By Laura Seymour
As I sit, still filled with Tu B’Shevat fruit, I continue to think about our need to connect with nature. The research is growing about a disorder called “Nature Deficit” and its effects on our children, but we must be reminded also that the lack of connection to the outdoor world affects grown-ups, too. A wonderful book by Matt Biers-Ariel, Deborah Newbrun and Michal Fox Smart titled “Spirit in Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail” begins the introduction this way: “Judaism’s roots are in nature. It was in the wilderness that Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven, Moses spoke with G-d at the burning bush, and the children of Israel received the Torah. The people of the Bible were a people of the land…. Today many of us live in urban centers or suburbs and have lost our connection to the natural world…. In a time when many Jews are searching for a path to spiritual growth, the land beckons us to return.”
So how can we connect both to our Jewish roots and our natural roots? Step 1 is to make a commitment to get outdoors! In our world of exercise, we are going to gyms instead of going outside — so take a hike or just a walk in the neighborhood with your children. The story of Moses and the burning bush is one known to most — we assume that, of course, he would stop to look at such a wondrous sight. Today we would probably be too busy to notice — and we would be talking on our cell phones or looking at an e-mail on the run.
Step 2 is to stop and take notice. Each morning traditional Jews say a series of prayers called “Birchot Hashahar.” One of these blessings can be used as we explore the world: “Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, pokei’ah ivrim. Blessed are You, Adonai, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who gives sight to the blind.” Fortunately, few of us are truly blind, yet this blessing is recited daily to remind us not to become blind to the world. A fun activity is to take a blind hike with a partner — Partner A guides Partner B (who closes their eyes) to search for a site of beauty or interest. When A discovers a wonderful spot, they should adjust B’s head so their eyes will open on the selected view — just like taking a photo with a human camera. When you both look at the wondrous sight, say the blessing and think about the beauty of nature plus the wonder of discovery.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.