by Jill Belmont, Beth El Publicity Coordinator
Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow,
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Someone bless these seeds I sow.
Someone warm them from below
‘Til the rains come tumbling down.
The Garden Song by David Mallett
The beds have been dug, the soil has been tilled, and now, Omaha’s Jewish community is ready to jump into an exciting first-time venture: a community garden.
Located just south of the Jewish Community Center, the garden will be a true collaborative effort, bringing together institutions and individuals wishing to exercise their green thumbs, connect with nature, and who share a common objective: to nurture a garden which will provide fresh vegetables to Jewish Family Service and its clients.
The idea of a community garden was planted last year during a meeting of Beth El Synagogue’s Social Action Committee. According to committee member Jeff Kirshenbaum, the discussion revolved around finding long-term, sustainable projects, and the idea of a community garden resonated with attendees.
After months of studying the logistics, it was determined that rather than locating the garden at Beth El, “the long term growth and success of this project increased with participation from many other Jewish groups, and by locating the garden of the Federation campus,” Kirshenbaum said. “We reached out to Friedel, because in the past, they had a little garden and we had heard that they were interested in continuing to pursue it.”
Since then, the garden idea has been enthusiastically embraced by the Jewish community, and is being sponsored by Beth El, Beth Israel Synagogue, Temple Israel, Chabad Center, the Jewish Federation of Omaha, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, and the Friedel Jewish Academy. Kirshenbaum is overseeing the project, along with Beth El’s Social Action Committee chairman Ruti Margalit, Friedel parent Karen Cohen, JCC Executive Director Aaron Rosenfeld, and Friedel Principal Ron Giller.
Pleased with the collaborative spirit that surrounds the project, organizers hope it will be a draw for people of all ages: from teens in Jewish youth groups, children at the JCC summer camps and tots at the Pennie Z. Davis Child Development Center, to residents at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home.
According to Giller, the land on which the garden sits is owned by Metropolitan Utilities District. MUD has allowed this green space, which abuts the JCC’s property, to be used for a play area and the community garden. The garden consists of 11 raised beds, he said; organic vegetables, including tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peas, green beans, carrots and squash will be grown, as well as herbs. A butterfly garden of wildflowers is also in the making.
At harvest time, the produce will be given to JFS and its families, Giller said, noting, “This is a great opportunity for all the major Jewish organizations in the Omaha area to work together to help those less fortunate. Chesed!”
Planted last weekend under the supervision of Karen Cohen and the Friedel staff, the new garden will serve as an invaluable learning tool for the children throughout the community, and especially for Friedel students.
“Children learn best experientially — and a garden can be creatively incorporated into every aspect of Friedel’s curriculum, from science and mathematics to language and fine arts, as well as Jewish studies,” Cohen said. “It will also reinforce the culture of wellness at Friedel, as the students experience the growing cycle of the flowers, herbs and veggies through all their senses and physical effort.
“Friedel families will help plant, weed, water and harvest, and also celebrate the Jewish calendar with special school events in the garden, participate in a back-to-school Israeli Kibbutz ceremony, or just provide Shabbat cut flower bouquets or Havdalah dried herb sachets to the Blumkin Home residents,” she continued. “We may have some fun art projects to help beautify the garden as well. The garden will be very hands-on, so the opportunities for participation are endless.”
The idea was heartily embraced by Harold and Linda Mann, avid gardeners whose generous financial support has brought the project to fruition. In gratitude of their support, the garden will be known as the Harold and Linda Mann Community Garden, Kirshenbaum said, adding, “The Manns’ gift has given us the ability to succeed.”
Linda Mann said she and her husband are thrilled to support the project, and described it as “a perfect marriage: everyone will be able to enjoy this experience together. It’s fabulous – I think people are really going to go for it.”
In addition to their financial support, the Manns look forward to being hands-on in the garden after it’s established. “I would love to be part of actually doing something out there after it’s finished,” Linda said, adding, “Eventually, maybe it will be sophisticated enough that we can give tours or people can hold parties there; it depends on how big it gets.”
Cohen summed up the beauty and value of the community garden, saying, “Here is an intergenerational effort to cultivate a garden: to connect with the earth and with each other, to provide for those in need, to appreciate the miracles of the One who provides for us. This is what Judaism is all about.”
Everyone in the Jewish community is invited to help weed, water and tend the garden throughout the spring and summer. To volunteer, contact the Friedel office, 402.334.0517.