In the 2007 article “Shomrei Ha’aretz: Stewards of the Land” (http://www.fjmc.org/energy/), FJMC’s executive director, Rabbi Charles Simon, outlined several ways congregations can embrace the concept of taking care of the earth. While many Conservative/Masorti congregations already engage in some aspect of shomrei ha’aretz through such green initiatives as focusing on renewable resources and using soy candles, there is always more that can be done.
In early 2009, Dr. Gary Smith of the brotherhood at Adath Israel Congregation in Cincinnati approached Rabbi Irvin Wise with an idea for creating a long-term educational garden. The brotherhood would spearhead the project. With Rabbi Wise’s help and support, usable synagogue property was identified; after the synagogue and brotherhood boards approved it, the project went forward. A committee chaired by Kevin Besnoy and Howard Goldwasser worked with brotherhood members, synagogue administration and staff, and religious school staff to plan a 2010 planting of the garden with an emphasis on education. Sharon Wasserberg, the religious school director, researched and developed an environmental curriculum for the fifth grade class. During the fall of 2009, the students studied the historical significance and religious aspect of caring for the environment. To engage multigenerational families, the committee asked fifth grade parents and grandparents to help in the garden for one or two weeks during the growing season, becoming stewards of the land.
In keeping with the theme of caring for the land, no pesticides or chemical-based products were used, and volunteers harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and peppers throughout the summer of 2010. More than 25 bushels of vegetables were donated to various organizations, including Cincinnati’s Jewish Family Service’s food pantry. The produce was also used when Adath Israel, in a joint project with the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Cincinnati, hosted homeless families for a week. After the season, the committee decided to increase the garden, planted on Lag B’Omer in 2011, by 50 percent.
In our pressured world, it is easy for an organization to dismiss many great project ideas as too time-consuming or difficult. Thanks to the wisdom and guidance of Rabbi Wise and Dr. Smith, a generous grant from the FJMC Foundation for Jewish Life, and the backing of FJMC’s KIO (Kentucky-Indiana- Ohio) region, the Adath Israel Congregation’s charitable garden project is a reality. We hope that it will serve as a model that others will use to educate and engage multigenerational families in supporting those less fortunate in our communities.