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Clergy Column by Rabbi Jeremy Morrison

The Beth Am Garden: a place for growing Jewishly, rooted in Torah, sowing care and connection to the earth and all its inhabitants
September/October 2022
 
As we approach the High Holy Days, a period of renewal and positive change, I am excited to share news of a project that we are undertaking at Beth Am. During the past year, a committee of lay leaders, working with the Board of Directors, our Executive Director, Rachel Tasch and with me, developed a proposal for a three-year experiment, to transform the one-acre lot located just to the east of our campus into a space for mindfulness, sustainable agriculture and Jewish education for congregants of all ages.

The "Beth Am Garden” (yes: we need a better name!) will cultivate community, promote environmental sustainability and food justice, foster opportunities for meaningful spiritual engagement and personal growth, and strengthen Jewish life on the Peninsula.

In 2011, Beth Am purchased the adjacent lot. During the past decade, the Board discussed different ideas for the property’s use, including clergy and affordable housing, the construction of a preschool, or a new gathering space for our growing congregation. While we will continue to consider other possible, longer-term uses for the land, at its June meeting, the Board of Directors authorized the Beth Am Garden Steering Committee, led by Pam Shames, to apply to the Town of Los Altos Hills for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). This permit is necessary to use the land for the activities that we envision. Presently, as components of this months-long permitting process, we are working on a site development plan, and soil and irrigation studies. If we receive this permit, we hope to break ground for the Garden in the spring of 2023.

We believe that the Garden will add new dimensions to the community and provide complementary–rather than duplicative–opportunities for experiential education, ritual and social justice to those that Beth Am presently offers both on and off campus. The process of obtaining the CUP will involve listening to the perspectives of the congregation as well as those of our closest neighbors, in order to determine the specific uses, activities and programs we that will offer.

As a starting point, these are the types of offerings that might be sustained by our Garden:

An outdoor classroom for CBA’s youth and family education programs. The Garden will provide a setting for experiential education focused on the agricultural cycles of the Jewish calendar and of Jewish ecological wisdom.

A summer internship for teenagers. The committee is exploring the idea of a six-week, hands-on, summer internship for students entering 8th through 11th grade, that will engage teens in the Jewish tradition of wrestling with Torah and justice. Participants will combine the exploration of Jewish ecological wisdom and its application to contemporary issues of social justice with hands-on farm work.

Intergenerational Programs. The Committee envisions the Garden as a space for multiple generations to interact with one another and to work the land together. Imagine programs on environmental sustainability, outdoor cooking or intergenerational sing-alongs. The site plan will include raised planting beds meant for seniors and participants with mobility issues.

Summer Camp (proposed launch, summer 2025). For many years Beth Am ran a summer day camp on its campus. We are hopeful that we will renew this tradition. The Garden’s site can be a focal point for camp activities that will also utilize Beth Am’s other facilities and grounds.

A Roving Free Farm Stand. We can imagine a farm stand offering free vegetables at different sites in the area. Staffed by Beth Am volunteers, the Beth Am Garden’s Free Farm Stand would be modeled upon Urban Adamah’s (UA) Free Farm Stand in Berkeley. UA gives away 90% of the produce grown at its Berkeley site.
 
The three-year experiment has the pledged financial support of a generous donor. During the upcoming months, we will seek to couple this support with your ideas and energy as together we continue to make plans and evolve our vision. Be on the lookout for invitations to parlor meetings and teaching sessions, as well as opportunities to walk the land and to dream together.

In the meantime, if you have questions or ideas, please share them with me, Rachel Tasch or Pam Shames. You can reach us by email at garden@betham.org.
 
With wishes for a sweet and nourishing New Year, a year of growth and of learning.


Rabbi Jeremy Morrison
rabbi_morrison@betham.org

Tue, September 27 2022 2 Tishrei 5783