Honoring the Vera Lieber Memorial Garden

My local Orthodox Jewish day school, the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, has been on a green roll. It’s especially inspiring because it doesn’t seem like just one person has been pushing it. It’s more like a group of people slowly came to the same conclusion, that there should be more environmental awareness, and they have all be acting on their own to bring green consciousness to the school and the students. For all of these actions, the school was recognized this year with a Bethesda Magazine Green Award.

It’s the kind of thing that makes you proud.

I especially wanted to share about a recent event that I attended, the dedication of the new Vera Lieber Memorial Garden.

Vera Leiber was the preschool director at the school, in addition to other roles in the school, in the community, and in our county educational system. (She and her husband, Tsvi, were also supporters of Canfei Nesharim.) When Ms. Leiber died five years ago, she left behind so many people who loved and missed her. Now, her memory can be honored continually, through the dedication of Tsvi and his family and the hard work of staff at the Hebrew Academy, with a beautiful garden for preschool students.

Nancy Moses, the garden designer for the project, explained how the plan was made. The goal was to remove the candy-colored plastic play objects and create a multisensory environment for small children to interact with natural objects, learn where food comes from, and engage in creative play. Five new trees were planted ceremoniously in the garden. Artistic decorations in the garden were also made by the children.

The garden includes specific creative activity “rooms,” including a salad table, arbor, performance area, boulder areas for jumping and climbing, and an edible garden with herbs. The teachers can also integrate lessons about science, planting, and healthy nutrition in the garden.

At the dedication, educators showed a video of the children interacting in this new play area. A fallen tree had been transformed into play logs for the children to sit on, but because they were moveable, they became an active part of the children’s play.

Part of the stated goal of the garden is to help the children appreciate G-d’s world and the miracles of creation.

When I founded Canfei Nesharim more than ten years ago, the myth in the Jewish environmental world was that Orthodox Jews would never care about the environment. But things change. Now we see communities popping up with all kinds of creative and meaningful ways to educate themselves and their children about our connection to land, food, energy and the environment. It’s so rewarding to see!

Kol haKavod to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and the entire Lieber family.

Although these pictures were taken on a chilly autumn day, you can still see the beautiful flowers and the natural surroundings of this garden. May the garden grow, and may we see other versions of this model in Orthodox Jewish day schools across the country and the world!

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