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Greening Synagogues- Youth Education


  • Youth Education
  • Program Bank
  • Teva Resource Center
  • Secular Enviro Resources
  • Youth Groups
  • CFL Sales

“V’shinantam l’vanecha, and you shall teach / rehearse these [words] to your children” – Deuteronomy 6:6, also appearing in the V’Ahavta paragraph of the Sh’ma. 

Tradition teaches that immediately after establishing a cemetery and a mikvah – necessary for life cycle events on any given day – Jewish moving into a new area would establish a school right away. School before shul – since a future generation of shul-goers has to be trained, that education must begin right away. 

Kids, much more than adults, tend to have an innate bond with other creatures, and with the environment. We can tap into their sense of wonder, their steep learning curves and insatiable curiosity, and their love of nature. In doing so, we not only further these noble attributes (and help them continue into adulthood!), we also deepen their Jewish identities by linking ‘Judaics’ with what they already know and love about the world around them.

While we encourage you to build whole curricula around Judaism and ecology, we also know the value of integrating ecological concerns into other topics. Hebrew classes can go outdoors, and spend extra time learning teva/ nature vocabulary.  When teaching Bible or Talmud, illustrate your points by looking at key environmental texts from our sacred literature (e.g. Lev. 25, Deut. 19, etc.) – so that even as students are focused on classic texts, they also learn about the environment. In Israel education, be sure to dwell on the concept and reality of Eretz Yisrael, the land itself, and the challenges that the land (and air and water and people and animals and plants) face. If you do a “Jewish views on current events” program or course, contrast environmental news with Jewish ecological texts and teachings. And so on…

In addition to the areas listed below, many other educational resources are scattered throughout the COEJL website — some are cross-listed here, but you’ll find even more by searching the whole site. Meanwhile, think about how you can integrate visuals, snippets from radio interviews, texts, questions, exercises, art projects, and more into your lessons, making them interesting as well as relevant. And here, you should find plenty of starting-points:

Without a doubt, begin with the COEJL Resource page, which contains over a hundred programs or curricular elements for children of all grades. Search using keywords from “6th grade” to “water” to “Talmud”, and you’ll find plenty of ready-to-go programs as well as ideas, texts, and activities which you can incorporate into your own lesson plan.

Numerous Jewish-environmental curricula are floating around out there, though far too few are easily findable or searchable on the web. The first organization’s site to check out is the Teva Learning Center , where you’ll find a whole host of useful resources. Register for Teva’s Teachers’ Resource Center and find dozens of ready-to-print-and-use activities. Teva also inherited Shomrei Adamah’s excellent publications, including the full-length curriculum book, Let the Earth Teach You Torah.

Some of Teva’s suggested resources are secular in nature, and are found on environmental organizations’ websites. In fact, many Jewish environmental educational programs draw heavily from the works of Joseph Cornell and other nature educators, and from the models pioneered in Nature’s Classroom and other such secular initiatives. Some secular resources can be easily spiced up with a few Jewish texts; most experienced Judaics teachers can find the authentic Jewish language with which to express common ecological-Judaic values.

Another helpful resource is the Jewish Nature Center, – where you can find a whole host of hands-on activities, perfect for informal education or to jazz up learning in a classroom setting.

Resources specific to Jewish Youth Groups are harder to come by. Obviously materials for grades 7-12 found in the formal education resources above can be used in youth groups, especially the interactive activities they contain. One program from our Christian brethren (literally – it started with the Church of the Brethren, and then extended to all Protestant groups, with other faiths encouraged to join as well) is both a fundraiser, a consciousness-raiser, and a difference-maker: selling compact fluorescent bulbs. And of course, each youth movement (Young Judaea, Habonim, BBYO, NFTY, USY, NCSY, Noar Hadash, etc) has its own programmatic resources; look in archives for ‘tikkun olam,’ ‘ecology,’ and so on.

As the field of Jewish environmental education and action grows, educators and activists are on the lookout for  new and creative programs to bring to their communities. We are pleased to provide a virtual gathering place for Jewish environmentalists to share successful programs and helpful resources.

Browse through the program bank and see the range of curricular materials, programmatic resources, sermon ideas, and action initiatives that have been implemented by leading Jewish environmental activists and educators around the world. Adapt programs to your needs, and submit your own programs so that others can learn from your successes!

US Environmental Organizations

Youth Groups

Whether you’re a youth group participant, an adult who sits on the synagogue’s youth committee, an adviser or clergyperson, or just an interested observer, know that youth groups are a great place for environmental consciousness and action. If anything, previous generations have messed up the planet and risked the functioning of its systems, and it’s up to today’s younger folks to clean it up and restore its integrity. This is no small feat, but with the energy and optimism and idealism found in most Jewish youth groups, “im tirtzu, ein zo agadah” — if you will it, it is no dream (Theodor Herzl).

Most major youth movements — NFTY, USY, NCSY, Noar Hadash, Young Judaea, Habonim-Dror, BBYO, and so on — have booklets, program banks, and extensive web resources; search each other’s, as well as your own, for good ideas. A few basic ideas might include:

  • Lead eco-themed services/tefillot, just for your youth group or led by you for the whole congregation.
  • Go on a field trip to a local nature center, park, wetland, forest, etc.
  • Take a Torah Hike! Have different people prepare and share by looking up “trees” or “birds” or “weather” in Jewish thought. One great resource is Spirit in Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail, by Matt Beirs-Ariel, Deborah Newbrun, and Michal Fox Smart (NY: Behrman House, 2000). 
  • Staff a “l’dor vador – protect future generations” booth with environmental information, at a synagogue program fair, or other activitiy (even a Purim carnival!). 
  • Lead an activity that raises consciousness and funds at the same time — a bake sale is the old-fashioned equivalent, but for a great example of an edgier and more relevant program: selling compact fluorescent bulbs!

Youth Group CFL Bulb Sale

Tired of bake sales to support the youth group? Try a bulb sale! Our friends at the Church of the Brethren came up with a great program, easily adapted for synagogue use, where you purchase energy-efficient bulbs in bulk, and then sell them at synagogue on a busy Sunday. Members will be happy to pay your mark-up, which becomes youth group profit, while getting something that’s not only useful but deeply rooted in Jewish values.

This might be especially effective around Hanukkah time, by linking “Maccabean energy efficiency” (where one cruse of oil lasted eight miraculous days) with contemporary parallels such as compact fluorescent bulbs (which use only one-quarter of the energy of regular bulbs to produce just as much light). Play up what great gifts bulbs can make!

Remember the educational component of this program, for the youth and for the membership at large. Many people don’t know the secular basics about energy use and pollution, and most have probably never fully considered the Jewish view on this (see Why is Energy A Jewish Issue?), so be sure to raise consciousness along with raising funds.

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