time I go into the garden, with students or without, I look at all actions as planting. Whether the spark of the Divine goes to the plant or the planter, whether a literal seed or just a seed of kindness and caring, if it is full of love, joy, care, that energy goes forward. It is a reminder that might not be what was planned or intended, but that act of giving positive energy builds much needed kindness and love (Chesed), spirit and strength (Ruach and Koach) into our world.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Over the 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom. Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength - with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men's club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation. Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond.  

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Earth Etude for Elul 2 - How do we hear the silent sound of the Earth?

by Andy Oram

The Unetanah Tokef prayer we say at High Holidays contains the famous phrase "a tiny silent sound" (translated in many ways) from I Kings 19:12. The phrase always grabs our attention because of the unexpectedness of the image. Let's look back at the context of the original phrase in Kings to see how it might help us deal with the onslaught of climate disasters.

I Kings 19 describes the flight of Elijah after he has pulled off the biggest miracle since the fall of Jericho: an extravaganza that brings fire down from heaven to strike a blaze on an altar drenched with water. Elijah's spectacular performance, however, did nothing to bring t'shuvah to the royal family, who chased Elijah out of the country under threat of assassination.

Elijah flees south in despair and resignation, not stopping in the safe haven of Judah but walking another forty days to reach Mount Horeb. He stops there, the site of God's foundational revelation to Moses, as if everything that the Israelites had done since then was null and void. God asks Elijah what he is doing there, and Elijah responds with utter cynicism and hopelessness: "The Israelites have left your covenant...and I appear to be alone."

God comes back with one of the Bible's most striking mystical passages: "And here a great, powerful wind passed...God was not in the wind. And after the wind, a noise; God was not in the noise. And after the noise, fire; God was not in the fire. And after the fire, a tiny silent sound."

A "silent sound"--directly counterposed to the noise that precedes it--is a sound that we cannot hear. Perhaps we are traumatized by the effects that came before, or perhaps we have simply forgotten how to listen to the Earth.

When God asks Elijah again to justify his actions, he answers with the same words as before: "...I appear to be alone." God senses Elijah's trauma and suggests that he go into retirement, appointing a few other people to replace him (I Kings 15-17). Elijah "gets kicked upstairs."

To me, the tiny silent sound has two meanings. First, it's a renunciation of grand, awesome gestures: certainly the noise and fire preceding it in the passage, and by extension the wonders wrought earlier by Elijah to no useful effect.

Second, the tiny silent sound tries to counteract the noise and trauma generated by droughts, hurricanes, floods, and fires that today dwarf Elijah's demonstration. As destructive as these human-made natural catastrophes are, we must also look past them to silent but more portentous destructions: melting permafrost, oceans dying from the heat, disappearing species.

It is not too late to listen to the world. The tiny silent sound is our new way of returning to God and the Earth. Although destruction has been decreed for us, our fate is not yet sealed. As Unetanah Tokef says, addressing the world with righteous acts can help us bypass the worst of the oncoming storm.

Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. 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 has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for more than 30 years. He self-published a memoir, "Backtraces: Three Decades of Computing, Communities, and Critiques", and his poems have been published in Ají, Conclave, Genre: Urban Arts, Heron Clan, Main Street, Nine Cloud Journal, Poetry Leaves, Steam Ticket, and Wild Roof Journal.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Earth Etude for Elul 1 - For Lea

by Lorin Troderman

Spirals of death in a season of drought

Av reaches in and grabs a friend, 


Mourners lament in whispers 

“It’s way too early” I shout

We grieve

Each in our own way

But together

On Sunday we will gather by the sea 

     Temple destruction remembrance day

          Our earth, a holy temple assaulted by our ignorance

               One less sister to help us reverse the tide

Like our ancestors and descendants 

my tears join the waves

slowly streaming down,

Water’s ways

seeking their source,

caressing skin on its descent

along familiar nodes etched like rivulets in the desert,

From the wellspring of my heart

joy and sadness lay tender trails of salt to my tongue 

this taste will initiate tunes of resiliency 

active hope will rise up

A niggun

Triggering Tishrei with its Elul z’man onramp

A season to reflect recalibrate recall return

Here Now in grief

Expressed in community

Our hearts are raw and open

We share our stories of her

Sacred and wise

Friend and midrashic mother

We are heard

We feel her absence

The Tide will shift

Our tears flow out to sea

Back from where they came

Once, long ago, we crawled out from the destruction 

In Av, We remember

In Elul, we reflect

In Tishrei, we flow

Strengthened in our capacity to accept

We spiral into life

Lorin Troderman is a fourth year Rabbinical Student and member of the Earth Based Judaism cohort at ALEPH who completed his first three years of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. He moved to Maine in August 2020 where he has served as the Rabbinic Intern at Temple Beth El in Portland, Director for Southern Maine Hillel,  and now serves as the Jewish Chaplain at the Maine Medical Center. Lorin aims to bring his passion for Judaism, a deep pluralistic perspective and a commitment to building healthy sustainable practices into our communities. He lives in beautiful Cape Elizabeth with his partner Sussi and her 15 year old Border Collie/Lab, Jasper. Lorin has two adult sons: his eldest, Dylan, lives in Seattle and younger son Max in Boulder. He loves to walk at sunrise and bask in the miraculous beauty of the Wabanaki Dawnlands.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Earth Etudes for Elul Are Coming Soon!

 by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Soon the shofar will be heard each weekday morning, attempting to awaken us to engage in heshbon hanefesh, soul accounting, deep reflection as a pathway to teshuvah, return to G!d, to our best selves, to all that we really can be.

  • What is the connection between teshuvah and climate change?
  • What do woodchucks, or butterflies, or sprained ankles have to do with teshuvah?
  • How does being connected to the more-than-human world enhance our ability to engage in meaningful teshuvah?

These are just a few of the questions you'll find addressed by the diverse array of authors during the upcoming days of Elul.

Enjoy, reflect, comment, consider. We invite you to engage with the Earth Etudes for Elul beginning this Saturday evening, August 27, the first of Elul, as they begin to be posted.

May you have a meaningful and thoughtful Elul.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva, and the organizer of the Earth Etudes for Elul. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Of Bread and Potential: A D'var Torah for Parashat Eikev

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen 

This d'var was originally published by the Academy for Jewish Religion as part of it's weekly d'var Torah series.

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D'var Torah.

The grass dries out in the heat–

it’s brown now.

Flowering plants, and even shrubs,

are wilting,

their leaves dull and stiff,

the bright blue of the sky 

day after day

broken only 

by occasional fair-weather clouds,

as the temperatures soar

and relief doesn’t come.

Here in my yard,

the visible life and death question is

focused on plants,

and perhaps some pollinators

or creepy crawlers in the soil

(though the bunnies and woodchucks no longer graze outside my window,

and I’m wondering where and what they are munching instead).

Elsewhere, however,


are dying.

Humans cannot live by bread alone, (Deuteronomy 8:3)

our Torah text tells us,

and some rabbis say this means 

we actually can live on less–

although I find it impossible to imagine no need for water.

The text also says 

that humans can live on anything the Lord decrees,

and thus the manna from heaven was all we needed

as we wandered in the desert; 

it was, the rabbis teach us, 

the most superior food the Israelites could have eaten,

because it came directly from G!d. (Etz Chaim Torah and Commentary translation p 1040)

Rabbeinu Bahya explains to us that

the power of bread to keep us alive 

does not reside in its physical properties– 

the is true of any other food– 

but in the potential G!d has placed within it 

to sustain and grow 

those who consume it. 

It is a question of potential.

Rabbi Yohanan, according to Rabbeinu Bahya 

(in expounding on this verse in Vayikra Rabbah 20:7)

tells us that the closer we are to direct divine input, 

the less we need to rely on intermediaries

(think of all it takes to turn wheat into bread)

and the closer we are to the true life-giving forces of heaven.

This might lead us to conclude that water

or tomatoes

could have more power

than bread.

But in the book of Exodus we read 

that the leaders of the Israelites beheld God, 

and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:11)

Meaning that seeing G!d 

gave them the same energy 

that eating or drinking would have given them–

the effect of their vision

was the same 

as the effect of eating a three-course dinner.

As I consider this, the next verse in our parasha tugs at me: 

The clothes upon you did not wear out, 

nor did your feet swell these forty years. (Deuteronomy 8:4)

I watch the dying plants

and think about wearing the same item of clothing

day in and day out for forty years,

and having it still look and feel as good as new.

I try to imagine sandals so comfortable

that I could wander in them for forty years

and not get a single blister.

And I once again find my imagination inadequate for the task.

G!d said to Job:

Can you tie cords to Pleiades

Or undo the reins of Orion? (Job 38:31)

Can you send up an order to the clouds

For an abundance of water to cover you? (Job 38:34)

I watch the dying plants

and know that I can only take water from my rain barrel

until it is empty,

and that together with others in my town

we can only bring water out of our faucets 

until our town wells go dry.

None of us can order a rainstorm.

None of us can grow a kind of food 

that will, in and of itself,

sustain us with health and wellbeing year after year.

We may be able to send a spaceship

as far as the Pleiades, 

but no one I have ever known has seen G!d

and thus not needed to eat.

I am but human

seeking to grow ever closer to G!d,

seeking wellbeing in body and soul,

seeking, with my life,

to do as little damage as possible,

and bring as much blessing into the world

as I am able.

Through my prayers,

I’m reminded each morning that I am made in the Divine image

and that the dying plants before me are as well. (Ecology and Kabbalah: The Divine Image in the More-than-Human World by David Seidenberg)

I am reminded each morning that G!d made me free,

free to choose

free to decide that it is worth whatever effort it takes

to keep on trying to grow closer to G!d

to maintain as best I am able my body and my soul

to work hard not to do damage

but to bring blessing into the world.

And so I must eat,

for manna falls no more from the heavens

and even though the plants are dying,

as I savor my bread

I will strive to be grateful

that I am nourished.

It is a question of potential.


Rabbi Katy Allen (AJR ’05) is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. She blogs, and invites others to share their wisdom as well, at