This article originally appeared in Boston’s The Jewish Advocate on April 24, 2015.
From Generation To Generation: Planting One Billion Seeds
“From plants to orangutans, a mother and son learn we’re all connected”
Earth Day took place this month, marking the 45th anniversary of this special occasion. While this annual event has become more popular as people become aware of global warming and how our planet is affected by environmental issues, it’s still a topic that needs more attention. Earth Day’s objective is to inspire awareness and gratitude for our environment. As the spring weather approaches, many people plant trees and flowers to give back to the earth. The goal for 2015’s Earth Day is to plant one billion seeds. Even those living in apartments without a backyard garden, like my son Noah and I, can plant seeds in containers for their balcony or to donate to friends and family.
Everything we do to help the earth, no matter how small, has a positive effect. We all have the potential to help our planet, and as a mom, I try to instill these values in Noah, age 9. Last summer, at our local beach, Noah kept finding pieces of trash in the sand and decided on his own to put each piece in the garbage. There was so much trash around us, I made makeshift gloves out of plastic bags, and together we gathered old soda cans, candy bar wrappers, and everything else that didn’t belong. Some kids saw what we were doing and joined in. We left the beach, feeling we had contributed to something positive. This year we will bring real gloves and a bigger bag, with the goal of cleaning up a larger stretch of the sand and boardwalk.
I remember when Noah was a few years old, teaching him what goes into the blue recycling bin, the green organics bin, and the trash. Sorting this out is a great way to get kids involved in helping our planet at an early age. These days, if we are away from home and have an empty plastic bottle, Noah will wait until he finds a recycling bin rather than throw it in the garbage! The slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has been known for years and Earth Day is the perfect time to keep on top of this great habit, if you aren’t currently doing it.
So what does Judaism say about the environment? Quite a lot actually! There is a commandment in the Torah called Bal Tashchit which means “do not destroy.” Although it was originally said within the context of war, forbidding the cutting down of fruit trees, our Sages have written that it is not restricted to wartime. Many environmentalists reference this commandment and say it includes other forms of damage or waste as well. For example, the Chabad website – when defining this section of Deuteronomy (20:19-20) – defines Bal Tashchit to include the destruction of any object that is a benefit to humankind.
Perhaps as Jewish parents, we can consider this commandment next time we go grocery shopping. After all, we want the earth to be around for our children’s children and many generations to come. Sadly humans are cutting down palm oil trees and are responsible for the destruction of the earth’s precious rainforests. Palm oil is an edible plant that is derived from the fruit of the palm oil tree. I would think since this is a fruit tree, Bal Tashchit is not being followed. Palm oil is in many of the products we buy daily, in crackers, cookies, margarine and cereal. Palm kernel oil is removed from the seed of the fruit and is used in many household objects like candles and cosmetics. We can be diligent and humane consumers and with a little effort purchase products without this ingredient. Orangutans spend 90% of their time in these fruit trees. Without these trees they have no home and cannot survive. When I told Noah about palm oil and the orangutans dire situation, he insisted we stop buying products containing palm oil. “I don’t want the orangutans to die just so we can have a cookie,” he told me sadly.
According to the Orangutan Project, almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years, and over 6,000 orangutans a year are dying. If we don’t stop taking their homes away they will likely become extinct.
There are many things families can do on a daily basis to help all the creatures that roam our earth and depend on our planet for survival. We can eat more ethically sourced plant-based foods, use less water, less electricity, compost our leftovers, and even recycle toys and clothes by giving them to families with younger children. This year lets plant seeds of hope for the next generation, as well as actual seeds that can grow into flowers and trees to help our beautiful earth.
Earth Day Clean up at Wishing Well Sanctuary
Photo: Miriam Porter