The Language of Sustainability as Second Nature

As I continue to write about my experience in teaching a formal Judaism and the Environment course at a Jewish high school, I aim to share with you some of my personal and professional lessons along the way.

This week I am wrapping up the first semester of my 11th grade Judaism and the Environment course. Each semester I have a new crop of students and I try to experiment with new ways of teaching the texts and contemporary examples to highlight the major concepts. For the sake of context, I covered three units this semester: Land Use, Water and Food. In each unit we study the major biblical and rabbinic texts and laws associated with each category and then I try to underscore these concepts with modern examples.

There are several goals for this course, one of which is to teach the language of sustainability so that eventually, it will become second nature. My experience the past three semesters of teaching this course has shown me that that the language associated with sustainability and the entire process of farm to table is relatively new to high school students. While this isn’t shocking, it does underscore an essential point for the need to provide a language and context for kids to think about the food they eat; where it comes from, how it is grown, how it got to their plate, and the myriad of healthful and ethical issues which surround the entire process.

Slowly I am coming to know more and more impressive people in Los Angeles who are making the issue of sustainability into the common vernacular. So, this semester I experimented with bringing in some of these up and coming powerhouses of goodness and had them share with my students.

We kicked off the week of guest speakers with Rav Shmuly Yankolwitz from Uri L’Tzedek, the orthodox social justice organization. Rav Shmuly, amongst other things, took the time to teach the students about Tav HaYosher, the ethical seal for kosher restaurants.

Elana Havusha of the Shemesh Organic Farm at the Shalom Institute taught about the modern applications of ancient Jewish land use laws and led us in the creation of our class compost project.

Samantha Kaplan of Good Life Organics is a more familiar face to our students, as she is on campus each Wednesday after school for our weekly CSA program, Tuv HaEmek (Good for the Valley). Samantha not only lectured on issues of modern organics, sustainability and farm to table practices, but she brought in delicious persimmons, tangerines, apples and grapes picked from a local farm for the students to enjoy.

I want to thank Rav Shmuly, Elana and Samantha for doing the fantastic work you do and for being such fun, cool and knowledgeable partners. Rav Shmuly, Elana and I will all be presenting at the upcoming Hazon Food Conference December 23-26, 2010.

Becca Bodenstein is the Director of Jewish Life, runs an organic garden and teaches Judaism and the Environment at the New Community Jewish High School, in West Hills, CA. She also works as a consultant for individuals and institutions in different stages of environmental growth. She will be speaking at the Hazon Food Conference December 23- 26, 2010, on gardens at Jewish institutions and environmental curriculum.

1 Reply to "The Language of Sustainability as Second Nature"

  • Deborah Klee Wenger
    December 13, 2010 (6:47 am)

    Thank you, Becca — what a wonderful curriculum you have! And yasher koach to Rav Shmuly, Elana and Samantha!

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