Urban Nature Walks 101

Sitting in my office for the first day at Congregation Beth Shalom, I caught sight of our ELC teaching staff being escorted outside the building by one of my personal rebbes, Dr. Gabe Goldman, nature educator par excellence and Pittsburgh-area resident. He took them on a walk around the building to seek out teachable locations for helping young children to explore the natural environment within our otherwise urban setting. Gabe coordinated instruction for the Jewish Environmental and Nature Education (JENE) fellowship program when I was a JENE fellow at Camp Ramah in New England back in the summers of 2004 and 2005, and he taught me volumes about Judaism and the environment, which continue to infuse my work as a rabbi.

view from office window
Gratitude: the view from my new office window

One of the items he shared with us back in the day was a phrase that I continue to use when I take groups out into nature, meant to be shouted out upon finding something special: “Mah rabu ma’asekha!” “How numerous are Your works!” It’s from Psalm 104:24, the Psalm that retells Creation by highlighting all of its elements, and we recite this verse as a part of the daily morning service. It speaks not only of what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement,” our awe in response to the Infinite, but also of our gratitude for everything around us, for the air we breathe and the water that sustains us and the lush green of the trees and grasses and bushes and so forth.

As this new chapter in my life opens, I am grateful not only for God’s numerous works, but for all that my teachers have given me and all that I have learned merely by taking a closer look at what grows all around us. Go outside, take a deep breath, and enjoy the rest of summer. Mah rabu ma’asekha!


Rabbi Seth Adelson

7 replies on “Urban Nature Walks 101”

Looking and listening…perhaps two of the most important, and too-often-underutilized–of human behaviors…
Best of luck settling into your new congregation,

This summer I heard the following story: A friend took his cousin for her first canoe ride. She had not been in a boat on the water perhaps ever and her constant refrain throughout the entire trip was the same, “Look what Hashem has made, look what Hashem has made.” My friend was grateful to have provided his cousin with such an experience, to have broadened her understanding of just how true it is to say mah rabu ma’asekha.

Shalom, Abby. You do not even need to do something new, like riding in a canoe, to have a mah rabu ma’asekha moment. You only need to open your eyes to the things that you do not notice every day. See you soon!

As you know- nothing better than walking around, looking at nature, in the Berkshires- best of luck !!

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