Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Who Saw Ecology as God’s Work, Dies at 70

Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Who Saw Ecology as God’s Work, Dies at 70

Ellen Bernstein, a river information turned rabbi who blazed a non secular path within the environmental motion by undergirding it with the Hebrew Bible’s veneration of nature, died on Feb. 27 in Philadelphia. She was 70.

Her husband, Steven J. Tenenbaum, mentioned the reason for her loss of life, in a hospital, was colon most cancers.

In 1988, when she was 34, Rabbi Bernstein based Shomrei Adamah — the identify is Hebrew for Keepers of the Earth — which she described as the primary nationwide Jewish environmental group.

“The Creation story, Jewish legislation, the cycle of holidays, prayers, mitzvot (good deeds) and neighborly relations all mirror a reverence for land and a viable apply of stewardship,” Rabbi Bernstein wrote in “Ecology & the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature & the Sacred Meet” (2000).

She developed curriculums for college students and academics, organized conferences, and wrote scholarly articles and books to unfold a gospel that resonated in progressive congregations and on faculty campuses. Her work gave a brand new dimension to the phrases “holy land” and to the synergy between heaven and earth.

“The first step towards ecological restore,” Rabbi Bernstein wrote in “Toward a Holy Ecology: Reading the Song of Songs within the Age of Climate Crisis” (2024), “is to like and determine with the pure world.”

With assist from her pal Shira Dicker, she wrote “The Promise of the Land” (2020), an ecological model of the Haggadah, the textual content recited on Passover, to remind Seder individuals that Passover — like the opposite harvest celebrations Shavuot and Sukkot — had hyperlinks to nature.

In her writing, together with one other e-book, “The Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology” (2005), Rabbi Bernstein invoked God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and his imaginative and prescient of the promised land as proof of biblical environmentalism.

“Ecology & the Jewish Spirit,” printed in 2000, was one in every of a number of books Rabbi Bernstein wrote. Her work gave a brand new dimension to the phrases “holy land.”Credit…Jewish Lights Publishing

“Through her work with Shomrei Adamah, she illuminated and made accessible the ecological roots of Jewish custom and developed a basis in Jewish ecological thought and apply,” Mary Evelyn Tucker, a director of the Yale University Forum on Religion and Ecology, mentioned in an e mail.

Ruth W. Messinger, the longtime New York Democratic politician who’s now international ambassador for the American Jewish World Service, mentioned in an e mail that Rabbi Bernstein had used her writings “to push the Jewish neighborhood to consider our obligation to guard the planet and make investments for future generations.”

And Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a theology teacher and chief of the progressive Jewish Renewal motion, mentioned by telephone: “It is obvious in the event you learn the Hebrew Bible that whoever lives on the land is chargeable for taking care if it. What she completed was making clear to folks what their very own love of earth was, and specific it.”

Ellen Sue Bernstein was born on July 22, 1953, in Newburyport, Mass., about 45 miles north of Boston, the granddaughter of shoe producers who had constructed a manufacturing facility there. She was raised in Haverhill, Mass., about 15 miles to the west, on the New Hampshire border. Her mom, Etta (Feigenbaum) Bernstein, managed the family. Her father, Fred, was a leather-based salesman.

“During the summers,” Rabbi Bernstein wrote on her web site, “I despaired that the grownup world was flattening landscapes for housing developments, polluting the ambiance in an effort to develop increasingly more commodities for our consumption, and ruining our waterways.”

Inspired by a highschool ecology course, she enrolled in a pioneering environmental science program on the University of California, Berkeley. She led summer time wilderness journeys as a river information in Northern California and taught highschool biology. But by her mid-20s she had begun in search of a car that might couple her non secular ardour, ignited on the Aquarian Minyan, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Berkeley, and her ecological agenda.

She obtained a educating credential in life sciences from San Francisco State University, a grasp’s in biology from Southern Oregon State University and a grasp’s in Jewish training from Hebrew College in Newton, Mass. She was ordained as a rabbi in 2012 by the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, N.Y.

Rabbi Bernstein married Mr. Tenenbaum, a medical social employee and psychotherapist, in 2005, and the couple moved to Amherst, Mass., the place she turned a non secular adviser at Hampshire College. In 2020, she and her husband moved to the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

In addition to Mr. Tenenbaum, she is survived by her brother, Larry Bernstein, and her stepchildren, Tatyana and Ezra Tenenbaum. Her sister, Marilyn Dorson, died final 12 months.

In writing in regards to the Song of Songs in “Toward a Holy Ecology,” Rabbi Bernstein mentioned that whereas it’s usually interpreted as an allegory in regards to the relationship between God and the Israelites, she was struck by its lush description of the backyard the place the lovers meet.

“Though the Judaism of my childhood had by no means spoken to me, these phrases from the Bible opened my coronary heart,” she wrote of those passages:

Get up! My beloved, my magnificence.
Come away!
For now the winter is previous,
the rain is over and gone.
The scarlet blossoms are shimmering within the land,
the time of the songbird has come
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
The new figs have appeared,
the grape blossoms give off their candy scent.
Get up! my beloved, my magnificence; Come away!

“Reading the Song, I might really feel the spring effectively up in my blood; I longed to stand up and run away along with her,” Rabbi Bernstein wrote. “Whatever divinity I knew gave the impression to be sure up on this bodily expertise of spring — of colour, scent and sound — of this torrent of power and this romance with the earth. That the Song might articulate one thing I didn’t have language for — that phrases from my very own custom might be significant — comforted and delighted me.”

“You need to nourish folks,” she instructed the Jewish Women’s Archive in 2020. “And that comes from exhibiting them the sweetness on the planet and the sweetness in nature, from nurturing a love for the world, and from nurturing inspiration, risk and creativity. This is crucial to holding folks engaged and motivated. Finding magnificence has been central in all my work.”



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