Oseh Shalom Synagogue in Laurel is always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. Last fall, Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde decided to bring on a rabbinical student to mentor. And she wanted it to be an opportunity to further the Reconstructionist congregation’s connection to the natural world.
Next month, the synagogue will welcome Faryn Borella as eco-Judaism student rabbinic intern.
Borella, 29, is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia. She will commute to Laurel one weekend a month to assist with Shabbat services, lead activities on outdoorsy holidays such as Sukkot and Tu B’Shevat and organize a congregational camping trip, Jacobs-Velde said.
She said the goal is to offer more outdoor programming and opportunities for ecological Jewish education for Oseh Shalom’s 225 member families.
“Judaism and the natural world are inherently connected. And we’re all more enriched when we explore those connections,” Jacobs-Velde said. “It’s just such an enlightening experience when we reconnect to the practices of our tradition, to our ancestors.”
Borella was intrigued by the job. She said she values “both reclaiming more ancient Jewish practices that are rooted in natural cycles of time and in paying attention to the outdoors.
“I also find the outdoors to be a place where I get my spiritual resource and want to share that resource with other people as well,” Borella said.
Borella was in her early 20s when she began to consider entering the rabbinate. This was after becoming involved in “activism from a Jewish perspective” — Jewish farms and Jewish outdoor education programs.
“I was falling into a lot of spiritual care type of roles,” Borella said. “And I was just noticing all the work that I’m already starting to do, community organizing, emotional support and spiritual care, ritual leadership, those are all roles I could hold as a rabbi. And to be a rabbi is to be trained to hold that and so much more.”
The eco-Judaism internship is another attempt by Jacobs-Velde to incorporate nature into synagogue programming. It’s something she and her husband, Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde, have strived for since coming to Oseh Shalom in 2012.
Other nature-related programs include the synagogue’s annual winter retreat to a lodge in West Virginia. And in 2019, the congregation installed a biblical garden featuring plants representing the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.
“Our connection to the natural world is inherently a core piece of Judaism,” Jacobs-Velde said. “By integrating and exploring these connections, what we’re doing is we’re tapping into this powerful movement that’s happening in the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community around the world right now.”