Get out there!

And just like that it was spring. As I write this, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the daffodils are blooming, and the world seems alive with possibility once again. I don’t know about you, but I spent way too much time inside this past winter. Some days I barely left my circuit between the couch, the fridge and the bathroom.  Yet I know that I feel better when I make time to get outside.

I’m passionate about protecting the environment. For people to really care about the environment, it is important that we connect to the environment. It is a tenet of eco-education, for example, that we need to have students be in nature for them to want to protect nature. We only value that from which we derive meaning, pleasure, and sustenance. Of course, nature provides all of those things via food and habitat, but we are sometimes too far removed from the natural processes for these things. We don’t grow or raise our own food (much of it, anyway), we don’t build our own shelters, many of us don’t work out of doors. We are cut off from the natural world. This is a problem because humans need, by nature, to be by nature; that is, we are healthiest when we ensure we get more time outside. It makes us feel better, sleep better, and enjoy life more.

There are Jewish laws and traditions that remind us to protect and conserve the natural world. In the bible, one of the first things the Israelites are commanded to do when they enter the Promised Land is to plant trees and allow them to mature before eating the fruits in order to ensure that the trees are not damaged (Leviticus 19:23). Deuteronomy 20:19–20 forbids the destruction of fruit-bearing trees even when waging war against a city. The Jewish sages later extended this biblical law into a general prohibition (known as “bal tashchit”) against wasting or destroying anything unnecessarily. So, one could say that getting outside to connect with nature, to inspire us to protect nature, also makes us better Jews.

As Humanistic Jews, we particularly value community. Another problem with our tendency to stay inside is that the more disconnected we are from the natural world, the more likely we are to be disconnected from our communities. Hasn’t it been nice going out into our neighbourhoods this past week and seeing neighbours we haven’t seen since, say, Halloween? Being cloistered inside often means being alone or without much contact with our broader community. None of this is good for us.

This May I have taken on the One Nature Challenge, sometimes called the 30 x 30 challenge, launched by the David Suzuki Foundation. The challenge is that you spend 30 minutes outside each day for 30 days. Ideally this is spent enjoying nature: walking in a ravine, gardening, sitting in a park. Walking counts but preferably not in a busy, traffic-filled area. If you’d like to sign up for the One Nature Challenge you can sign up here.

We are so lucky to live where we do.There are ravines and parks all over Toronto. To the south we have gorgeous beaches and the Toronto islands; to the north we have incredibly hiking trails, lakes, and large provincial parks/conservation areas; to the west we have the Niagara escarpment, the waterfalls near Hamilton/Dundas, and the Greenbelt; to the east we have the Kawarthas with their incredible lakes and rivers, and forests that go on and on. I hope this spring and summer we each make time to get out and enjoy nature, redouble our commitment to protect nature, and connect with our communities as we wander.

Until next week,


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