I first became aware of the living earth by hiking, running, and mountain biking in the forest that surrounded my childhood home in Melville, New York.
Over the years, parts of the forest and surrounding farmlands were developed into ”McMansion” housing projects and looking back on it, I think this was part of what inspired me to join my school’s environmental organization in 7th grade. Raising environmental awareness and the importance of working on behalf of environmental preservation seemed liked a logical thing to do. How could it be that so few were aware of the fact that our lives depend on the health and vitality of the natural world?
When I was 16, I spent five weeks working as a volunteer for the United States Forest Service in Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. It was there, in the wildflower fields of the Rocky Mountains, living in tune with the rhythms of creation, I became aware that it is possible for us to hear the living earth speak.
I maintained my commitment to environmental activism all through university. Inspired by profound questions of identity that emerged for me in a history class taught by Tony Judt, I came to Israel for the first time on Taglit birthright Israel in January of 2000. On the Livnot U’Lehibanot program land, people, spirit all came together for me at that critical juncture in my life and it was clear that I would need to return to Israel and explore Judaism more in-depth. I came back to Israel in 2001, where I worked as intern with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel under Naomi Tzur, now deputy mayor of Jerusalem, and learned part time in a Jewish studies program for “beginners” at Machon Meir. I wasn’t raised as a Torah observant Jew and I wanted my return to Judaism to be a balanced one, one that came from a place of love, comprehension, and genuine inquiry.
With those guiding principles, I returned to NY and found work with the Teva Learning Center, a Jewish environmental education program for Jewish Day Schools in the New England area. It was there, in the forests of Connecticut, studying its ecosystems and its wildlife, that I realized that I needed to learn Torah in a serious manner, for indeed I had looked into the earth and had found the Torah, now it was time try and understand what that meant.
I met my wife Carina at Teva we were married a year later and moved to Israel the day after our last sheva bracha to learn Torah for our first year of marriage. We made aliyah in 2003 and in 2004 I enrolled in the Masters program for Desert Studies at Ben Gurion University, Sde Boker.
At Sde Boker, I first learned about sustainable development, a complex balancing act of political, environmental, and social interests. I made trips to South Africa and Switzerland, as well as around Israel to learn more about what sustainable development is and is not.
During my Masters, it became clear to me that true sustainability emerges out of a deep and profound commitment to life and the development of self and global awareness. Sustainability has as much to do with building sustainable lifestyles, families, and communities, as it does with relating to the environment. From this angle, the Torah has a proven track record and hence I knew that I would need to return to my Judaic studies, and so we came to learn at Yeshivat Torat Yosef-Hamivtar’s Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary, with my ordination to come in 2011. During these years of smicha study, maintaining a commitment to environmental activism has come through gardening, my participation in ROI, a global community of young Jewish innovators, online courses sustainability courses, and by being part of the start-up team of Jewcology.com.
The social / communal component of sustainability and environmental activism is often taken for granted. With the launch of Jewcology, I am happy to be a part of this unique and growing community and I am looking forward to sharing more in the coming months on a diverse array of topics including: frameworks for sustainable development, tools for integrating the Torah's teachings about time / creation, and other topics that emerge as the journey continues.