Westfield's Temple Emanu-El’s Mitzvah Garden Lets Congregants Harvest Veggies and Values
Thursday, August 23, 2012 • 8:00pm
WESTFIELD, NJ--Two years ago, while holding a sermon on world hunger, Rabbi Glazer of Temple Emanu-El had a bee in her bonnet. In her research on the subject, she had learned what other congregations were doing right in their own backyard to help end this plight.
These congregations were growing food at their synagogues to give to local food pantries.
According to Glazer, the Torah ( the first five books of the Old Testament) says that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of the field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest … you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19:9)
“They were using the four corners of their land to feed the hungry,” she explained. Now congregations were taking inspiration from that to use their own land to grow food for those in need.
Thus, the seed was planted to create Temple Emanu-El’s very own Mitzvah Garden. (Mitzvah means "good deed" or, literally, "commandment.") This would become the garden in which the entire congregation--young and old--would take part in the process of planting, watering and harvesting vegetables to be donated to the Westfield Food Pantry.
Glazer's idea began to grow and, over a couple of years, it began to flourish. “It took two years to find the right place and right people," she explained. While the garden bed took only one day to build, much of the work consisted of planning, proposing the project to the board of trustees and deciding on the place to set up the garden.
The center courtyard was the decided focal point, as it could be viewed by the entire congregation, including the childhood classrooms.
During the school year, the children are able to gaze out their windows and view their bounty. With a hand in the process from plant to pluck, they have watched the whole process unfold.
Initially, Jill Cimafonte, director of early childhood education at Temple Emanu-El, created a schedule of planting for the kids. Plantings included lettuce, zucchini, carrots, green beans, broccoli and tomatoes. The largest yields have been of lettuce (38 heads), zucchini (3 dozen), and “lots of carrots” said Rabbi Glazer.
Kindergarten teacher Tracy McCauley took the children to the garden for teachings from the Torah, as well as for science lessons. The religious school students were brought to the garden, as well, and the garden was incorporated into the lesson plans.
“The garden became inter-disciplinary for the children,” said Rabbi Glazer.
The Westfield Food Pantry was so gracious and the patrons enjoyed the fresh produce immensely, according to Rabbi Glazer. She explained that oftentimes the patrons receive only canned goods and that the produce was a real treat. With fresh produce coming in, the pantry was able to apply monetary funds towards more canned goods, allowing for more food all around.
Much like the water cooler at the office, the garden has become the place for the congregation to enjoy some fresh air and mingle before or after a service or during downtime throughout the day.
The Mitzvah Garden will soon begin its fall harvest and will start up again the following spring.
“It’s really exciting when you have an idea and you find people who share your vision. You can make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s particularly powerful when you can help people in your own community,” said Rabbi Glazer.
Key volunteers included Danielle Levitt, John Delesio, Eleanor Peris, Hanah Lieberman and David Judd.
For more information about Temple Emanu-El’s Mitzvah Garden, visit their webpage at: http://tewnj.org/article.aspx?id=30064771866&terms=mitzvah%20garden.
For more information on The Westfield Food Pantry or to make your own food or monetary donation, click here: http://westfieldfoodpantry.org/donate.html.