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Program Bank: Adopting Land

“Adopting” and Beautifying Natural Areas


Adopting natural areas, such as parks, streams and roadsides, are projects that all ages can be involved in to enhance the beauty and environmental quality of natural “green” spaces. An organization can informally adopt an area by simply pledging to clean it regularly and advocating to the local government for its needs. In some areas, more formal adoption programs are available. Cleaning up a natural area near your synagogue can make a big difference—not only to the ecological health of the area itself, but to the self-esteem of the neighborhood around the area. Helping restore these areas gives local children a safe place to play and provides positive alternatives to street life. There is a wonderful passage from the Talmud, which illustrates the Jewish perspective on caring for public land:


It once happened that a farmer was removing stones from his field onto public ground. A pious man found him doing so and said to him, “Fool, why do you remove stones from a ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?” The man laughed at him. Some time later, the man had to sell his field and when walking on that public ground he stumbled over those stones. He then said, “How correctly did the pious man say to me, why do you remove stones from ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?” (Tosefta Bava Kama 10:2, Bava Kama 50b)


Rashi interprets this passage to mean that the property that you own may not be yours tomorrow, whereas the public domain will always be available for your use. He therefore stresses the need for public areas to be maintained as paramount to an individual’s personal property.


Adopt a Park

Check to see what local, county, or statewide governmental body in your area is in charge of your local parks. When groups “adopt” parks, they can, in addition to general clean-up, become involved in planting trees, building or renovating playgrounds, and even providing activities in the park. In some areas, parks may need volunteer security to help ensure that they remain safe play areas for young children.


Restore a Park Project

Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Arizona (www.templeemanueltucson.org) has created a social action initiative whereby members clean and restore a park in the Tucson metropolitan area one day each spring. 


Congregational “Buffalo Hunt”

Have you ever wondered what happens when a herd of buffalo congregate together? The result is a tremendous amount of garbage and refuse. The aim of this program is to educate people about the affects of waste and garbage on the environment. The goal is that congregants, children and parents can learn what they can do to preserve and clean up their surroundings by “rounding up” as many pieces of garbage and dispose of it in receptacles. This is a fantastic way for individuals, adults and children to play an active role in cleaning our public parks and/or synagogues, while experiencing first hand the responsibility we have to care and maintain the environment and to preserve it.


Adopt a Roadside

Many communities now take sponsors to adopt major surface streets and highways. Usually, this involves calling the local office of your state’s Department of Transportation, or its equivalent in your area. Typically, sponsorship commits your organization to donate a certain amount of money and/or to volunteer for a clean-up operation three to six times a year. In many areas, your sponsorship will be proclaimed in a road sign, which can help people make the connection between your organization and environmental concerns. Temple Beth Or (www.templebethor.org) in Everett, Washington, has adopted a highway. The synagogue’s social action committee arranges work parties to pick up litter along a one-mile stretch of state highway. The group of volunteers meets twice a year and follows safety guidelines provided by the Department of Transportation. 


Adopt a Stream, Lake or Wetland

In some areas, the state Department of Environmental Conservation or its equivalent sponsors the adoption of streams, lakes and wetlands. In addition to the types of clean-up operations described above, adopting a stream, lake or wetland can involve assisting surveys of water and air temperatures, water and soil pH, and wildlife. You may be asked to help build or enhance habitats or nesting shelters. Your group can also get involved in advocacy with regard to development plans alongside the area you have adopted. Often, because of the scenic value of such areas, there may be pressure to develop land, which, if not carefully monitored, may cause environmental degradation.