Just in time for Tu B'Shevat comes an announcement from a former Seattleite now in Israel. Shaul Judelman (formerly Stefan) grew up at North Seattle's Congregation Beth Shalom, where his parents still belong, and is now the coordinator of an ecological institute, part of Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo in Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighborhood. The program offers text study combined with ecologically focused activities.
Judelman, 26, who grew up on Capitol Hill and attended the Seattle Hebrew Academy, calls the program an 'eco-activist beit midrash (house of study).' The school hosts a broad cross-section of Jews living in or visiting Jerusalem and offers men and women from all denominations a chance to connect to tradition and build textual skills while learning to balance society's impact on the natural world.
Judaism has a long history of encouraging ecological responsibility, and Jews have been leaders in the modern environmental movement since its beginnings. (If you Google 'Jews environmental activism' you will get over a million hits. Add 'history' to that phrase and you'll add another 5 million hits.)
In addition to text-based learning, students spend two days a week in the field doing community service and taking tiyulim (educational trips and hikes). Recently, participants turned a section of playground into a garden for a preschool, started a neighborhood compost project and harvested organic grapes from a local vineyard. Other tiyulim have included moonlit hikes, an Old City tour, and guided hikes in the Jerusalem Forest.
Growing up in the Northwest influenced Shaul's interest, he says, as did 'those two eco-activists who came into my prozdor (entryway) Hebrew class at Beth Shalom and taught about rainforest destruction, [Rabbi] Shalom Bochner at Solomon Schechter'struggling to save the trees around the'camp.' He also cites 'a firm belief in the Torah as a dynamic guide to living and acting in the world.'
Judelman studied at Jerusalem's Bat Ayin Yeshiva, which 'stresses deeply engaging the texts and the modern world.' In High School he was active in USY, BBYO and youth services at Beth Shalom. He graduated from Garfield High School and went to Pitzer College in Southern California, majoring in international and intercultural studies.
'Throughout my activism,' he explains, 'I wondered, 'where is the traditional Jewish perspective?' I came to Israel looking for religious farmers. I wasn't expecting to live here. But the tremendous sense of our people and our national project blew me away.'
For information about the school, visit the Web site at www.shlomoyeshiva.org/eco.
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A sharp-eyed Seattle Chapter Hadassah member, Jill Cohen, spotted an item about another Israeli-Seattleite in organization's 'Jerusalem Netletter' (find it on their Web site, www.hadassah.org, under 'news').
Daniel Keebler grew up on Mercer Island, but he made aliyah and is now serving in the Israeli army. He e-mailed me about his experiences.
Daniel, 21, attended both the Seattle Hebrew Academy and the Jewish Day School growing up. He made his first trip to Israel with his family in the 8th grade, followed by a class trip to Israel later that academic year. That trip, he says, 'had subtle, but lasting effects on my relationship to Israel.'
He went to Camp Solomon Schechter and says that some of his happiest memories are from those times. 'Camp was where I first decided to start wrapping tefillin and really exploring prayer,' he reports.
He attended Hebrew High while he was going to the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences.
'One year when I was an'officer in the student government, we noticed that every one of the head officers was Jewish,' he writes. 'I think there's something ingrained in the Jewish soul that compels us to improve our societies.'
After high school, Daniel went on Young Judaea's Year Course in Israel (Young Judaea is Hadassah's youth program) with their religious group, Shalem. (www.youngjudaea.org). That influenced him the most in making aliyah, which he calls 'hands down, one of the best choices I've ever made.'
In May of last year, Keebler joined the Israel Defense Forces with the religious Nahal Charedi unit, where he was trained as a sharpshooter. Daniel says that learning Hebrew was as much of a challenge as the military training.
'In the beginning, I often just mimicked what everyone else was doing. If they started doing pushups, I joined in. If they started cleaning their guns, the other guys showed me how.'
Currently the unit staffs two roadblocks, guards three settlements and patrols 'with Jeeps and Hummers in order to prevent terrorist activity.' Keebler will be in the service for four more months.
Daniel has a sister, Talia, also living in Israel with her family, but most of his family remains in the Seattle area, including his dad Craig Keebler and his father's wife Carol Teitz, his sister Nina Keebler, two step-brothers, Dave and Jon Sanford and mom, Gila Cadry of Mercer Island.
Gila says that of course she worries about Daniel. 'I have two kids living there. There's always an element of concern.
'At the same time,' she adds, 'I'm proud of him for standing up for what he believes. Not everyone acts on their beliefs.' His heart is in what he does, says Cadry. 'He loves'all people.'