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WRJ grant expands Emanu-El Gan Project

Temple Emanu-El eighth grade students tend one of the Gan Project garden beds. (Courtesy Temple Emanu-El WRJ)

Temple Emanu-El’s Gan (garden) Project is growing — thanks to a $2,000 incubator grant from the Women of Reform Judaism to the WRJ of Temple Emanu-El.

Temple Emanu-El was among the first to receive these grants, which range from $500 to $5,000. They were awarded to “outside the box” programs that demonstrate creative thinking while promoting Reform Jewish values, spirituality and acts of tikkun olam (repair of the world), says Norma Cohen of Temple Emanu-El’s WRJ, who serves as the Southwest area director of the WRJ Pacific District.

The original Gan Project, sponsored jointly by Temple’s WRJ, Men’s Club, and a private donor, was designed as a way for the Kurn Religious School’s eighth graders to continue learning about many of the contemporary values of Shmita, the Sabbatical year, inlcuding food sustainability and responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources, explains Cohen. Shmita was most recently observed in 5775, beginning at Rosh Hashanah in 2014.

“The students have enjoyed the Gan Project. It’s been a great way to explore a number of different topics in terms of food justice,” says Rabbi Educator Batsheva Appel, such as the Jewish approach to hunger, including the concept of pe’ah, the tradition of leaving part of the fields for the poor to harvest for themselves.

Planning, planting and caring for the garden has fostered a sense of responsibility among the eighth graders, while distributing their harvest has enhanced their creativity and organizational skills, says Cohen.

Eighth grade student Sydney Ruskin says that after planting seeds in the fall and tending the gardens each week, “for our Tu B’Shevat seder we harvested and made a salad.  And after that, we replanted.”

One of the lessons of the Shmita year was about giving back, she says, “and we got to give [vegetables] to all the other kids in the religious school and share that with them.”

The parents of Temple Emanu-El’s Strauss Early Childhood Education Center were so impressed with the eighth grader’s thriving gardens that they asked if a similar program could be created and offered to children in the ECE.

The ECE phase of project added a pair of 4-foot by 5-foot raised gardens to the original two 3-foot by 10-foot and one 3- foot by 3-foot raised beds. The new beds, which are in the ECE playgrounds, have already been planted.

“I am so grateful for the gardens donated by the WRJ to Temple Emanu-El’s ECE,” says Anna Waterbook, an ECE parent. “The children have been able to watch plants grow from seeds and will eventually be able to pick and eat what they grow in the gardens. Gardening is such a wonderful activity for the children because it allows them to develop an appreciation for nature, nutrition and where our food comes from, interact with their environment, and not to mention it is also a ton of fun!”