My life-long love for nature and the wild, and my need to help preserve it, led me to create Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth, the first national Jewish environmental organization in 1988.
Today I think, write, teach, and speak about the Bible's profound sense of place and ecological vision, its ecotheology, and its aesthetics and ethics.
I also work as a life-coach to support others in their creative ventures, and serve as a spiritual advisor and rabbi at Hampshire College.
Please click on the books below for a preview of the books and to purchase.
Our thanks to Ellen Bernstein, birth-mother of the Jewish environmental movement. . . Bernstein seamlessly weaves together Genesis and contemporary environmental awareness, forming a union in which each of these turns out to be the deeper meaning of the other.
—Rabbi Art Green, A Guide to the Zohar, Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow
This timely collection, bringing out the ecological soul of Judaism, is a cause for celebration. Its many refreshing voices call Jewish spirituality to reawaken to its own glad reverence for Earth.
—Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
In this powerful and poetic Tu B'Sh'vat haggadah, Bernstein revives Judaism's timeless affirmation of life, blending ancient text with contemporary teaching to renew our appreciation of creation and to challenge us to reconsider our place in nature and the way we live.
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Minyan, The Ethics of the Sages
A Few Talks & Articles
As a young person, I despaired of how we were flattening landscapes, ruining nature and polluting our atmosphere; it seemed we lived to consume and were oblivious to the world.
Nature was my temple and nature literature was my sacred text. Yearning to preserve nature, I studied biology, led wilderness river trips, and taught life sciences. In search of a spiritual path that could integrate my ecological passion, I re-discovered Judaism, my native tradition, and in 1988, I founded Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth, the first national Jewish environmental organization.
Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
Shomrei Adamah's mission was to illuminate and make accessible the ecological roots of Jewish tradition. Shomrei Adamah was committed to an integration of the 4 worlds of spirit, mind, heart, and hand (the kabbalistic 4 worlds of atzilut, briyah, yetzirah, and assiyah). We developed a foundation in Jewish ecological thinking, wrote curricula and books including LET THE EARTH TEACH YOU TORAH, ECOLOGY & THE JEWISH SPIRIT, THE SPLENDOR OF CREATION and A NEW YEAR FOR THE TREES, produced a quarterly news journal, ran educational wilderness trips, produced holiday spectacles, spawned 10 local chapters and had a membership of 3000 people.
My favorite projects—and the ones that I thought were the most moving and effective—were those that integrated art, nature and Judaism, and reached out to the public. I have always believed that religious ideas and values belong in the public square, not cooped up in synagogues and churches. To this end, we designed large city-wide arts and education events to nurture people's love for nature. For Earth Day 1990, we created an extraordinary All Species Parade, inspired by Genesis 1, and led by hundreds of children from Philadelphia. The event attracted thousands of onlookers and much media attention.
Our first ecological seder for Tu B'sh'vat—the Jewish New Year of the Trees—co-sponsored with the City Parks Department, took place in 1988 in one of the boat houses in Philadelphia with 200 guests, and featured several Philadelphia artists and musicians. The event attracted Jews of all stripes and people who don't identify with any religious tradition. I have produced similar seders in cities around the United States, and my haggadah, A NEW YEAR FOR THE TREES is widely used as ritual guide for Tu B'Sh'vat.
Shomrei Adamah’s work touched the hearts and minds of thousands of people, regardless of religious orientation. While Shomrei Adamah, the organization, closed in 1996, its message continues to reverberate through its books and educational materials.
My Work Today
I continue to deliver the Bible’s deep ecological message through writing, teaching, speaking and consulting. I am moved by the beauty of land and all of creation. Today my interests in land and language, and religion and art have led me deeper into an exploration of the Bible's aesthetics and ethics. I believe that if we can learn to see and hear more deeply again, the beauty of the world can call us to care. In the end, we will only save what we love.
I recently received rabbinic ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. I pursued rabbinical studies in order to ground my work more deeply in Judaism. I believe in the power of religious traditions to help us lead richer, more meaningful lives, and to help us make the world a better place.
I also derive tremendous joy in mentoring and coaching others, and work with individuals, helping them connect with their inner voice. Having launched several entrepreneurial ventures including Shomrei Adamah, Friday Night Alive and a Jewish Arts Salon, I understand the challenges of finding your own way and bringing original work into the world.