As a freelance Jewish environmental educator, the 2 weeks surrounding Tu B’shvat might be considered my high holidays. This year I will be teaching in 4 cities, 3 synagogues, and 11 supplemental and day schools in just that window. Yet in the two months following I only have a few random teaching engagements. While those of us in the Jewish environmental field have moved beyond just Tu B’shvat as the core of our work, the remainder of the Jewish world continues to see this one day as their only opportunity to teach Jewish environmental values.
So here is our challenge. To redefine the Jewish understanding of our connection and responsibility to the environment, from a one day annual celebration to an intrinsic daily behavior. But where to start?
Since the community understands holidays, I suggest a focus on:
Shabbat – A weekly holiday about celebrating the World as it is; A day when we don’t watch TV, use computers, go out to eat, drive, etc.
Sukkot – The fall harvest festival; A chance to eat and sleep outside
(While Pesach & Shavuot are also harvest festivals, they have other strong themes that tend to dominate Jewish practice of these holidays.)
Our daily and Shabbat prayers are filled with praise of G!d and Creation, plus warnings about what will happen if we don’t behave responsibly. Encourage communities to take time to examine the ecological content of our prayers, through appreciation comes responsibility. Prayers to start with include:
Birchot Hashachar – Thanking God for our bodies and a world that are working properly
Psalm 150 – Kol Haneshama Tehalel Ya – All Souls (All of the soul) praise G!d
Shema 2nd Paragraph – this oft skipped section explores the environmental consequences of not following G!d’s commandments
Every Jewish event has some food. While this is a great chance to schmooze, it is also a perfect teachable moment. How and what we eat reflects our Jewish value, and what we serve as a community can be a great lesson to those eating.
Eliminate Disposables dishes (or use compostable) – everyone will notice immediately and it’s a great chance to teach bal tashcit.
Buy local or organic – It may not be as obvious at first, but let everyone know where their food comes from and why this meal is better for the planet and support local famers.
Go Veggie – eliminate the herring and the tuna salad from Kiddush. A great chance to present Jewish values of vegetarianism or the ecological benefits of meat reductionism.
Defining Our Work
It’s time for the Jewish world to know that environment responsibility is a daily Jewish imperative. That starts with us using Tu B’shvat as a launching off point for these other important topics, and not as an end in itself.
Good luck and Hag Sameach!