Keepers of the Earth
In 1988—after searching unsuccessfully for years to find a Jewish institution dedicated to the care of the earth—I brought together colleagues and kindred spirits, representing all streams of Jewish life to birth the first national Jewish environmental organization, Shomrei Adamah. Shomrei Adamah found tremendous support throughout the Jewish community and beyond; it was an idea whose time had come. Many Jews were hungry to express their love for the natural world within a Jewish context. While Shomrei Adamah, the organization, closed in 1996, it touched the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of people, and its message continues to reverberate through its books and educational materials, and through the work of a new generation of Jewish educators, naturalists, environmentalists, farmers and artists.
Shomrei Adamah's mission was to illuminate and make accessible the ecological roots of Jewish tradition and to inspire Jewish individual and institutions to care for the earth and act on her behalf.
The Shomrei Adamah leadership recognized that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. The world’s environmental problems are a reflection of humanity’s alienation from nature. Repair of the world depends first on finding our way back to a relationship with the natural world.
Shomrei Adamah’s leadership also maintained that the conversation on Judaism and ecology should take place in the public square as well as in Jewish institutions. Religious traditions offer invaluable wisdom and practices—gleaned over thousands of years—that can help all people learn how to live more harmoniously with the earth.
The Shomrei Adamah leadership believed that the best way to spread the Jewish ecological message was to create educational materials and books. Shomrei Adamah laid the foundation for Jewish ecological thought and engagement through its comprehensive curriculum Let the Earth Teach You Torah (1992), its books Ecology and the Jewish Spirit (1996), The Splendor of Creation (2006) and its Tu B’Sh’vat haggadah (ritual guide), A New Year for the Trees (1988). Shomrei Adamah also produced a lively and engaging quarterly newspaper, Voice of the Trees, modeled after the Whole Earth Catalogue.
Shomrei Adamah spawned 10 local chapters and had a membership of 3000 people and institutions. In addition to developing educational publications, Shomrei Adamah created a national speakers’ bureau, made presentations in hundreds of synagogues and universities, produced several regional conferences on Judaism and ecology, and ran week-long educational wilderness trips, teacher-training programs and leadership retreats.
Holy-days and Festivals
Holiday festivals provide a lived experience of a culture's values. The Shomrei Adamah leadership believed that holiday celebrations, and in particular, Tu B'Sh'vat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, could provide opportunities for educating and organizing masses of people to care for the earth. Shomrei Adamah worked to position Tu B'Sh'vat—viewed in the 1980’s as a time for children to plant trees in Israel—as a Jewish Earth day.
Shomrei Adamah developed the original Tu B’Sh’vat seder into a deeply ecological holiday, and promoted its celebration widely. The idea of a Tu B’Sh’vat seder was first conceived by the Kabbalists, (Jewish mystics of Safed) in the 1600's. The seder was grounded in an ecological vision long before the term ecology was coined. The kabbalistic 4-dimensional world view of body, heart, mind and spirit provided the framework for an integrated approach towards the ecological dimensions of earth, water, air and fire.
Shomrei Adamah’s first seder was held in 1988 in one of Philadelphia’s iconic boat houses on the banks of the Schuylkill River and was open to the public. The seder attracted and welcomed 200 seekers, artists, nature-lovers and environmentalists, and featured several beloved Philadelphia artists and musicians. It was covered by National Public Radio and aired on Weekend Edition with Susan Standberg. The Tu B'sh'vat seder became emblematic of the integrated work that Shomrei Adamah produced. The ritual guide, A New Year for the Trees, is still widely used today.
Building on the success of Tu B'Sh'vat, Shomrei Adamah produced an All Species Parade, the kick-off event for Philadelphia’s Earth Day in 1990. The parade was led by a thousand children, garbed in colorful, home-made, recyclable costumes, representing a host of species and eco-systems. The event proved to be irresistible and attracted tens of thousands of onlookers as the parade snaked through the streets of Philadelphia. You can read about SA’s All Species work in the newsletter, Voice of the Trees.
Shomrei Adamah Archives
Please enjoy Shomrei Adamah's publications. Just click to download.
Many dedicated and generous individuals helped to build and sustain Shomrei Adamah. Shomrei Adamah's board included Rabbi Joseph P. Glaser, z"l, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Miriam Schneirov, Paul Growald, Pete Hoskins, Rabbi Mark Sirinsky, John Ruskay, and Jeff Bercuvitz. Rabbi Dan Fink was a constant and indefatigable collaborator on all of Shomrei Adamah's books. Gari Weilbacher organized the All Species project. Gabe Goldman led Shomrei Adamah's wilderness trips, Devorah Schiff created several of Shomrei Adamah's notecards, Steven Schaffzin and Josh Meyer designed the newletter and publications. Susan Mack, Rabbi Shai Gluskin, Richard Stern, David Kandel, Dee Herman, Mike Tabor, Evan Eisenberg, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Barbara Fenhegen contributed in a myriad ways. Eli Evans, Judith Ginsberg, James Cummings, Steven Rockefeller, John Powers, John Hunting, John Steiner, Ed Skloot, Hooper Brooks, Jeffrey Dekro, George Hess, and Linda Levinson z"l, helpednavigate the world of foundations.
Shomrei Adamah received major support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Covenant Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Educational Foundation of America, the Meyerhoff Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Levinson Foundation, the Everett Foundation and others, in addition to its 3000 individual and institutional members. Its work was covered by media outlets including National Public Radio, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, and the Utne Reader.