May 24, 2018, BEVERLY – “Hey, kids,” shouts Jim Younger to a gaggle of religious school students, ages 2 to 13, as they crowd around a large vegetable garden at Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham. “Do ya like peas?”
The kids shuffle their feet. A couple of them shyly raise their hands, but the rest regard Younger with a look that says: “Are you crazy?” Then Younger, who is an architect during the week but today, wearing tall boots and gardening gloves, looks every inch a farmer, asks a better question: “Well, do ya like sugar?”
“YES!” the children squawk in reply.
“Great,” shouts Younger. “Because today we’re planting sugar snap peas!”
Surprisingly, the joke works. A few minutes later, after B’nai Abraham Rabbi Alison Adler gives a short, kid-friendly lesson in Judaic horticulture and leads them in a blessing, the kids eagerly grab handfuls of seeds, dash into the garden, drop to their knees, and begin planting.
For five years now, B’nai Abraham’s Pe’ah Garden has become an increasingly valuable and enjoyable part of community life. The Hebrew word pe’ah means corners of the fields and refers to a mitzvah found in Leviticus 19:9-10:
“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest.
“And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am Hashem your God.”
In keeping with this decree, most of the vegetables harvested from B’nai Abraham Pe’ah Garden are donated to Beverly Bootstraps, a nonprofit that provides food assistance to local families in need. A small patch of the garden is used to grow horseradish for Passover and a slightly larger patch for flowers that are picked by toddlers who present them to their parents and visitors during Tot Shabbat evenings cosponsored by the Lappin Foundation. Herbs also are dried and packaged by the kids for use as besamim (spices) for the Havdalah ritual that signals Shabbat’s end. In the fall, corn stalks and sunflowers from the garden are used to decorate the community’s sukkah.
But according to Rabbi Adler, “the Pe’ah Garden has paid dividends as an educational tool – especially over the past year. We received a generous grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and also support from the Lappin Foundation and Ganei Beantown: Beantown Jewish Gardens, [an organization dedicated to building Jewish educational gardens throughout Greater Boston], so we’ve been able to include even more educational and holiday programs.”
Rabbi Adler says that while she and other educators at B’nai Abraham often use the garden to focus on such Jewish values as “caring for the earth and supporting people in need,” its greatest value may be that it “cultivates a sense of the wonder of creation.”
It’s also just plain fun. This year, after the sugar snap peas were all planted, one mom, Tammy Weiss, informed her 7-year old daughter, Annabelle, that religious school would soon be over for the year. Annabelle was almost in tears.
Not to worry, Annabelle. At 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 3, all kids can experience the Pe’ah Garden when the PJ Library hosts its Garden Party and Circus. The event will star Vegetable Circus, an act featuring juggler Brian “Hot Soup” Walden and circus hooper/stilt walker Laura “Little Legume” Hanley. The pair uses its amazing talents to educate youngsters about ecology and nutrition. Snacks also will be provided, and those who wish may assist in planting seedlings that religious school students started from seed during the winter holiday of Tu B’shevat.
In addition, the entire North Shore community is always invited to come to Temple B’nai Abraham on Sunday mornings throughout spring and summer and help work in the garden. Jim Younger, architect, jokester, and weekend farmer will be presiding.
“There’s always something that needs doing in a garden,” he says. “We can find jobs for adults and jobs for kids. Especially,” he winks, “kids who like sugar.”