Blog  How to Create A Jewish Environmentalist

How to Create A Jewish Environmentalist

by Shaina Morrel, Limud Specialist

This week’s Jewish value is Ga’avah, or pride. At camp we feel pride in a lot of ways every single day, but this summer the word has taken on an entirely new meaning for me. On the first day of camp, I informed my campers of my new position as the Limud/Jewish programming specialist, and they responded with dull sighs, eye rolls, and “Really Shaina, you had to pick that?” Yet as first session has gone on, I hear campers (and counselors) excited to go to the Limud activity period, continuing their conversations of what they learned that day, and even statements like,  “Limud has actually been so fun and interesting!” There are many reasons why this transition occurred, but I am proud to say that I have been a part of it.

I have been working with the Upper Bonim campers on the Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam curriculum, more specifically, the environment focus group. I started off the session by asking the campers “What is Jewish about the environment?” and they surprised me with their insightful answers. Some of the responses they came up with were: Etz Hayim- The Tree of Life, which stood in the center of the Garden of Eden; Shabbat- the day of rest that encourages us to use less electricity and avoid driving; Shmita- the resting of the land after seven years; the prayers referencing Earth; the creation story; Kashrut- the religious laws of animal treatment and the suitability of foods; Tu Bishvat- the Jewish new year for the trees, and l’dor v’dor- passing on a healthy and protected land to the next generation.

This curriculum has allowed me to combine two of my strongest passions, the environment and Jewish values. Brought together, I truly feel so empowered. When we take a topic such as the environment, that the campers are already engaging in, and look to see it through a “Jewish lens,” it doesn’t seem so hard to reach our goals. Speaking directly with the kitchen, office, and maintenance staff about the products used at camp and the carbon footprint we are making, inspired the students to develop a list of ideas for how camp can be more sustainable and reduce our environmental impact.

They also brought tears to my eyes as they discussed wanting to raise money for solar panels on the Beit Am as part of the Olim 2022 B’nai Mitzvah project. In the first week, many campers didn’t know what words like tzedakah, organic, or global warming even meant. Contrasted to just a few meetings later, when they spoke eloquently about important issues and felt confident in the role they wanted to take on an environmental matters in our crazy world. They dreamt big and felt capable of becoming true changemakers… This. This was what brought me to tears, and I felt proud of the growth before my eyes. Witnessing these sparks of passion in each of these campers gives me hope for the generation of leaders that we are building here at Crane Lake.

The Upper Bonim campers and staff have learned about a wide variety of issues and topics, and recently developed an Environmental Pledge for how they will make their small difference moving forward. Some examples include:

  • I will try to minimize single use plastic

  • I will try not to disturb natural wildlife

  • I will try to unplug my chargers when I am not using them

  • I will try to take shorter showers

  • I will try to eat as little meat as I can, and if so eat grass fed meats

  • I will try to only use products that were not tested on animals

  • I will try to pick up at least 5 pieces of trash every day

Today we make our final preparations for the tzedakah fair in which we will be supporting organizations such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Stand for Trees, and National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)– all organizations that the campers chose out of a large group of options. Please take the time to look into these organizations on your own, ask your campers why they are passionate about the organization they chose, and how you can incorporate environmentalism into a Jewish lifestyle. I encourage all of you to consider and reflect on the everyday impact you have on the environment, and find your spark of passion, your ga’avah- pride in the work you are doing to change the world.

Shaina Morel has been at Crane Lake Camp for 11 years. She’s a first year Limud specialist and is enrolled at George Washington University, where she plans to graduate in 2021.