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Jewish Values of Sustainability on Tu B’Shvat: From Hava Ve’Adam Farm to Ramat Eliyahu

Today’s special Tu B’Shvat participant blog post comes from Emily Sherrill, a participant of the Yahel Social Change Program. This group is living, learning and volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion for 9 months this year.

Volunteers in Israel learn about the Jewish value of sustainability and how they can apply it to the community in which they work abroad as part of the Yahel Social Change Program

Last week, we Yahelnikim took a trip to the Hava ve’ Adam Educational farm, where we had the opportunity to see a reflection of ourselves through an entirely new, and unexpected, lens. Hava ve Adam is an educational, but hands-on, community, where the residents tend to a farm, learn about ecology and nature, and even grow some of their own food! The students at Hava ve’ Adam study permaculture, which is essentially the creation of self-sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems, or “permanent agriculture.” It is the idea of integration of the land with people who provide it food, energy, shelter and other needs in a sustainable way.

So, it’s hard to believe that it was coincidental (although it likely was) that our little excursion into the natural world was just days away from the Jewish holiday of “Tu B’Shvat,” the New Year for the trees. It’s easy to draw parallels between the farm and the holiday superficially, for example, trees are a part of nature and indispensable to the general ecosystem, and thus should be celebrated. Fair enough. But further, Hava ve’Adam puts strong emphasis on sustainability, as demonstrated by their study of permaculture, which Tu B’Shvat, and the Jewish tradition at large, values strongly.

The Jewish value of sustainability dates back to what commentary says is being said in the original source of Megillat Kohelet: “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13) This midrash is essentially saying what Hava ve Adam is teaching its students and workers: that if we, as Jews, don’t create a sustainable environment, there will be none of God’s earth left, and thus we must uphold his work by creating ecosystems that will make this possible. This applies further to the work that we are doing here in Ramat Eliyahu. We are creating sustainable ecosystems in the community, lest there be no one left to repair our work when we move on.

The Talmud also ties sustainability back to the trees, further showing us how Jewish values and standards and Tu B’Shvat can be closely related to Hava Ve’ Adam and permaculture, which we have been newly introduced to. We are relayed this in a story: “One day as [a man named] Honi was walking along he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him “how many years will it take until it will bear fruit?” The man replied “not for seventy years”. Honi asked him, “do you really believe you’ll live another seventy years?” The man answered, “I found this world provided with carob trees, and as my ancestors planted them for me, so I too plant them for my descendants.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit, p. 23a). The Talmud is telling us that we must give for the generations that lie ahead of us, like those before us have done for us, even if we will not be able to joy the fruits ourselves, in our time.

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