Young Judaea Year Course/American Jewish University’s Israel Campus
Between January and May, 2012, Jewish Eco Seminars staff provided a weekly half-day seminar to two groups of participants of American Jewish University’s Israel campus/ Young Judaea Year Course. The seventeen seminars linked Jerusalem, the environment, and Jewish teachings through outdoor, experiential activities and text-learning. The seminars also fostered an acquaintance with local environmental initiatives and provided a chance to “give back” to Jerusalem through the volunteer components. The college-accredited course offered nuanced view into how Jewish tradition addresses contemporary environmental issues in Jerusalem, Israel, and the planet.
The sessions included:
- Sustainable Urban Planning in Jerusalem at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel
- Trees in Israel in the Jerusalem Forest
- Israel’s Water Challenges at the Sataf Nature Reserve
- Community Gardening with Israelis at a Community Garden in Baka
Seminar for Pardes Educators
In September 2010, Jewish Eco Seminars (JES), led a full day seminar on trees, water, Israel, and Jewish values for the Pardes Educators program. Yael Ukeles, founder and director of Derech Hateva, also taught and led activities. The seminar took place at the Ein Sataf (Sataf Springs) nature reserve near Jerusalem, which contains one of Israel’s only old-growth oak forests, the Land of Israel Tree Garden, and two mountain springs.
This Jewish Eco Seminar set out to raise awareness about the Jewish people’s historical connection to nature and agriculture in Israel, to introduce Pardes Educators to two key examples of the Torah’s teachings concerning environmental issues, and to train the Educators to teach about two Jewish environmental topics: trees and water. One participant commented, “The setting was the perfect choice for this material.”
The JES staff met with the Pardes Educators at their school and as the bus headed towards Ein Sataf, Rabbi Neril pointed out the unique and stunning landscape of the Jerusalem hills. The group began hiking and at the first stop, Yael Ukeles led the Pardes Educators in several group-building activities to prepare them for the day, and then set the tone for the seminar by engaging them in a short discussion about the ‘Leave No Trace’ ethic.
The group continued hiking through the orchards to the old-growth forest where Rabbi Neril facilitated the first educational program on trees, based on a Midrash and other Rabbinic commentaries. In the written evaluation, one Educator wrote that the strongest part of the day was the “opportunity to experience and understand nature while learning text.”
The Pardes Educators then participated in an experiential activity called “Meet a Tree.” They split up into pairs and with one partner blindfolded, the other partner led them safely into the forest to ‘meet’ a tree. The blindfolded participants experienced the tree using all of their senses except sight. They were encouraged to smell it and feel its bark and where the branches began. Then the blindfolded participant was led away from the tree back to the main area where they took off their blindfold and went searching to find their tree! Our evaluation results indicated that that Pardes Educators really enjoyed this activity because it allowed them to explore nature using all of their senses in an educational and fun atmosphere. One participant wrote, “The blindfold exercise was unique, fun, and educational.”
The second educational module focusing on water began as the group hiked to Ein Sataf and explored the ancient water tunnel. At the end of the tunnel the group gathered in a small cave where Rabbi Yonatan Neril discussed its history. In the darkness of the cave, one or two participants began to hum a tune, and then the group collectively began singing a niggun (Jewish melody). Participants commented on how this was a high point of the day!
Afterwards, the Pardes Educators engaged in Chevruta (paired) learning with a text on water and then heard thoughts from Rabbi Neril as he connected the text to the site they were in. During the seminar, two of the Pardes Educators led activities for the group–one was a writing exercise on trees, and the other was a guided meditation on water. This added to the day’s variety of activities.
This seminar is one example of the type of activities and programs offered by Jewish Eco Seminars. The Pardes Educators expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be in nature from the “Meet the Tree” activity, to hiking in Ein Sataf, exploring the cave, and learning the importance of connecting learning with experience!
Seminar for Midreshet Chail
In early January 2011, the first Jewish Eco Seminars program for Spanish-speaking communities took place in Jerusalem. In the midst of winter, a group of thirty one women from Midreshet Chail (including students from Chile and Argentina, their coordinators and two of their rabbis), besides the Jewish Eco Seminars’ staff of educators, put aside the cold to venture into the forests of Har Nof, to experience and study about the environment in Judaism.
After a short walk, the girls participated in an experiential activity to raise awareness on our relationship with trees. Later, they were involved in a text study session on the basic “ecological commandments” found in Torah and the Talmud.
After the study session, the group resumed the hike, taking the opportunity to meet a carob tree and eat its fruits. Later on, returning to their midrasha (study location), the girls participated in an introductory class on the environment in Judaism.
Despite the cold, it was an amazing experience, full of text-based and experiential learning. Midreshet Chail girls were living in Har Nof, and had no idea that such a huge forest existed just ten minutes walking from home! On the other hand, most of the participants never thought that an environmental ethic could be found in Torah and other Jewish sources. We recently received a grant from ROI to expand our programs to Spanish-speaking organizations based in Israel. If you want to find out about our programs or you want to help us in any way, please visit www.jewishecoseminars.com
Aardvark Israel’s Tu B’Shvat Seder
Jewish Eco Seminars led a Tu B’Shvat program for Aardvark Israel’s participants in Jerusalem in January 2011. Rabbi Yonatan Neril began the evening with icebreakers and social mixers to help get to know each other better. He then presented a study sheet including Talmudic text, interpretation, questions, facts, and action points, all related to trees and the environment. Participants then split up into chevruta groups (study partners) to delve into the Jewish texts concerning trees. Ten minutes later, they reconvened and participants shared a variety of different opinions based on their text study. Rabbi Neril then spoke about central messages related to the teaching.
Following the study session, participants all sat on the floor and on pillows to celebrate Tu B’Shvat through a seder. Similar in some ways to a Passover seder, this one also has an order, blessings, and meanings. Rabbi Neril led the group through the four main parts of the seder, relating to the four seasons. Almonds, dried apricots, fresh pears, shelled pistachios, crackers, yellow raisins, pomegranate seeds, and more were passed around during the seder. Participants took away some learning and tasty Israeli (and California) fruits and nuts during this seminar.