Our Jewish tradition brings with it an articulated set of legal regulations, theological notions, and intellectual values that intuitively respect the natural environment.
We are the keepers of the earth. We ask, “How can we, as stewards, help to maintain God’s garden?”
This core environmental ethos is firmly established in our school’s daily activities and in each grade’s curriculum goals. We recycle. We conserve energy. We nurture our grounds and grow a teaching-learning garden. We look for opportunities to take our students outside to share with them the awe and wonder of God’s magnificent works, to appreciate them, and give thanks for them.
We are not doing this because it is in the news to “green” our world. We have always done it. In 1996 when one class went outside and started digging, while another created works of art with recyclables, we realized that this was one of the most important educational goals we could embrace. Our kids were living the values we were talking about.
And while the politics of “greening” may change or shift in and out of focus, our role as partners with God in the Creation will never change.
The Torah makes ecological inquiry a must for our students. We need to understand our dependence on the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems, those living systems that give us clean air, water, soil, food, and all the other resources we depend on. The more we understand and respect the interconnectedness of all species in this complex web of existence, the sooner we can become literate in ways to care for the earth and to ensure its well-being from generation to generation.
Our Jewish traditions demand that we act on these understandings and truly make a difference in our world.
Ellen Kessler is a Co-founder of The Toronto Heschel School and led its award winning nature and ecological programme. As a math and science teacher, Ellen blended commitment to Jewish observance with her love for the natural world and for children.