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Greening Synagogues- Adult Education


  • Adult Education
  • Adult Ed Models
  • Study and Action Guide
  • Shiurim

Lilmod u’l’lamed, to learn and to teach” – Ahavah Rabbat, Shacarit liturgy

Adult education – one of the most important aspects of any congregational program – is a vital place for synagogue-goers to engage with environmental matters. One approach is to simply offer a series (ala “Judaism and Ecology” or “Intro to Eco-Judaism”) of sessions on various environmental themes in Jewish texts and values — for that, feel free to use or adapt the many shiurim / lessons that you can download here. Another approach would be to develop one theme well, such as “the Environment in Israel” or “nature in Jewish thought”; some of the examples of what other shuls have done, found below, may be helpful here.

While we encourage you to plan as many environmentally-themed adult education classes as you can, we also know the value in integrating ecological concerns into other topics. A class on Bible or Talmud can illustrate its points by elaborating on key environmental texts in our sacred literature (e.g. Leviticus 25, or Bava Kama 80a) – so even as participants come to learn classic texts, they also learn about the environment. A class on Israel can, and arguably should, dwell on the concept and reality of Eretz Yisrael, the land itself, and its challenges. A class on rituals around death and dying can use “returning to nature” and “simplicity” as leitmotifs. And so on…

In addition to the areas listed below, many other resources for adult education are scattered throughout the COEJL website; some are cross-listed here, but some are not. Think about how you can integrate visuals, snippets from radio interviews, texts, questions, exercises, and more into your lessons. And here, you should find plenty of starting-points:

Perhaps the best place to start is the COEJL resources page, which contains dozens of various programs geared toward adults, plus hundreds more geared toward children (which, though less relevant, might offer useful insights or gleanings).

Perhaps you will find models of synagogue environmental adult education programs helpful. Here are various approaches taken by synagogues doing eco-adult education – not all are easily replicable in every shul, but each may offer a useful template to consider. Among them is one movement’s draft attempt at combining study materials, texts, policies, and resources into one statement. 

Finally, and perhaps most usefully, we offer here a series of Ready-To-Go Shiurim (Lessons/Classes), listed below – make the most out of them; make them your own; make them real in the life of your community. Zil ul’mad – go and learn, and go and teach! 

Responding to the Environmental Crisis as a Community
Celebrate a Lo-Watt Shabbat

Basic Sources and Values
Genesis 1
Bal Tashchit


Program Bank – Adult

Many of the adult education resources you’re looking for are right here, at the COEJL Resources Page! Here you will find literally hundreds of useful resources. If you search by category, and enter “adult” in the box for “audience,” you will find over 100 programs. Just typing in the keyword “adult” yielded the following couple dozen adult education resources (as of June 2004, that is — new materials are going up, and old ones are being edited, at any given moment). And should these tremendous resources not be sufficient, even more programs on the Program Bank are geared toward school-aged children; you may find ideas or texts or exercises there which would work with adults, as well.

A Congregational Approach to Greening the Holidays
Utilize the Jewish tradition’s rich teachings to cultivate a cleaner, healthier, and more inspiring environment.

Advocating for Environmental Legislation
To empower congregants to write letters to their elected officials concerning environmental legislation and to connect them with the Jewish community’s advocacy efforts.

Discover Spring
A nature walk to learn all aspects of spring including early wildflowers, foliage, increased bird activity and emerging insects.

Enviro-Sukkoth Program: Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
This program combines traditional teachings about the holiday (including rituals) with contemporary environmental/agricultural themes (such as organic food and genetically-modified organisms).

Enviro-Sukkoth Program: Part 3 of 5 – Children’s Module
This is the children’s module for Enviro-Sukkoth. The goal is to provide the children with an entertaining experience that teaches about Sukkot and contemporary agricultural theme.

Enviro-Sukkoth Program: Part 4 of 5 – Discussion Papers
This includes the discussion papers for the Organics discussion and for Genetically Engineered Food discussions

Environmental Prayer Service
The following is the service that we performed with Native Americans at Haskell Indian Nations University, in honor of the neighboring wetlands that was threatened by development.

Hanukkah Energy Scavenger Hunt
For grades 5-8, learn and play about conserving energy!

Omer for the Earth
An exercise to realign our thinking a little: an environmentalist’s guide to counting the Omer – an Omer for the Earth.

Omer for the Earth Day: A Family Program
This programme was created to remind us of our reliance on and responsibility to our natural environment. This program is written for families but can also be adapted for classrooms.

Recycling and Waste Reduction Program
To involve the synagogue in recycling, either through joining with an established program or through its own efforts, and to use the synagogue as a “role model” to encourage congregants to recycle at home.

Roots and Branches: Section 4 – Ticket to Ride
Cutting down on your driving is a mitzvah in more ways than one.

Small Steps Toward Environmental Tikkun For Home & Synagogue
Some simple environmental acts that you can do at home and the synagogue.

Suggested Tu B’Shevat Events Inspired by Traditional Sources
4 Activites for Tu B’Shevat inspired by the Bible

The Lorax – by Dr. Seuss
It is never too early and never too late to learn about ecology. The book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a great tool to use for all age groups.

Tree History
Make connections between the social and natural world by conducting an interview about trees. Use that information to create a mishpaha atz, a family tree!

Adult Education Models

Examples of Adult Education on eco-Judaism abound. For sustained courses, we offer here two examples. One, a six-part series on Israel, Judaism, and the Environment, took advantage of local individuals (in the DC area) with knowledge about specific parts of this question, and wove their presentations together so that participants ended up with a fairly full picture of the topic. The other, a ground-breaking initiative marrying sustainable agriculture with urban Jewish life and education, has Manhattan Jews picking up organic produce from a Long Island farm while learning about Judaism and the Earth:

II. Community Supported Agriculture at Ansche Chesed, with Hazon, NYC, 2004

Article from The Jewish Week, New York, May 8, 2004 (see sections we’ve put in bold, highlighting the educational elements of the project):


The Greening of Ansche Chesed

Upper West Side shul, Hazon to pioneer ‘eco-kashrut’ cooperative so Jews can go organic.
Julie Wiener – Staff Writer

This summer, when Bruce Kahn heads out to pick up organic fruits and vegetables, he won’t end up in a grocery store or farmer’s market. He’ll go to synagogue.

Kahn and approximately 50 other Upper West Side residents — mostly Jews — will be participating in what is believed to be the first synagogue-based “community supported agriculture” program, or CSA.

Organized by Congregation Ansche Chesed, which is Conservative, and Hazon, a Jewish environmental group best known for its bike-athons, the CSA forges a partnership between eco-conscious Manhattanites and a young Jewish farmer on Long Island.

The new CSA is part of a small “eco-kashrut” movement of Jews who see sustainable agriculture and compassionate treatment of farm animals as natural, modern-day extensions to traditional Jewish dietary laws. Consider the following developments in recent years:

  • Two North American businesses now distribute kosher free-range organic poultry. Wise Kosher Poultry, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and run by a Satmar mother of 11, is planning to expand to offer kosher free-range organic beef as well.
  • Twelve Jews in their 20s will spend this summer as “fellows” on a new organic farm under the auspices of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. Fellows will combine working in the fields with Jewish learning.
  • A group of Chabadniks living in Amherst, Mass., founded Eretz Ha’Chaim, a Torah-observant organic farm and co-housing community. The farm sponsors an annual festival and plans to create an educational center for children and adults.
  • Organic foods are becoming increasingly visible at Kosherfest, the annual kosher foods trade show. “I’ve heard from many [kosher foods] retailers that consumers are asking for organic products,” said Menachem Lubinsky, who runs Kosherfest. “Many large retailers like Shop-Rite put their organic and kosher aisles close together with the thought that there’s crossover.”

Of course, not all consumers of kosher and organic foods have even heard the term “eco-kashrut,” or are committed to either Judaism or the environment. The organic market has grown tremendously in recent years, aided by USDA certification and the growth of the organic-promoting supermarket chain Whole Foods.

Independent of that, kosher foods are also increasingly popular even among non-Jews. Both markets have benefited from a widespread perception that their foods are healthier.

Called “Tuv Ha’aretz,” Hebrew for “the good of the land,” the Hazon-Ansche Chesed CSA is open to the public.

“This is being created within, by and for the Jewish community using Jewish institutions, Jewish language and relating to the Jewish calendar, and yet at the same time it’s a world issue, a human issue where our food comes from,” said Nigel Savage, executive director of Hazon.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Ansche Chesed said one of the reasons he wanted to bring the project to his congregation was to foster “consciousness of the sanctity of these things I take into my body to make me alive and whole.”

“I love kashrut. It’s terrific and important, but also can be a little obsessive and insular in contemporary life,” Rabbi Kalmanofsky said, noting that the CSA project may make kashrut observance more meaningful to people.

The rabbi is also hoping the project will attract those not normally interested in synagogues.

“For someone who may not associate these kinds of projects with a Jewish institution, I hope they’ll see that people are thinking about these things in a Jewish context as well,” he said. “Someone may be alienated by synagogues but think, ‘Hey, good things are going on here.’”

CSA members buy shares in Garden of Eve, a certified organic farm in Aquebogue, N.Y., run by 31-year-old Eve Kaplan.

From Shavuot until Sukkot, shareholders pick up packages of seasonal produce every Wednesday at Ansche Chesed. Any leftover food will be donated to local homeless shelters.

The group will host several activities at the farm, including a fall harvest festival during the week of Sukkot.

Rabbi Kalmanofsky said the CSA will heighten awareness of Judaism’s agricultural roots.

“So many of our holidays and practices are agriculturally related,” he said. “We’re not going to all go become farmers now. Obviously we’re very urban people, but the prospect of bringing a sharper awareness of agriculture back into Jewish practice is a very positive thing for New York Jews.”

Ansche Chesed also plans to offer text-study classes on topics relevant to the farm, and people there are also exploring ways to involve the Hebrew school and youth activities in the project.

“It’s going to be a great role model for kids going out there in the summer,” Savage said. “Not only will they be picking and planting their own food, but also seeing a Jewish farmer who’s doing this.”

Kaplan, a New Jersey native who holds a master’s degree in conservation biology and sustainable development from the University of Wisconsin, started the farm two years ago with her fiancé, Chris Walbrecht.

As one who has always “connected more strongly to the spirituality of the outdoors and nature than traditional ritual,” Kaplan said she is “excited to be part of helping to bring that kind of spirituality back into modern Judaism, to bring the country to people who live in the city.”

Rabbi Kalmanofsky emphasized that while he is encouraging congregants to join the CSA, he is not saying that conventional produce is treif, or unkosher.

“People shouldn’t get the feeling that if they don’t totally revolutionize their lives they’re not doing a mitzvah,” he said. “The fact that you may not be the ultimate environmentalist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the best you can. This is an opportunity for people who participate to do a little bit better, to be a little more responsible, healthier and richer in that respect.”

But why join a CSA when organic produce is readily available at city green markets, Fairway and the new flagship Whole Foods store just 40 blocks south of Ansche Chesed?

Proponents claim that eliminating the middleman is cheaper for consumers and provides more financial stability for small farmers.

“People who join it will spend a lot less on organic produce than if they bought it at Fairway,” said Savage. “And nothing goes to waste. Any food that doesn’t get picked up on a Wednesday we’ll take to a homeless shelter.”

Kaplan said CSA members help preserve open space.

“Any rural area within 100 miles of a large city, particularly New York City, is under tremendous pressure to develop open land,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure on farmers to sell their farms to developers. Programs like CSA’s help to preserve farmland by providing more markets for local goods.”

For Bruce Kahn, who works in finance developing an environmental investment fund for Smith Barney Citigroup, CSAs are a way to make friends and “give people a connection to the farm.”

“You almost belong to the farm,” he said, noting that he belonged to a CSA as a graduate student in the Midwest. “If you want to spend a weekend doing some farm work and getting your fingers dirty, you can.”

For more information about the CSA, go to www.hazon.org.

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