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January 2012
Shevat 5772

From the JGF Program Director

Nature Explorium Earns National Certification

Upcoming JGF Training Days

Alumni Update



Farmer's Markets

Wednesday, Feb 8
8 pm - midnight
Pinot & Pomegranate
A Hazon
Tu b'Shevat Party
Brooklyn, NY


is now accepting applications for Spring, Summer, and Fall 2012!

UJA-Federation of New York
Jewish Greening Fellowship
is a program of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center that aims to cultivate environmental change leadership among Jewish communal professionals, reduce the environmental impacts of Jewish organizations in the New York area and generate meaningful responses to global climate change while strengthening Jewish life.

Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield

A Message from the JGF Program Director,
Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield

"And the Lord God commanded the man saying:
'Of every tree of the garden, you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat; for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die.'" Genesis 2:16-17

Why is there a banana peel in the paper recycling? Why were the lights left on in the copy room again? Why are there Styrofoam cups near the coffee maker? At our training meetings, greening fellows often share their frustration that the changes they work so hard to implement are even harder to enforce. The signage can be perfect. The receptacles can be strategically placed and yet, people don't always do what we want them to.

Why is this? Do we lack authority? Well, yes. And policy changes from the top can make a huge difference. So if you are the executive director or rabbi and your fellow has worked hard to set up recycling it will make a big difference if you let everyone know this is important to you. Are the consequences not grave enough? Well, they are grave, only they are not right in front of us. Our environmental justice tour made very clear to us the impact that our waste has on the health of our neighbors in poorer sections of the city. This is something to keep in mind as we are making choices about what we purchase and how we throw things "away."

Why is instituting these changes so hard? If we look to the Torah we see that God’s first attempt at mandating a desired behavior doesn't turn out so well either. What went wrong? Certainly God has as much authority as, well, anyone! And you couldn’t muster a more extreme consequence. And yet Adam and Eve commit the first environmental sin by plucking and eating a forbidden fruit. The snake is emotionally compelling and convinces them to eat the fruit so they can be wise like God.

At our training day this month, we explored the way our messages and modeling can influence environmentally virtuous behaviors in others. Psychologists are hard at work studying this question. Some of the things we learned are that we need to appeal to people's emotions by conveying our message in a compelling way.  People want to know that they are part of something bigger, so we need to make the connection between the behavior we want to change and the bigger purpose to be served. Another thing we learned is that people behave the way that "social norms" dictate so we need to work at changing what is considered normal. And once we establish these new behaviors, they must be maintained. 

Each month the JGF update highlights changes that greening fellows bring to their agencies and communities. It’s difficult to institute these changes successfully. Fellows need the vocal support of senior leaders. And they need each of us to model best practices so that we establish environmentally virtuous behavior as the social norm in our communities and beyond.

Building the Sukkah Sustainability Consultant to the JGF, Dr. Mirele Goldsmith, describes the latest research in behavioral psychology and how it applies to our greening efforts.

Mid-Island Y JCC Outdoor Nature Explorium Earns National Certification by Greening Fellow Rhya Jerrold

For years I have dreamed of enhancing the empty courtyard space that lived in the exterior center square of our building. It was covered in grass and rocks, with two big, beautiful trees, and many pieces of cluttered plastic play equipment. It was a space, but not a particularly inviting one. From the first time I read about a nature classroom, I knew that such a creation could help give a new life to this tired, old space. However, it was not until my participation as part of the Jewish Greening Fellowship that I was able to accomplish this goal. Now, I am so excited to share that the Mid-Island Y JCC Outdoor Nature Explorium earned the national designation of a certified Nature Explore Classroom from the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.   

The national certification places Mid-Island Y JCC in a growing network of organizations that have created effective outdoor learning environments for children. This network allows for idea sharing, peer support, and continuous learning and development. Nature Explore Classrooms are part of the Nature Explore program, a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. Developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature, certified Nature Explore Classrooms are designed to help fill the void by educating young children using research-based principles for integrating nature into their daily learning.

Our classroom offers interactive elements—including musical instruments made of natural materials, climbing structures, wooden blocks, small water wells, garden areas, and natural materials for building and creating art—that give children important and inspiring nature experiences. While connecting children with nature, such unstructured play and activities are shown to enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress, and improve skills in many areas.  Children can create visual masterpieces in a nature-based art area, build with natural materials, climb on natural structures, and practice their balance, agility, and creativity in areas designed for music and movement.  

"Mid-Island Y JCC has taken an important leadership role in a profoundly needed initiative to connect young children with nature, setting a wonderful example for education centers across the country," said Susie Wirth, Nature Explore outreach director for the Arbor Day Foundation. "Everyone at Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation appreciates the commitment that Mid-Island Y has made to the Nature Explore program and to providing nature education opportunities for young children."

Upcoming Jewish Greening Fellowship Training Days

*Thursday, March 1, 2012, 8:30am-5:00pm: Environmental Issues and Advocacy; and Leadership Development UJA-Federation of New York, room 706/708. 

*Tuesday, March 27, 9am-5pm: Green Innovation Tour in Staten Island. 

*Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 8:30am-5pm: Soulful and Strategic Storytelling with Deborah Grayson Riegel

Wednesday, June 6, 8:30-10am: Senior Leader Breakfast followed by optional tour of of the Staten Island JCC.

Summer Site Visits 2012: The JGF director will visit each of your sites to see your greening initiatives in action.

*Monday-Wednesday, August 27-29, 2012: Closing Retreat at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

Please make note of the following date change: The JGF Graduation will take place on Thursday, September 13, 2012, 9am-11am at UJA-Federation of New York.

*These training days are mandatory for Greening Fellows. JGF organization colleagues are invited to attend as noted, as are JGF alumni.

Alumni Update: A Garden Blooms in Brooklyn
by Linda Eber, JGF Alumna

Smelling Rabbit Ears
Garden Specialist, Joanne D'Auria, teaches campers at the Sephardic Community Center to make "rabbit ears" and gently rub herbs to release their aromas.

Following two inspirational years in the first cohort of Jewish Greening Fellows, the Sephardic Community Center created an Intergenerational Garden with "seed funds" from the David and Minnie Berk Foundation. As an urban center without land, we turned a concrete plaza into 15 raised beds of varying heights to accommodate both young children and older adults. 

Last Tu b'Shevat, senior adults started the project by planting seeds, and at our Spring "Garden Raising," community participants and maintenance staff started constructing the raised beds. At our June "Garden Launch," people of all ages planted seeds and herbs, transplanted flowers, sang, and offered blessings for our garden’s success. 

During summer camp, two gardening specialists taught more than 150 eight and nine year olds about soil, parts of the plant, herbs, pollination, and the plants we eat.  Older adults and campers were involved in watering and tending the garden, scavenger hunts, plant observations, and discussions about nature. Passersby frequently commented that the garden beautifully transformed the bare, concrete plaza. Some older adults recalled their earlier years farming in their home countries. Everyone said they loved seeing it even if they didn’t work on it themselves. 

One of the older adults who seemed only interested in her daily card game participated in a garden scavenger hunt with campers. We found that she only spoke Arabic, and to our delight, some campers spoke Arabic and French with her. She became animated in a way we hadn’t seen before. Gardening helped her break through a previously unrecognized obstacle and enabled the children to draw on their cultural heritage to connect with her.

With the approach of fall and needing to harvest the garden, we held "Seeds of Hope" on the only Sunday available: September 11. While we acknowledged the tragedy that had occurred, we also honored the cycles of life. The summer camp gardeners, their families, older adults, and community members harvested the edibles, transplanted plants, planted bulbs that would sprout next Spring, and contributed prayers for peace. Sustainable Flatbush brought their innovative SunBike to demonstrate how 'pedal power' and solar panels generate electricity for powering the blender to make "Sun-Powered Pesto" with our garden’s basil.  Everyone got a taste of our "best pasta pesto ever!"

The garden program increased participants’ awareness about the miracle of seeds sprouting into the foods we eat. Our touch garden taught them to explore their senses, and scavenger hunts increased their observational skills. Creating the garden beautified our center as we also introduced issues of environmental sustainability and nurtured an appreciation for the beauty in our natural world.

To support Isabella Freedman’s ability to provide year-round retreats for Jews of all ages and backgrounds, visit us online or call 860.824.5991.

The Jewish Greening Fellowship is a project of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and is made possible with the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York.

At Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, we create transformative experiences that integrate ecological awareness, vibrant Jewish spirituality, and social justice. On retreat and on the farm, our programs cultivate community, refresh the soul, and rekindle purpose.

We are located 1 hour from Hartford, CT, 2 hours from NYC, and 3 hours from Boston. Our 400-acre Connecticut Berkshire campus has a ten-acre farm, two lakes, and miles of hiking trails. We provide year-round accommodations for up to 150 guests and serve farm-to-table kosher cuisine.

Room & Board ranges from $75 to $295 per night per adult and does not include program fees. We offer children’s programs, on-site camping, financial aid, and transportation shuttles. We rent our site throughout the year for organizational retreats and family celebrations.     |     800.398.2630