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Artistic students are finalists in environmental contest
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Artistic students are finalists in environmental contest

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Arielle Bernstein and a frame from her multimedia contest entry
Arielle Bernstein and a frame from her multimedia contest entry

A videotaped clay figure puppet show about planting trees by Arielle Bernstein of West Caldwell, a drawing about praying in nature by Lee Meyers of Montclair, and a PowerPoint presentation about conservation and feeding animals by Ally Schachtel of Essex Fells — all are finalists in an environmental art contest sponsored by Babaganewz.com, the Jewish education website.

All three young artists are fourth-grade students in the religious school at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell.

The goal of the contest, which spun off from a lesson on Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, was “to have students think about the environment from a Jewish perspective,” according to Aviva Werner, editor of Babaganewz.com, a project of Behrman House publishers.

All finalists will receive a water-powered alarm clock. The winner, who will be selected through voting at Babaganewz.com, will receive a solar-powered backpack. (The backpack is equipped with a solar panel, and electronics can be plugged right in.)

Finalists were selected by a panel of judges on March 25.

Originally planned by CAI bet class teacher Tammy Epstein as an in-class activity, the project was scheduled for what turned out to be a snow day. She encouraged students to take on the challenge at home, and five did. Epstein, who said she was thrilled with the success of her students, frequents Babaganewz.com, saying it’s a site she visits “regularly to get inspiration for my lessons. I try in each lesson to have one key message. For Tu B’Shevat, it was conservation, and the contest tied in beautifully.”

She offered the students some different ideas and quotes. Lee was struck by the teaching of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, who taught that it is better to go outside a city and pray near plants because it is peaceful and quiet.

“That teaching really meant something to me,” he told NJJN.

Arielle took her inspiration for her clay multimedia entry — in which children decide to plant a tree together in a park and later enjoy the fruits of their labor — from her own family’s experience planting an apple tree in their yard. “I’ve liked watching it grow,” she told NJJN in a phone interview. “Last summer we got three apples. This summer, I hope there are more.”

Ally’s PowerPoint presentation includes information on conservation as well as games to monitor a player’s selfishness or selflessness when it comes to environmental preservation. She was particularly struck by the teaching that you should feed your animals before yourself (Deuteronomy 11:15). Since Tu B’Shevat, she told NJJN in a phone conversation, she and her sister make sure to feed their dog breakfast before they eat.

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