As the High Holidays approach, preparations around Livingston’s Temple B’nai Abraham (TBA) are humming more than usual, thanks to a pair of active beehives producing honey, jars of which will be given as a welcome gift to new members on Rosh HaShanah.
The hives are a product of Rabbi Emeritus Clifford Kulwin’s desire to help the area’s environment, Boy Scout Casey Dutch’s efforts to complete his Eagle Scout project, and the synagogue’s plan to establish a unique way to welcome new members and congratulate its b’nei mitzvah.
TBA has seven acres of undeveloped land, accessible only on foot, behind its complex. Kulwin, who retired June 30 after serving as the congregation’s senior rabbi for 20 years, wondered if the tract could be used to benefit the area’s ecosystem.
“There were deer on the land, and plenty of invasive plants,” said Kulwin, a resident of Montclair who worked with the World Union of Progressive Judaism and served a Reform pulpit in Rio de Janeiro prior to his stint at TBA, a non-denominational congregation. “I wanted to see if and how we could put it to work helping the environment around us.”
So, last fall, Kulwin, 62, gathered a group of synagogue members and two environmental experts to walk the vast temple property and consider ways they could make a positive impact. Several suggestions on land management were offered, and the consensus was ultimately to establish the beehives.
“We talked about installing a deer fence and removing invasive plants as well,” the rabbi told NJJN. “The bees, however, are the first step. They are excellent pollinators, helping the indigenous plants in our area, and produce the marvelous product of honey to use to sweeten life.”
Kulwin, himself an Eagle Scout, solicited the help of beekeeper Mike Banker, of Eco Bee Supply in Morristown, who installed two hives of honeybees deep in TBA’s woods this past May.
“We found a good spot, and then had to do some clearing,” said Banker. “Hives are a community unto themselves. There is a queen who lives for about five years and lays thousands of eggs, and female workers and male drones that each live a few months. Every bee has an assigned role.”
During the summer, a healthy hive can have as many as 60,000-80,000 bees, Banker said, which produce between 80-100 pounds of honey for both the hives’ and human consumption.
“The queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day in the summer, when the hive is really busy,” he said. “This drops off in the winter, when the hive only has 10-11,000 bees and is surviving on the honey it previously produced.”
In the first couple of months on the TBA property, the two hives combined to produce more than 30 pounds of honey.
Banker explained the environmental value of the hives.
“For some reason, the world population of bees has really fallen greatly over the last decade,” he said. “We have to keep track of this, as bees are nature’s essential pollinators, playing a major role in the quality and quantity of agricultural harvests. They can fly [at 15 mph] for a few miles each day when pollinating thousands of flowers and other plants.”
Will the hives’ presence on the land be dangerous, or even bothersome, to congregants or their guests?
“People won’t even notice them,” Banker said. “And even if a few flew near the parking lots, honeybees are docile. They only attack when attacked.”
Casey, 17, a member of both the synagogue and Troop 15 in Short Hills, was particularly invested in hives, which is his chosen Eagle Scout Project to complete the requirements for the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) highest rank. The goal of his project, as stated by the BSA, is “to give the Scout an opportunity to ‘plan, develop, and give leadership to others.’”
The Millburn High senior is taking the opportunity to learn all he can about the bees, management of the hives, and their effect on the environment, fulfilling the BSA requirements of planning, development, and leadership.
Casey’s personal goal was to do a project that “brings people together.” He was involved in months of planning possible sites where the hives could be placed and, with Banker, the physical installation of the hives. His leadership role involved bringing Kulwin, parents, members of his troop, and others together to benefit both the environment and TBA families. He will present a detailed report next month to the Court of Honor, the scout body which decides who qualifies for advancement in rank. If it accepts Casey’s report, he will qualify for the rank of Eagle Scout.
“What I have really enjoyed about my project is the bees will help the environment and many congregants will receive the honey they produce for many years,” said Casey. “I feel I worked with a group that achieved a goal none of us could have achieved alone.”
Meanwhile, the sweet taste of honey will endure.
“Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to make jars of ‘TBA Honey’ a regular benefit for all our members,” said Senior Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg.
Overall, it’s a pretty sweet deal.