Area students explored the connection between Israel, the environment, and the Jewish community in the latest visit by an Israeli environmental group that is partnering with local schools and synagogues.
Carmi Wisemon, executive director of the “green” organization Sviva Israel, conducted a program for fifth-graders at Temple Beth Miriam’s Eisenberg-Bierman Religious School in Elberon on Dec. 19, and the next day for the seventh grade at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro.
Sviva Israel’s Eco Connection workshops are sponsored by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, and connect the American students with their Israeli counterparts in the Arad-Tamar region of Israel, a federation sister community under the Partnership 2000 program.
Wisemon said the workshops have three goals. The first is “a simple environmental lesson of understanding how we impact the environment.” The second is to cite Jewish sources that are relevant to modern life.
“And the third,” he said, “is to create a common language between children in Israel and the United States. They are all part of klal Yisrael.”
Each student received a letter and friendship bracelet from an Israeli pen-pal. Using string unraveled from an old sweater and baby blanket, the students created friendship bracelets and wrote letters to send back to each of their pen-pals.
The environmental lesson hit home for Marissa Feldman of Tinton Falls, a fifth-grader at Beth Miriam.
“It’s important to know what kids are doing in Israel because we can compare and learn from each other. I live near a Wawa and always find garbage in the woods around my house. It makes me mad to see people throw garbage, especially kids my age.”
For Beth Miriam student Rachel Wolson, 10, of Bradley Beach, the experience is part of a larger expansion of her world. She used to think she was the only Jewish person on earth, she said. Enrolling in Hebrew school opened her up not only to Jewish learning, it sparked her interest in Israel — an “entire country filled with Jewish kids,” she told NJJN.
“I just started Hebrew school last year, so this is a totally new experience for me. It’s also my very first step to get to know Israel,” she said.
Wisemon worked with faculty members at both schools to teach them how to use the new Eco Campus website, which enables students to log onto their virtual school and connect with their partner school overseas through games, video clips, photos, and blogs.
Building a connection to Israel is sometimes challenging for local religious-school students, said Stella Jeruzalmi Stanway, principal of the school at Beth Miriam. “Not many of our families visit Israel, so they are a little removed from it. It’s important for us to keep Israel real,” she said. “With this program, it’s both virtual and real.”
The program dovetailed with a class lesson on ba’al tash’hit, the mitzva that enjoins people from destroying or wasting resources, said Sasha Goldfarb, Beth Miriam Judaic studies teacher.
“We are living in a time when we find ourselves on the brink of destruction of the natural environment,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to teach the next generation how to better manage our natural resources and live a more sustainable lifestyle. Our goal is to teach them that Hashem made us stewards of the planet, and we need to do a better job.”
This is the second year both schools are working with Sviva Israel.
“During the course of the Eco Connection Program, they will measure our ecological footprint and learn about themselves and about students who are just like them, sitting in a classroom halfway around the world,” said Yoti Yarhi, head of school at Schechter.
“I’m excited to participate in these fun activities with my new friends in Israel,” said SSDS seventh-grader Maya Menashe of Manalapan. “I can’t wait to work on projects that will help save the world.”