The downpour last week caused some anxiety. It might have ruined the project Evan Schulz had spent four months creating, an Interfaith Garden in front of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford. It was the final project to earn him his Eagle Scout ranking.
But on Sunday the weather cooperated long enough for the 17-year-old Cranford High School senior to officially complete the garden, with help from congregants young and old, fellow members of Scout Troop 75, family, and friends of various religious denominations. The garden has flowers, benches, and a menora.
When Evan looked around for a service project for a local nonprofit to undertake to earn the Eagle rank, he considered a number of organizations, and then settled on this place he has known all his life.
“It’s the only temple I’ve ever belonged to,” he said. He had his bar mitzva ceremony there, and has stayed in touch with education director Tamara Rubin. “I wanted to give back in some way,” he said.
People at the temple mentioned to Evan that the front garden needed re-landscaping and perhaps a seating area. “I thought, great! But why have only one part of the community involved? Why not do it with the whole community, and make it an interfaith garden?”
It was slow going at first, Evan said, “but I convinced people, and with the help of some of my friends, we got it done.” Working on Sundays, it took about four months — 200 man-hours in all. Evan said his mother, Jill, and a local Cranford landscaper who acted as his mentor helped him plan the layout. His father, Peter, worked hardest of all. “He was super supportive,” Evan said.
Rubin spoke at the ceremony, as did the temple’s leader, Rabbi Ben Goldstein, and Gerry Paradiso, a member of the local Interfaith Council. She spoke about the importance of reaching out to people of all faiths and working to make this a better world by building “human bridges” such as those reflected in the garden. She said that as an educator she is proud each time she sees students who have come through the temple’s religious school “live by our values and immerse themselves in acts of kindness.”
Evan turns 18 on June 19, and that officially ends his Boy Scout experience. Attaining the Eagle Scout rank is the grand finale. To achieve it, he will still have to write up the whole project, but he has fulfilled the other requirements — completing 21 merit badges, doing at least 100 hours of service for a nonprofit organization, and demonstrating leadership. What is more, he said proudly, he fulfilled the “interfaith” part — bringing together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends.