I was one of those lucky kids who grew up playing outside – in the woods behind Linda’s house, along the creek far away from anyone’s house, on the hills we rode to on our bikes. That sense of freedom and joy of being outdoors continued at Jewish summer camps. On kibbutz picking pears. Camping with my husband and kids. And now, walking in parks with our grandkids. So I love discovering programs that take “Judaism back to nature,” like Wilderness Torah. Adamah. B’naiture. Outdoor Jewish Adventures.
Jkidphilly – introducing Jewish values
When I read about jkidphilly.com’s latest program called “Venturer,” I was enthralled. This new Philadelphia-based initiative is designed to help kids and their families explore Jewish values together. And they’re starting with preserving the earth (Bal Tashchit), meaning “do not destroy.” In keeping with this value, they suggest such activities as:
- Visiting a nature center or local park.
- Cleaning up trash you find when you visit a beautiful place, like a beach or park.
- Saying the blessing before you eat (“motzi lechem min ha-aretz” – thanking God for bringing forth bread from the earth).
Origin of Bal Tashchit
The tradition comes from a Torah teaching in Deuteronomy not to cut down fruit trees in wartime. [Background information here from Chabad.org.] As you can imagine, the concept has been generalized to talk about not wasting. But this paragraph from a Jerusalem Post article really helps shine a light on how to understand bal tashchit: “This idea of not destroying . . . is the true basis of Judaism’s attitude toward nature and the world. We were not placed here to destroy the world by wanton disregard of the limited resources that we have. Rather, like Adam and Eve, we have the task of tilling and tending the earth that has been given into our charge.” So the emphasis is on tilling and tending.
Adventures close to home
In a recent post, “With Thanks to Maya Angelou,” I showed a picture of the bean seeds that our grandson gave me for Mother’s Day. Above is a more recent photograph of those same beans, now climbing up a trellis toward the sky, truly like Jack and the Beanstalk. Amazing, yes? You can bring that sense of awe to your children with these simple “adventures.” 1 – Planting together. With a little nurturing, a little soil, a little water, those tiny seeds are well on their way to being part of our dinner. So if you have room even for a few pots – cherry tomatoes, parsley, a few herbs – your kids naturally make the connection between taking care of our earth and sustenance. #2 – Discovering what’s in your own backyard. With our young grandsons, there’s plenty of adventure right around our house. We explore which flowers are blooming. Which vegetables need to be watered. And what’s ripe and ready to be harvested. They can also pinch the mint and smell the fragrance. #3 – Enjoying just picked freshness. Farmer’s markets or pick-your-own strawberry fields also create the opportunity to talk about growing things from the earth that nourish us. #4 – Keeping our rivers clean. And it’s never too soon to start talking about the importance of clean water, a particular interest of my husband’s. A walk along a stream or river bank is the perfect place to talk about how we can all work together to keep our waters pure.
What are your favorite ways to share the beauty of our earth with your little ones? Do you camp or fish or hike? And what memories do you have from your childhood of appreciating nature?