Ultra-Orthodox Kids Grow a Green Thumb in ‘Mitzvah’ Gardens

June 11, 2017

Source: Times of Israel


Leshomra is a two-year-old Israeli organization that helps plant gardens at nursery schools, kindergartens, schools, and community centers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in an attempt to connect children in a tactile way to nature and how things grow. It aims to build environmental awareness and green practices from the bottom, through a real understanding of Haredi culture and how best to relate to people in that community.

Places like Modiin Ilit, Bnei Brak, and Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhoods have some of the highest birthrates in the country. In these locales as many apartments as possible are squeezed into small spaces, cutting into desperately needed public spaces and parks. Due to overuse, even the parks that are left often have little in the way of plant life or landscaping.

Although the ultra-Orthodox generally have a smaller environmental footprint than their secular and national religious counterparts because they are less likely to own cars or private homes, the sheer size of the community means it is essential for this sector to adopt environmentally friendly practices as well. But it’s impossible to educate kids to be “environmentally friendly” if they have no understanding of the environment or nature.

Leshomra now works in 85 schools and community centers in the ultra-Orthhodox locations of Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Modiin Ilit, Elad, Tel Stone, and Beit Shemesh. It mostly works with younger children, but in some places with Talmud Torah schools, or elementary schools for ultra-Orthodox boys.

Avishai Himelfarb, who founded Leshomra two years ago, said he wanted to find ways to help people, especially children, connect to the environmental and ecological aspects of the Torah “outside of the study hall.” But he doesn’t explain it like that to those within the ultra-Orthodox community.

Himelfarb’s unique position, on the seam between national religious and ultra-Orthodox, enables him to speak in both languages. He can articulate the importance of Leshomra to environmentalists and outsiders, but he also has a deep understanding of what will draw the ultra-Orthodox community: the opportunity to fulfill additional mitzvot, or Torah commandments.

“We [ultra-Orthodox] believe that our tikkun olam [fixing the world] is first and foremost spiritual,” he said. “Spiritual tikkun olam means living and keeping all of the mitzvot. But next to that, we also want the material world to be fixed.”

Read the entire article in the Times of Israel.

Updated: Jun. 14, 2017