by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
The Eternal came down in a cloud. וַיֵּרֶד ה’ בֶּֽעָנָן (Ex. 34:5)
from minute to minute,
from day to day,
from season to season,
from year to year,
even sometimes seeming to disappear,
doing whatever is necessary,
whatever is needed,
to fit the conditions,
never losing your key identity,
as a cloud.
In this new year, may we find what is needed
to be like a cloud
yet to not be a cloud,
but always to be ourself,
our very best self.
And. the Eternal went before them as a column of cloud by day. וַה' הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם יוֹמָם בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן (Ex. 13:21)
Shana tov from all of us at Earth Etudes for 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. 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.
by Sarah Chandler
The rolling fog
To stretch my neck
To peek at a new perspective
Not quite bright enough
My eyes wide across the valley
Trying not to wait
For something else to be
Just when I think
My orientation is eastward
The clouds above the mountain
Tickle the sky
Spreading north across the orange glow
These trees form a frame
Filled with smaller frames
So that each frame of light
Can shine through
It’s the light in front of me
That allows me to re-enter
The darkness behind
Sarah Chandler aka Kohenet Shamirah is a Brooklyn-based Jewish educator, artist, activist, healer, and poet. She teaches, writes and consults on issues related to Judaism, earth-based spiritual practice, respectful workplaces, mindfulness, and farming. An ordained Kohenet with the Hebrew Priestess Institute and Taamod trainer since 2018, she is also is an advanced student of Kabbalistic dream work at The School of Images. Previously, Sarah served as the Director of Romemu Yeshiva, Chief Compassion Officer of Jewish Initiative for Animals, and Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practices at Hazon's Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. Currently, she is the CEO of Shamir Collective, as a coach and consultant to high-profile artists and authors to launch new music and books.
by Joan Rachlin
Like many of a certain age, my husband and I had decided to downsize, but unlike many others, ours was less a choice and more a necessity following his stroke two+ years ago. We loved our town, neighborhood, and street and had been making plans to “age in place” before life intervened.
As I began to survey the overwhelming task ahead, it was clear that my obsession with helping preserve what pristineness remained in nature had become disconnected from my personal behavior of “littering” our home. My husband gently commented that the books (e.g., “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” “Clear Your Clutter,” and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”) sitting atop our ubiquitous piles of “stuff” were symbols of that disconnectedness.
I rationalized the presence of this “stuff” by explaining to myself and others that it included gifts from beloved grandparents, parents, other family members, and friends; souvenirs from travels; memorabilia from childhood and beyond; cards, letters, and miscellaneous paperwork that had to be filed; and/or cherished mementos of the years in which we raised our kids. I had managed to ignore the fact that—despite an object’s back-story and despite my self-proclaimed status as an environmental activist—I had become a “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite. Although I’ve encouraged many others to read Affluenza over the past 20 years, I never admitted to having an undiagnosed case of that planet-crushing disease.
With help from friends and a downsizing professional, our house was emptied and most of our possessions donated to organizations* and individuals. Though bittersweet, my dominant emotion is gratitude for the four+ decades we spent there, the sweet memories that remain, and the opportunity to tread more lightly on the Earth presented by closing the door to our old home and opening the door to our new one.
I therefore entered Elul with the kavannah, or intention, of following the sage advice on my fridge magnet: “The most important things in life are not things.” I’m focusing on progress, not perfection and hoping that my previously overzealous efforts to prevent things from being buried (landfills) or burned (incinerators) will be replaced by the realization that I am doing the best I can and my efforts are good enough. Although not a big fan of self-help books, I’ve just begun listening to Enoughness, which emphasizes sustainability and contentedness and, when finished, plan to start A Good-Enough Life.
I pray that I will, with mindfulness and discipline, increase the simplicity and balance in my soul, home, and in my microscopic corner of our shared home, Planet Earth.
Here’s to a safe, healthy, just, peaceful, purposeful, and “enoughness-filled” New Year for all.
Shana Tova U’Metuka.
*Below is a partial list of the organizations to which we donated:
1 - More Than Words
2 - Boomerang’s
3 - Mass College of Art ReStore
4 - Furnishing Hope of MA
5 - Simple Recycling
6 - Village Vinyl
7 - Our Facebook “Buy Nothing” group (Buy Nothing Brookline) was also helpful in finding homes for everything we no longer needed or wanted. We gave away golf clubs, old cameras, slide and movie projectors, furniture, encyclopedias (“More Than Words” does not take encyclopedias) and many other things.
8 - I also donated collections of family memoirs, photos, and memorabilia to archives and museums. Although this was a time-consuming endeavor, it enabled me to find permanent homes for the treasures passed down through the generations of my family.
Joan Rachlin is the Executive Director Emerita of PRIM&R (Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research) an international bioethics organization. In addition to her work with PRIM&R, she practiced law in the areas of women’s health, civil rights, and criminal and civil litigation. Joan loves nature and its preservation is her priority, purpose, and passion.
by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.
How will I love You when we meet in this year’s fields of Elul?
You who have sent illness, pandemic, bloodshed, injustice, hypocrisy, fire, starvation and death…
We have been estranged and denying our separation for eons
Now it has come to this…
With my ambivalence how will I love You?
Will I remember that You sent us Your
starry sky on Your darkest night
blooms of wild flowers in Spring
symphonies of songs and calls
vocal ensembles of insects and birds
pools of wild waters, waterfalls and streams
cool forests and trees
spongy meadows and lichen
fractal images of Your presence and love
Elul calls to us to turn to You to
Your presence always in love
Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a practitioner and seeker of paths facilitating the transformation of human suffering to wisdom, gratitude and grace. Engaged in this pursuit for most of her life, Judith has incorporated the natural world as well as mankind’s alliance in her work. Living in the White Mountain National Forest, Judith feels at home with two and four legged and all creatures and has likened the forest around her to a metropolis of symphonies creating a language of their own. Insight, comfort and connection are often concealed to us yet readily and always available in nature’s world. Addressing issues of complex earth changes and resultant grief, loss , voluntary and unchosen outcomes, Judith spends daily time in mindfulness practice and presence to all of life. Elul is a time to embrace our part in meeting G-d in daily life in all ways including our hardships. We are asked to show up as a partner. Partnering with spirit is day to day practice on our way to the palace as we wend our way on the trail home.
by Dr. Leah F. Cassorla
In the loaming, Boobah the One-eyed Wonderdog and I sit outside in our vast, shared backyard, watching the swallows.
As the evening descends, we watch the tree line of the nearby patch of forest. The lightning bugs begin their fiery dance before us, the swallows swoop in and out, and hares hop in and out of the line of sight--my line of sight as Boobah's is thankfully too restricted to catch them. I consider this beautiful, if tiny, patch of Olam Ha'bah, and it shifts me to another space.
I've been a whole-foods, plant-based eater for several years now and know it is the single most powerful choice I can make for the continuation of humanity on this beautiful earth. I don't say I'm doing it for the planet; the planet will be just fine. She is designed to clean her house as needed. But I am aware that cleaning house may require sweeping away the humans who have overpopulated, overused, and over-dirtied her. And I am concerned that we are not doing enough. This thought leads me to Shmita and Shabbat, and I wonder:
What if we treated Shabbat as an opportunity to practice environmental responsibility rather than a set of strictures for "keeping" or "not keeping" the Shabbat commandments? How could I make my Shabbat a mini Sh'mita, just as Sh'mita is considered a grand Shabbat?
Sh'mita is a year that allows the land a recovery period from the agricultural needs of humanity as well as the economic drivers of social inequality. Perhaps I can try to reduce my Carbon/Nitrogen footprint each week on Shabbat by refraining from using electricity, gas, or oil--or by buying credits if such use is mandatory for my survival (and my religious role in my community). I can refrain from purchasing anything on Shabbat as well, knowing that I cannot fully remove myself from the capitalist system and that reduction of consumption is only one step. I can set aside my pishke each week to support organizations that further ecological recovery.
And those of us who aren't vegan may choose to refrain from eating meat on Shabbat--a truly radical idea.
Yet with these approaches in hand, I can feel myself (re)turning toward the needs of the ecosystem and my species. With each small step, I can come closer to making more space for the swallows, the lightning bugs, and the hares. Inch by inch, I can bring myself closer to the ideal Shabbat. And so can you.
Dr. Leah F. Cassorla is the Cantorial Soloist - Educator at Temple Beth Tikvah, in Madison, CT. Her etude reflects on her time in Huntsville, AL, as well as her belief that we can enact Teshuvah to a better relationship with our planet. She has written works of journalism, fiction, non-fiction, and academics. She is currently studying for a dual-ordination as a Rabbi and Cantor at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY.
by Rabbi Louis Polisson
And the land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine;
for you are strangers and sojourners with me (1)
And now we are learning
That the Land belongs to No One,
To the One with No End
For the earth was confusion and chaos (2)
And we too have become
wild and waste
Human beings from the earth
Human beings, full of harm (3)
for the earth
But our fate is not sealed
There is hope
There is choice
There is justice (4)
And there is return, an answer, repentance
The time to come close
has drawn near
The season of Elul
The time of “we are our Beloved’s,
and our Beloved’s is ours”
At the end of this Year of Release
There is an opportunity
There is a new year
There is time to repair the world
Through the sovereignty of the Almighty,
through presence of the Supreme Mighty Mother
There is time to say: Here I am
For we are Her People and She is our Beloved (5)
Not for us, not ours
Is the Land
Not yours and not mine
For Her Own Self
strangers and sojourners are we
and human beings from the earth
We are connected and responsible
From the worm in the ground
to the fish of the sea
From the tiniest grain of sand
to the air in the sky
Together we must recognize and lead (6) and pray and act
So that She might grant in our hearts
The ability to understand, to be aware, to listen and to hear (7)
To learn and to teach (8)
To serve her and to protect her
The Garden of Eden, where is it? (9)
In the earth.
And not mine
כי לא לי הארץ
הרב לב שלום
בן אשר זעליג וטובה פוליסון
והארץ לא תמכר לצמתת
כי לי הארץ
כי גרים ותושבים אתם
כי הארץ היתה תוהו ובוהו
וגם אנחנו הפכנו
בני אדם מן האדמה
רבה רעת בני האדם
אבל גורלנו הוא לא חתום
ויש תשובה, תשובה,
זמן אנו לדודינו
בסוף שנת השמיטה יש הזדמנות
יש שנה חדשה
יש זמן לתקן עולם
במלכות שדי, בשכינת אמא עילאה
יש זמן לומר הנני
כי אנו עמה והיא דודינו
לא שלכם ולא לי
כי גרים ותושבים עמדה אנו
וגם בני אדם מן האדמה
מקושרים ומחויבים אנחנו
ועד לדגי הים
מגרגר החול הזעיר
יחד כולם נודה ונמליך ונתפלל ונעשה
שהיא תתן בליבנו
להבין להשכיל לשמוע
?גן עדן, היכן הוא
Louis Polisson is a musician and rabbi, ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018, where he also earned an MA in Jewish Thought focusing on Kabbalah and Hasidut. He currently serves as Rabbi of Congregation Or Atid of Wayland, Massachusetts. He and his wife Gabriella Feingold released an album of original Jewish and nature-based spiritual folk music in November 2018 - listen at https://louisandgabriella.bandcamp.com/album/as-full-of-song-as-the-sea..
by Rabbi Judy Kummer
It was my ankle that went. There I was, in the gorgeous Berkshires countryside, walking briskly with my sister-in-law on a glorious true-blue spring day, sun spilling giddily over wildflowers by the sides of the country road, bugs thrumming merrily in the long grass and the smells of freshness and potential all around.
My sister-in-law pointed out cows in a nearby field; as I glanced over at them, savoring the sunshine on my face, my foot failed to notice missing pavement at the edge of the road — and I took a tumble, twisting my ankle and swearing loudly as I hit the ground.
Pain, deep pain throbbed, along with embarrassment at my klutziness. I was shocked—how on earth had this happened? I had just been walking on the road, hale and hearty, exulting in my good health and in the warm sunlight—and a second later I’m on the ground with a twisted ankle?? I was also aware that I had sustained a real injury— and with that realization came an awareness of the stupid timing of this accident: I had been looking forward to an active summer filled with lovely woodland hikes and long lake swims…
But oddly, as I sat by the side of the road, bits of gravel pressing sharp against my legs and hands, I found myself going into a mode of stillness —and then, unexpectedly, into a mode of gratitude.
My gratitude built over the following hours: I felt grateful that it was my left ankle that I had injured, allowing me still to drive. I could put weight on the leg, which meant it likely wasn’t broken. I felt grateful that I had laced myself firmly into hiking boots before setting out, which had clearly protected my ankle from any worse injury. I was grateful that my sister-in-law had been at hand and that she had flagged down my nephew, driving by en route home from an errand, so I could be transported back to her house quickly and in style, rather than limping home in pain and in shame. I made it to urgent care near home in the company of my mom. I felt grateful to be wrapped in the cotton-batting protection of family connection; I was clearly not facing this injury all on my own.
Our lives are filled with challenges, large and small— and our lives are also filled with gifts and blessings. And the same moment that feels challenge-filled may also hold within it some facets of blessing as well. It is our choice as human beings which we will focus on at any given moment.
Our ancient ancestors knew the wisdom of choosing to focus on the positive. When gifts come our way in life, what a wonderful additional gift we can give ourselves by offering a blessing, an expression of thanks in response. When we choose to focus on the bounty of our gifts and then express our gratitude for them, the impact is not only outward; it echoes in our own hearts. Gratitude warms the heart and often expands our own happiness — and it may also move us toward further acts of kindness and efforts to bring happiness to others. Gratitude, it seems, is a gift that keeps on giving, and giving.
As we approach the High Holidays, may we choose for the coming year a path of gratitude and of offering blessings for our many gifts — and through this choice, may we too be blessed.
Rabbi Judy Kummer is a board certified chaplain in private practice, offering skilled spiritual care visits, eldercare programing and lifecycle events. She has served as executive director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of MA and other nonprofits, and has served congregations in DC, NY and NJ. She is happiest outdoors hiking in the woods, swimming in a lake at sunset or tending to her Boston organic garden.
by Thea Iberall
Signal Hill stands 365 feet above Long Beach in Southern California looking down on San Pedro Bay, home of the largest US port. In the 1500s, Tongva tribe members stood on the hill sending smoke signals to their families on Catalina Island. Early settlers used to call it the Bay of Smokes. Eventually, large homes were built on the hill, surrounded by an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Even a Hollywood movie studio shot films there.
Signal Hill changed forever when oil was discovered in 1921. It became covered with over 100 oil derricks. They called it Porcupine Hill. It’s still a productive oil field, although it doesn’t look like one. There are still families living there in big houses surrounded by orange trees and flowers.
Signal Hill, 1926
Buried deep in the fault zone, the secret is hidden
in the stench of the hill. I can feel it—smothered layers of
dead diatoms, algae that once photosynthesized sunlight
into hydrocarbons. For millions of years, the remains
of the algae were buried, heated and pressurized, filling
pockets in clay rocks, accumulating into massive amounts of oil--
rich, thick, debauched oil that fuels our trucks and planes
and lives as we send smoke signals with our cell phones
using the electricity sparked up by the secret of this hill.
On the hill, ten oil pumpjacks are caught in
various angles like low-nodding donkeys straining
to drain the hill of its black money and fetored decay.
There used to be hundreds of oil derricks on this foggy
hill like porcupine quills. It’s not that there are fewer,
it’s that most are camouflaged as condos and playgrounds.
I am reminded of the Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds by Farid-ud-din Attar. In this masterpiece, the birds of the world gather to seek a king. They are guided by the hoopoe who takes them through seven valleys. At each valley, the hoopoe shares obscure anecdotes to teach the birds (think of Zen Buddhism koans). For the Valley of Detachment, the hoopoe shares a story about a seeker on a spiritual quest. He meets a dog keeper who says he abandoned his spiritual life after 30 years to take care of dogs. When the seeker expresses his confusion, the dog keeper says, “I would rather look ridiculous than only appear as if I know the meaning of a spiritual life.” The dog keeper teaches the seeker how to take care of the dogs, and after much repetition, the seeker detaches from his search and learns it is enough to be living a homesteader’s life.
One of the THUM islands, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Out in San Pedro Bay are four small artificial islands (the THUM Islands) with buildings, a ritzy hotel, sculptured screens, a waterfall, and palm trees. At night, the structures are lit by colored lights. It’s quite beautiful, especially from atop Signal Hill. But it’s all fake, like a movie set. They’re actually a pump station. No one lives there; you’re arrested if you try to land. The billionth barrel of oil was pumped from the oil field in 2011. The islands were named for an acronym for the consortium of companies who built them: Texaco, Humble (now Exxon), Unocal, Mobil, and Shell.
Attar says, “Do you want to look spiritual or be spiritual?” Do you want to be a living environment for children or just look like one? Do you want to be a tropical island or just look like one? Do you want to do true t’shuvah and return to God during the month of Elul or just look spiritual?
Thea Iberall, PhD, is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale, an eco-feminist novel about a 4,000-year-old secret brought through time by the birds. In this fable, she addresses the real moral issue of today: not whom you love, but what we are doing to the planet. Iberall is also the playwright of We Did It For You! Women’s Journey Through History – a musical about how women got their rights in America, told by the women who were there. Along with her family, she was inducted into the International Educators Hall of Fame for creative teaching methods. In her work, she bridges between heart and mind, and she teaches through performance, the written word, poetry, sermons, workshops, and storytelling. www.theaiberall.com.
by Rabbi Suri Krieger
Green green, it’s green they say, on the far side of the hill
Green green I’m goin’ away to where the grass is greener still.
It’s a song that was a familiar refrain for me in my growing up years. I loved the message as much as the melody. We were a camping kind of family, and grazing in the greenery of the woodlands was my sacred place. But wherever we went… the Green Mountains of Vermont or the Poconos of Pennsylvania… the green was always somehow marred by the inevitable Fast Food throw-aways of the various camping sojourners.
These days, I live in what I think to be the Green suburbs, where most of my neighbors, like myself, are quite environmentally conscious. We conscientiously separate our recyclables, we attempt to grow at least a few of our own vegetables, we sign petitions to our local politicians. But within a mile of our pristine green neighborhood, there is a Starbucks, MacDonald’s, Duncan Donuts, and three thriving strip malls.
I am writing at this very moment from the Highlands of Scotland, where I have the good fortune of spending this summer’s vacation. Here green comes in 50 shades. Green and rocks and trails are the colorful souls of these Highlands... and gardens everywhere, the Classic and the Wildflower Garden, with not a Mall or Strip Mall in sight. We stop at every ‘pull-in’ to take in the view, and I find myself musing… if this were the US, what fast food chain selling Outlander Burgers would pop up here? What over-the-top Resort would block my view of Castle Eilean Donan ? We would find shop after shop of plastic Loch Ness monsters.
Grateful am I that there are still some places remaining on this beleaguered planet of ours, where the grounds are not littered with plastic and take-out containers…where the grass is greener still… where there is preservation of what’s precious in our precariously wounded planet.
I offer up this ancient blessing: ‘May the Holy On Blessed be She, give you the dew of heaven and the green fatness of the earth’*
Ken yehi ratzon ~
May it be so, that our malls be plowed into green pastures, that our fast fooderies blossom into floral havens.
May this be our Tikkun, our Earthly Teshuva.
so may it be!
Reb Suri Krieger is Rabbi of B’nai Or, Jewish Renewal of Greater Boston.
*Blessing adapted from Goldie Milgram’s Mitzvah Stories
by Rabbi Charles R. Lightner
And the giants began to kill men and to devour them. And they began to sin against the birds and the beasts and creeping things and the fish, and to devour one another’s flesh. And they drank the blood. Then the earth brought accusation against the lawless ones for all that was done on it. (1 Enoch 7:4-6)
And again I saw them, and they began to gore one another, and the earth began to cry out. (1 Enoch 87:1)
The Book of 1 Enoch is the oldest work of Jewish apocalypse, portions dating to the fourth century BCE. Its original language was Aramaic, and it was important to the sectarian Jews of the last two centuries BCE. The text was lost to the West early in the Common Era but a copy in Greek was translated into the classical Ethiopian language of Ge’ez. That version was preserved for centuries in both the Jewish and the Christian communities of Ethiopia. Copies of the Ethiopic version were brought to Europe in the 18th century, but it was not until 1912 that R. H. Charles published the first definitive translation.
The book is written from the point of view of the biblical Enoch, the seventh generation of humans from Adam and Eve and the great-grandfather of Noah. Genesis Chapter 6 tells us that divine beings descended to earth in the time of Enoch and began to disrupt the natural order. That disruption and its consequences are the subjects of much of the long text of 1 Enoch. In the biblical account it is that disruption that leads to Genesis 6:6, which tells us that the Lord regretted having made humans, and the Lord’s heart was saddened.
In the Genesis account, the Noah story follows immediately. But most of 1 Enoch takes place in the timeless gap between the account of God’s determination to cleanse the earth of all life and Genesis 6:8, when Noah is introduced. In that gap, 1 Enoch documents a reaction to the evil and the disruption of the natural order. A reaction that we do not find in Genesis.
In 1 Enoch the earth itself rises up, reacting against violence and disruption. The earth brings angry accusation. The earth cries out in pain. In this earliest of Jewish apocalyptic texts, it is the earth itself that objects to being used for ill purposes. It is that objection, it is the earth’s crying out in 1 Enoch 87 that introduces the cleansing Noah story. This ancient text teaches that offenses against the natural order require repair in the physical realm. It adds a dimension to our understanding of t’shuvah. Atonement and repair in matters of the earth are different from and in addition to the t’shuvah required in spiritual and human relationships.
 Translations from: Nickelsburg, George W. E. 1 Enoch 1. Hermeneia–A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Fortress. Minneapolis. 2001
Charles R. Lightner received rabbinic ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2008. He currently leads a study group and a Shabbat minyan at Temple Emanuel of Westfield, NJ. He studies and writes about the literature of the Second Temple period with an emphasis on apocalypse.