Despite the frequent damp and cloudy weather this spring, Temple Shalom in Aberdeen was drawn to the outdoors, partnering with community organizations on two alfresco mitzvot — one to provide food for the needy, the other to help clean up a local beach.
On Sunday, May 22, more than 20 volunteers gathered to mulch, plant, and harvest at Gan Tikvah (Garden of Hope), an interfaith community garden established last summer by Temple Shalom, Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, and the Matawan United Methodist Church.
Simultaneously, another group from Temple Shalom joined Clean Ocean Action for a Jersey shore cleanup at Cliffwood Beach in Old Bridge.
Community outreach is an intrinsic part of Temple Shalom, said Lenore Robinson of Hazlet, chairperson of the Reform temple’s social action committee. The temple was awarded an honorable mention this March by the Irving J. Fain Award for Outstanding Synagogue Social Action Programming, presented by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.
Gan Tikvah flourishes in an empty lot behind Temple Shalom, due to the efforts of volunteers from the two temples and the church, who help plant, maintain, and harvest a wide variety of vegetables. The produce is donated to the church’s food pantry, which services about 1,800 people a month. Howard Bodner of Lincroft, a master gardener at Rutgers Cooperative Extension and a member of Monmouth Reform Temple, donates his services to help cultivate the garden.
On May 22, volunteers harvested hundreds of heads of lettuce from four 12-by-four-foot raised beds, and delivered bushels full of four varieties to the pantry. Next to be harvested are cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and more lettuce. “We had so much lettuce we also gave some to the food bank at New Light Baptist Church in Cliffwood,” said Robinson. “It’s really a big community effort. The people who come to the church food bank are very appreciative of the fresh vegetables since you usually don’t get fresh produce at a food bank.”
The interfaith effort is a gift to everyone involved, said Pastor Sue Flicker of the Matawan United Methodist Church. “We have been blessed to be partners in ministry with the two temples,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about each other and work together, which always breaks down barriers.”
‘A positive impact’
May 22 marked the first time Clean Ocean Action held a beach cleanup on a Sunday rather than a Saturday, to accommodate the Jewish group, said Margo Wolfson of Manalapan, who coordinated the cleanup together with Dana Battaglia of Holmdel. Both are Temple Shalom members.
Wolfson also chairs the Green Team at the temple. “Our goal is to educate people, and help parents be an example to their kids, and to make a positive impact on our environment and our health,” she said. “I hope this is the first of many beach sweeps, and that they can continue to be on Sundays.”
About 40 people participated in the beach sweep, from age four and up. They gathered about 30 large bags of trash, plus a crate full of men’s galoshes that had lodged under the sand. “It was eye-opening to see the amount of trash washing up on our shores every day,” said Battaglia.
“Everyone left with a good feeling that they were doing something good for the environment, but also a sense of surprise that our oceans can produce so much garbage.”