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Yovel: Divine Sparks in New York

By Yael Schonzeit

NEW YORK (Feb. 12, 2013) — "One generation goes, another comes," reads Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "but the Earth remains the same forever."

The sun will rise, the wind will blow and the rivers will continue to flow into the sea, uncontrollable no matter what we do. As the most recent natural phenomenon of Sandy has shown us, nature is so much larger than us. The Earth is unpredictable and holds endless power and strength. We as humans tend to forget that we are partners with God in creation. Part of our role is to maintain the planet's homeostasis, to keep Earth healthy — because when the Earth gets sick, it affects us all. We must tune into the Earth's messages, as they are divine whispers, reminding us to come home. However, humankind has chosen to ignore these whispers. Even as whispers turn to shouts, and shouts to desperate cries, we continue to destroy the Earth's resources, to pollute its waters, poison its air and skew perfect ecosystems with our mindless and power-driven actions.

As Kohelet reminds us, the Earth will remain forever, though our time here as humans will one day come to an end. So I invite us to consider a few things. How do we want to be remembered? How are we, as a Jewish tribe, able to work with God and one another to bring tikkun olam, the healing of the world and ourselves?


Life is fleeting. Our time on this Earth and in this life is temporary. On Sukkot, for a week we sing, eat, dance and sleep in the sukkah, the makeshift dwelling place that itself is fleeting. We imbue the space with holiness, even though we know that our time there will soon come to an end. We are reminded in this way of our time on Earth — ephemeral but sweet. We celebrate the paradox of our pulse: We are but dust of the Earth, while at the same time, the whole world was created for us! We are passing through, but we can make all the difference.

When millions of Jews live in consumer-driven metropolitan centers, it is no wonder that communities have lost perspective and sensitivity to the Earth below our feet. Most of us do not grow our own food, collect our own water or keep chicken and goats in backyards. There has been a reawakening in the past few decades within the Jewish community that is calling for more a personal, hands-on, indigenous approach to living in the 21st century in hopes of returning to an Earth-based form of spirituality.

Highlighting the significance of community, the intention is to make a difference in this sukkah that is life — to uplift ourselves and the world in which we live. This movement has finally reached New York University. Yovel is the first club of its kind at NYU. Merging Judaism, spirituality and Zionism with environmental consciousness, Yovel is striving to raise awareness about the intrinsic interconnectedness of it all. Our mission is to nurture our divine sparks by fostering an environmentally minded community that cares about nature, food justice, peace and spirituality on campus, in New York City, in Israel and in the world.
A student-club affiliate of the Green Zionist Alliance, Yovel helps to change the way that we interact with each other at NYU and in the world. Yovel is determined to embody tikkun olam.

Already Yovel's spirit can be felt on campus. For example, thanks to Yovel, leftover food from Shabbat dinner is now gathered and taken to a nearby shelter for people who are homeless — a concrete way to both avoid food waste, as well as practice loving the neighbor as oneself. Yovel has hosted Torah learning events, including one called "Breishit and Vegetarianism," where participants learned about the connection between the book of Genesis and a plant-based diet.
Yovel also has brought in Jewish environmental speakers and activists, including Nati Passow, founder and director of the Jewish Farm School. And Yovel is now in the midst of planning the first-ever garden at NYU's Hillel. The garden will be a space for education and the growing of herbs for spiritual and ceremonial purposes.

Yovel believes in making the most of our time spent on Earth. We celebrate the interconnectedness of Creation and we are passionate about restoring balance to the planet. Yovel is open to everyone of all faiths, and is always seeking and accepting new spirits to get involved and share passions and ideas about the future.




Yael Schonzeit is a former vice president of Yovel: The Green Zionist Alliance @ NYU.



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