March 2016 scroll article

In the ancient world, Jews were intimately tied to the land; we were farmers and shepherds, so our livelihoods were directly affected by natural events. Our Temple worship revolved around sacrifices of animals and crops. Our calendar was (and still is) bound to the moon, and almost every holiday has agricultural roots. We moved in harmony with nature and the cycles of the Earth.
There is a connection to nature and the land in every Jewish Holiday story and observance, except for Purim. We often say that Purim is the story of the contemporary Jew’s encounter with modernity: always struggling with identity, always pulled between religiosity and secularization. But, why?
In a brief, two verses of the second chapter of Megillat Esther, we get our answer. When we meet Mordecai, the Hebrew tells us in verse 5 that “ish yehudi” a Jewish man, “hayah” was “b’Shushan” in Shushan, the capital city of Persia. Mordecai did not live, dwell or settle in Shushan, he simply was there because he was one of the refugees from Babylonia, having been exiled from the land. In 2:6, the word ‘exile’ is used four times in one single verse. When we were exiled, we lost the physical land of Israel and spiritual center of the Temple in Jerusalem. We were no longer an agricultural people tied to nature, but a wandering people, mostly merchants or tradesmen.
We do not discuss the absence of our connection to nature and to the land, explicitly during the holiday, though I believe it is necessary to our understanding of Purim. Our Jewish identity in the modern world has constantly been questioned because as a people, we have had no land and no connection to it. That is, until the late 19th century and efforts to establish a State of Israel.
Contemporary Judaism has attempted to restore our spiritual and physical balance by fostering a relationship with the land and State of Israel. Religious organizations, such as NYFTY, and secular ones, such as Birthright, encourage young people to travel and live in Israel. In synagogues, focus has been put on using gardening to teach Jewish values, as we see in our own Biblical Garden. Environmental justice has also become a hot social activism project of the Reform movement. The Religious Action Center (, for instance, has extensive material on this topic, and soon, will unveil an active learning network on Congregation and Community gardens created by our own Rabbi Michael Birnholz.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to engage in gardening projects or take part in larger clean up efforts; we don’t have time, we have physical limitations, but I strongly encourage everyone to at least read and be aware of the conservation and green ventures going on in the Jewish world.

Cantor Dannah Rubinstein Jewish farming conventions  Israel Birthright trip with an environmental perspective (tell your young adults!) With Garden resources to be added in the future.