Earth Etude for Elul 18: Help the Honeybees

by Susie Davidson

~ I always enjoy perusing the Jewish holiday-themed emails from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center.

Earlier this year, Rabbi Waskow pointed out that Earth Day ended just as Passover began. “As the traditional Haggadah says,” he quoted, “In every generation we face destruction — and so in every generation all of us — every human being —  must seek freedom, justice, and healing anew.” Waskow suggested passing around an inflatable Globe at the end of the Seder, and singing a song that began:

We have the whole world in our hands.
We have the frogs and the forests in our hands,
We have the wind and the honeybees in our hands….

Honeybees, of course, are integral to our much-loved New Year ritual of apples and honey.

Two years ago, I wrote about a “Sweet New Year Beekeeping & Havdalah” event at Temple Beth Shalom of Peabody. Anita Deeley, a biologist and Massachusetts State Bee Inspector who maintains 30-50 treatment-free hives at Beverly Bees, showed children an actual hive, taught them how to identify honeybees and spot the queen, and discussed their role as pollinators of both flowers and agriculture — including the fruits, nuts and veggies, even the coffee — we love.

For this article, I also researched the Natural Resources Defense Council document “Vanishing Bees” about the Colony Collapse Disorder. First noticed in 2006, it describes a phenomenon where bees don’t return to hives. I then found a disturbing 2014 National Geographic report by Sasha Ingber which stated that “the number of U.S. honeybee colonies has been halved over the past ten years, to everybody’s detriment.”

Last month, a Jewish Advocate editorial linked Colony Collapse Disorder to the use of neonicotinoids, pesticides that disorient bees so that they either fail to return, or carry the neonic pesticide into hives, thereby disorienting the whole colony.

The editorial spelled out some hope. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D – Holliston) has introduced a bill, HD2336, An Act Protecting Massachusetts Pollinators, to limit neonics. Moreover, the Israeli company BioBee is breeding predatory insects to take care of agricultural pests naturally. And gardening suppliers, including Home Depot and Lowe’s, are beginning to phase out neonicotinoids. But change comes slowly; an EPA study on the pesticide may not be completed until 2018.

I have decided to take action to help HD2336 move through the legislature. Hopefully, something substantial will come out of this effort by Rosh Hashanah, so that I can feel more personally invested in my slice of honeyed apple.

Susie Davidson, a freelance journalist, contributes to the Huffington Post, the Forward, the Brookline Tab, the Jewish Advocate and other national and international publications including The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. She coordinates the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).


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