Paradise is a garden, the mystics tell us, where Jews study Torah all day.  If that is so, then Beth Shalom is becoming a taste of Paradise.

The patch of grass out back, once home to a dilapidated Sukkah, a diseased Etrog tree and a tasteless fig, is being transformed into a gracious Gan Tanachi/Biblical garden.  Using only plants mentioned in the Bible, Terry Haffern and Sandra van Eden are creating an inviting space for peaceful contemplation, group study, and picnic meals.   (Has there ever been a more perfect name for a landscaper making a garden for a synagogue?)  Benches will soon be installed, the Etrog has been replanted, and the sukkah has been rebuilt.  (Thank you to Ted Scott and Harvey Livschitz.)  Our flourishing vege garden sits next to these.  You will often find children or insects—or both!—buzzing about it.

A pathway leads from the sukkah to a gorgeous new mural by Ruth Rishton—an image of Judaism’s home in New Zealand/Aotearoa.   Her art will enhance our synagogue for many years to come, as will the hard work of Danny Gelb, concrete pourer extraordinaire, and Judith Hunt, without whom the biblical garden, sukkah and mural would be a mere wish.

Newly fenced, the garden feels miles away from busy Manukau Road, an oasis of calm in the city.  This is just what a synagogue ought to offer; I hope you’ll come wander the path, share a meal, or take part in some Jewish study there.

We’ll officially open the garden on Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the Trees, a festival with Biblical and Talmudic roots that took shape in the Medieval Period.  The Kabbalists updated it by creating the Tu B’shvat seder, a culinary experience of the holiday.  To inaugurate our garden and celebrate the natural world, Beth Shalom is producing a new Tu B’shvat Haggadah.  It will use food to tell the story of our interconnectedness with the Earth.   The Haggadah will debut at Beth Shalom’s celebration of Tu B’shvat on Sunday, January 31 at 5 PM.  Bring a plate and your taste buds.

Creating a beautiful, functional garden on our own land is not enough—we are also obliged to help heal the wider world.  Zachi Miller, a member of our Seniors Class of Post-Bnei Mitzvah students, is doing just this.  He’s setting up a drop site at Beth Shalom for used alkaline batteries—those little power packs we all use constantly and then discard even though we know we aren’t supposed to.  Batteries are a concentrated source of toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium; if not properly handled these leech into the soil and endanger human beings and wildlife.  Zachi is making it easy for us to dispose of our batteries properly.  Drop your used batteries at Beth Shalom and Zachi will take them to the Regional Council’s HazMobile facility.  Thank you, Zachi, for helping protect the bush, rivers, and fields of Aotearoa.   Kol HaKavod!

Nature surrounds us and is also within us—making prayer out of doors a particularly sublime experience.  Join your community on 16 January as we daven at Western Springs.  If you’ve never prayed outside before, you’re in for a special treat.  Come join us for a taste of Paradise.

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