“All of this I have created for you; therefore, take great care that you do not damage and destroy My world, for if you do, there is no one else to put (it) right” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13:1).
Inspired by many Torah sources, Yosef Gillers, founder and co-director of GrowTorah, cited this pasuk first in a recent interview with The Jewish Link. “GrowTorah motivates, inspires and implements environmental commitment from a deep place of Jewish values,” said Gillers. “We do this through our school garden programs, our Torah farm camp, our workshops and our college internship and fellowship programs.”
With such an all-inclusive platform, which includes teachers, Gillers believes that GrowTorah drives our communities to become passionate and compassionate leaders of environmental sustainability and lived Torah knowledge.
Asked about the mission and vision, Gillers described a broad scope of objectives and an ambitious future for the organization. “GrowTorah curates educational garden experiences [designed to] help participants explore relevant Jewish values and Torah lessons, and learn the fundamentals of growing food and partnering with Hashem in creation. The Torah lessons interwoven with the educational garden experiences inspire participants to navigate the complex relationships between humans, their fellow creatures and the earth, and…encourage participants to connect with these values in powerful and personally meaningful ways.”
“At GrowTorah, we envision a world where Jewish day school Torah gardens are ubiquitous. They strengthen and build on a global movement towards a just food system and environmental sustainability, enhancing Jewish identity and community,” stated Gillers.
They are also planning an alternative option that would meet the needs of the smaller schools around the country. Called the Anafim Initiative, it will educate GrowTorah teachers via a summer training program supported by monthly meetings, all via video conference.
Gillers said that one of the overarching objectives is to promote the students’ appreciation of how nature and Torah are intertwined through Hashem’s beautiful Earth. One of the complexities that arises, he pointed out, is the fact that “our current environmental problems have no quick fixes. We strive to leave our students feeling inspired, not defeated—so we try to offer solutions and focus on hopeful messages of caring for the environment. Especially in today’s world of divisive identity politics, we avoid this and focus exclusively on the Torah values and the environmental issues,” with the hope that students will find common ground in this work.
GrowTorah expanded its leadership responsibilities recently with the addition of Sara Just-Michael as co-director. They share the workload roughly 50/50 and are inspired by the credo of The Gender Equality in Hiring in the Jewish Community Project, which encourages real gender equity, not just “lip service” in the Jewish non-profit world and beyond.
The Jewish Link also asked Gillers about the Covenant Ignition Grant, announced recently. “It’s an incredibly prestigious grant, and it will enable us to launch the Anafim Initiative,” which will be spear-headed by Just-Michael. “Our budget is covered by program fees, a third through grants and a third through fundraising efforts.” Giller said that GrowTorah enjoys several important partnerships that bring wisdom, guidance and mentorship that help to deepen their impact and further their mission.
Dovetailing with the approach of Tu B’Shevat, Gillers hopes that people can appreciate a little more the convergence of the blessings of Hashem’s Earth and our responsibility to appreciate and fulfill what it means to nurture and bring to fruition the bounty of the land.
For information on how to get involved, to inquire about programs and camps or to donate, reach out via Instagram @growtorah or http://www.growtorah.org.