Earth Etude for Elul 17

On Green Burials

by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

~For seventy years this earth has cared for me. It has sustained my body with gifts from its own; given me firm places to take a stand and soft places to lay my head; it has thrilled me and comforted me, delighted me and frightened me. It has cradled my children and helped them grow. And it has done all this asking only one thing in return: “Tend well to me so that I may tend well to others after you.” 

For the last fifteen years I have tried to live up to this request. I have worked in the environmental arena to strengthen places, people and laws that protect the earth. I have done what I could to plant fruit trees, champion environmental rights, promote environmental justice, cheer community gardens and celebrate urban forest patches. And I compost. 

But I know I have also fallen short. I came late to the game; my house consumes more energy than it should; my diet can be more earth-friendly than it is. The balance sheet between me and earth does not even out. I will try fix that in the years left to me. And when my time is done, I hope to offer a final gesture of teshuvah, an expression of return and gratitude –- and be placed in the earth plain and simple. 

I am one of several folks here in Baltimore working to create a natural, green cemetery for the Jewish community where our bodies can be returned to the earth without liners, concrete vaults or other obstacle delaying what will eventually be reclaimed anyway. 

It seems the least we can do for all the good the earth has done for us, a humble way to offer thanks. And a way to offer a gesture of hope – and teshuvah – to future generations, that their journey on earth be healthier, wiser and more balanced than ours.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is an environmental activist whose latest initiative is working to create a green cemetery for the Jewish community of Baltimore.

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