by De Fischler Herman
Leaves yellow, wither, and fall
Acorns drop, clacking on the street
It is only the middle of August
The creek shrinks, stalls, and stagnates
Leaves floating, halt, holding in place
We wave the flag for Independence Day
Air swells, heats, and suspends
Strawberries redden, picking time already
And it’s not yet June
Azaleas bloom and leaves unfurl
Long before Mother's Day
Cherry trees blossom, the river retreats
And April’s parade is weeks away
March winds don't blow
February's snow pays no visit
January's weather brings forth no complaint
Hineni—Here I am
In the land of riches
Humans regard Early as a virtue
But Nature begs to differ
Early is okay every so often
But not as a steady diet
Too much Early
Like Jacob wrestling the angel,
Struggles for its very survival
Ice caps melt
And trees weep
Mother Earth and Father Time Yearn for TLC from us,
Their bipedal offspring
It’s Time to wake up, you sleepy heads!
Oh, brothers and sisters,
Can’t you see?
Our parents, and all planetary life, crave
Not only from one another
But from us two-legged children
Who've been playing way too roughly
Long past our bedtime
We've trampled on this Cadillac of playgrounds
(This amazing gift from the Holy One of Blessing,
Who has entrusted it to our care)
We’ve been ignoring our Mother's call to return home Early
So we can have Time to get ready
It’s high Time we see that menucha--rest is in order
We need to return to the family table
With our precious parents and each other,
Enjoy the fresh fruits of the local harvest,
And repair our wounded senses
Only then may we all reconnect with the One
Source of Life
Creator of the Universe
Rabbinic Pastor De Fischler Herman, ordained by the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP), served as hospice chaplain until retiring in 2019. She serves AOP students as a Director of Study (DOS) and is a climate activist, writer, artist, gardener, avid bicyclist, and food distribution volunteer in her community. De lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with her husband and cat.
by Harvey Michaels
There is a tradition that in the month preceding the Jewish New Year in September, we begin our contemplation about our failures, and returning to our true selves - our Teshuvah. We can consider climate change a failure that we all share; a problem created by us all. And since we haven’t yet healed the Earth’s climate, we have more frequent extreme weather, fires, drought, floods, glacier melts, sea level rise, habitat displacement, infestations, and diseases, and the devastation that these cause in some places. But we all feel environmental loss: we recall wonderful days in beautiful places, especially with those we love, and realize that they were precious. But when I look at my young grandchild, I worry – will he still have access to them?
I remind those of us getting more advanced in years, such as myself, that we have to take more responsibility: we’ve cumulatively created more emissions than those who are younger, and also we didn’t do enough to discourage the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, carbon-emitting agricultural practices, and deforesting, which we’ve known to be necessary. We could have done more.
This has happened, despite many of us being dedicated to improving the Environment; and some pursuing education, careers, and political acts towards that goal. I was one, inspired as many were by the wonderful Earth Day 1970; an unparalleled gathering of more than 10% of the population. Our collective work that followed did help clean poisons from our air and water, save energy in our homes, and develop new forms of cleaner energy from the sun and wind, and other things; but nowhere near enough.
In a text of ancient maxims, there is a famous quote of a leading second century Rabbi: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. So as one at work in his sixth decade since that first Earth Day, I consider this season: I haven’t finished the work, but have I done enough? Although older, I fortunately can still do much, along with many of my older peers:
We can reduce the emissions we cause, and teach others how to do so. In so doing we can try to encourage and inspire others to Look Up, see what’s coming, and work to prevent it. We can dedicate ourselves to helping those most impacted by what’s been lost. And we can raise our voices in support of those ready to lead us towards the possible solutions that do exist.
When is enough? For me, not yet: I encourage my peers to keep going too. Only when climate change stops, and begins to reverse, have we done enough. For those we love, as well as all those that follow us, for as long as we can, we must try to finish the work.
Harvey Michaels enjoys being an MIT faculty member, teaching and learning about Energy and Climate Innovation, while investigating climate initiatives for cities, the state and federal government. He also engages in environmental justice advocacy, and faith-based environmental initiatives. Before returning to MIT in 2008, Harvey led an energy efficiency company for many years.
by Rabbi Michael Birnholz
It is an adventure to be a garden educator. For me, while I plant produce for food for my home table, I am also planting on my synagogue campus to use the garden to teach Jewish values and the Jewish values of taking care of the garden and appreciating nature. Like many gardeners, I do plan my beds and planting spaces. I have many copies of elaborate maps so the right plant gets into the right spot. However, like many garden educators, hoping to bring my students into the planting experience, the outcome of the planting seldom matches my (elaborate) plans. How often do we say “Humans plan, God laughs?” I have updated it. Gardeners plan and kids plant. Sometimes it is frustrating (those cucumbers need to be next to the trellis) and other times a miracle (those tomatoes are happier near the sprinkler). I have seen the results, as my plan differs from the reality of the planting, range from waste (of a plant, a space, and energy) to wonder.
The challenge of “gardeners plan and kids plant” came to mind as I heard the story of Clay Elder (Act Two: Spring Awakening) In a time of great personal challenge and adventure, a random stranger gave him $200 to attend Sweeney Todd on Broadway. The performance rocked Elder’s world and changed his life dramatically, leading ultimately to a Broadway career. It's an amazing story of a figurative seed being planted, with no plan in mind except to make an impact on the world.
I was reminded that planting seeds is both literal and figurative. Witnessing “gardeners plant and kids plant” in the garden is instructive as we move through the world. Now each time I go into the garden, with students or without, I look at all actions as planting. Whether the spark of the Divine goes to the plant or the planter, whether a literal seed or just a seed of kindness and caring, if it is full of love, joy, care, that energy goes forward. It is a reminder that might not be what was planned or intended, but that act of giving positive energy builds much needed kindness and love (Chesed), spirit and strength (Ruach and Koach) into our world.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Over the 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom. Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength - with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men's club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation. Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond.
by Andy Oram
The Unetanah Tokef prayer we say at High Holidays contains the famous phrase "a tiny silent sound" (translated in many ways) from I Kings 19:12. The phrase always grabs our attention because of the unexpectedness of the image. Let's look back at the context of the original phrase in Kings to see how it might help us deal with the onslaught of climate disasters.
I Kings 19 describes the flight of Elijah after he has pulled off the biggest miracle since the fall of Jericho: an extravaganza that brings fire down from heaven to strike a blaze on an altar drenched with water. Elijah's spectacular performance, however, did nothing to bring t'shuvah to the royal family, who chased Elijah out of the country under threat of assassination.
Elijah flees south in despair and resignation, not stopping in the safe haven of Judah but walking another forty days to reach Mount Horeb. He stops there, the site of God's foundational revelation to Moses, as if everything that the Israelites had done since then was null and void. God asks Elijah what he is doing there, and Elijah responds with utter cynicism and hopelessness: "The Israelites have left your covenant...and I appear to be alone."
God comes back with one of the Bible's most striking mystical passages: "And here a great, powerful wind passed...God was not in the wind. And after the wind, a noise; God was not in the noise. And after the noise, fire; God was not in the fire. And after the fire, a tiny silent sound."
A "silent sound"--directly counterposed to the noise that precedes it--is a sound that we cannot hear. Perhaps we are traumatized by the effects that came before, or perhaps we have simply forgotten how to listen to the Earth.
When God asks Elijah again to justify his actions, he answers with the same words as before: "...I appear to be alone." God senses Elijah's trauma and suggests that he go into retirement, appointing a few other people to replace him (I Kings 15-17). Elijah "gets kicked upstairs."
To me, the tiny silent sound has two meanings. First, it's a renunciation of grand, awesome gestures: certainly the noise and fire preceding it in the passage, and by extension the wonders wrought earlier by Elijah to no useful effect.
Second, the tiny silent sound tries to counteract the noise and trauma generated by droughts, hurricanes, floods, and fires that today dwarf Elijah's demonstration. As destructive as these human-made natural catastrophes are, we must also look past them to silent but more portentous destructions: melting permafrost, oceans dying from the heat, disappearing species.
It is not too late to listen to the world. The tiny silent sound is our new way of returning to God and the Earth. Although destruction has been decreed for us, our fate is not yet sealed. As Unetanah Tokef says, addressing the world with righteous acts can help us bypass the worst of the oncoming storm.
Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Andy has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for more than 30 years. He self-published a memoir, "Backtraces: Three Decades of Computing, Communities, and Critiques", and his poems have been published in Ají, Conclave, Genre: Urban Arts, Heron Clan, Main Street, Nine Cloud Journal, Poetry Leaves, Steam Ticket, and Wild Roof Journal.
by Lorin Troderman
Spirals of death in a season of drought
Av reaches in and grabs a friend,
Mourners lament in whispers
“It’s way too early” I shout
Each in our own way
On Sunday we will gather by the sea
Temple destruction remembrance day
Our earth, a holy temple assaulted by our ignorance
One less sister to help us reverse the tide
Like our ancestors and descendants
my tears join the waves
slowly streaming down,
seeking their source,
caressing skin on its descent
along familiar nodes etched like rivulets in the desert,
From the wellspring of my heart
joy and sadness lay tender trails of salt to my tongue
this taste will initiate tunes of resiliency
active hope will rise up
Triggering Tishrei with its Elul z’man onramp
A season to reflect recalibrate recall return
Here Now in grief
Expressed in community
Our hearts are raw and open
We share our stories of her
Sacred and wise
Friend and midrashic mother
We are heard
We feel her absence
The Tide will shift
Our tears flow out to sea
Back from where they came
Once, long ago, we crawled out from the destruction
In Av, We remember
In Elul, we reflect
In Tishrei, we flow
Strengthened in our capacity to accept
We spiral into life
Lorin Troderman is a fourth year Rabbinical Student and member of the Earth Based Judaism cohort at ALEPH who completed his first three years of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. He moved to Maine in August 2020 where he has served as the Rabbinic Intern at Temple Beth El in Portland, Director for Southern Maine Hillel, and now serves as the Jewish Chaplain at the Maine Medical Center. Lorin aims to bring his passion for Judaism, a deep pluralistic perspective and a commitment to building healthy sustainable practices into our communities. He lives in beautiful Cape Elizabeth with his partner Sussi and her 15 year old Border Collie/Lab, Jasper. Lorin has two adult sons: his eldest, Dylan, lives in Seattle and younger son Max in Boulder. He loves to walk at sunrise and bask in the miraculous beauty of the Wabanaki Dawnlands.
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
Soon the shofar will be heard each weekday morning, attempting to awaken us to engage in heshbon hanefesh, soul accounting, deep reflection as a pathway to teshuvah, return to G!d, to our best selves, to all that we really can be.
Enjoy, reflect, comment, consider. We invite you to engage with the Earth Etudes for Elul beginning this Saturday evening, August 27, the first of Elul, as they begin to be posted.
May you have a meaningful and thoughtful Elul.
Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva, and the organizer of the Earth Etudes for Elul. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY, in 2005, and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.