Ganim • גנים
At the heart of a retreat center there is often a garden.


When I think of Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut), I picture the large organic garden. Garden at Elat Chayyim, 1997, JHD Earthy scents, warm soil, the buzzing bees lulled me into a state of peace each time I stepped inside its gate. The garden produced much of the food for the retreat center’s scrumptious vegetarian meals, and it also provided a spot for meditation, whether at work pulling weeds or sitting in stillness.






Jim working in his Northern California garden, Nelda Jessee



For some people, a garden is a place to grow food or flowers and connect with the soil. It’s a place to be most human because Adam, the first human being, was shaped from Adamah, earth. A garden may be a large and lavish backyard mini-farm like that of many of my friends in Northern California, a plot in a bustling community garden, a container garden on a city balcony, or a even a houseplant jungle.



A public garden can be a place to relax and smell the roses, or perhaps be transported to another biome by strolling through a botanical garden. Rose Garden at Chico State, JHD

In Jewish tradition, a garden is symbolic both of idyllic beginnings and a harmonious future. The earth itself is seen as God’s garden, the divine gift of humanity that we are bidden to “serve and to guard.”

Join me in this Gateway of Gardens to explore the symbol of the garden in Jewish tradition and in your life.




Nelda working in her Northern California garden, JHD

Gallery: Growing Up in the Garden

We call my friend’s enormous Northern California garden, “The Kibbutz.” What a paradise for children! Getting hands dirty in the garden is healthy fun for young and old Click on the picture to activate the gallery.


My Garden of Eden–And Yours

My own Gan Eden was not in the East by the Tigris and Euphrates, but 90 miles west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country near a small town with the improbable name of Utopia, on the cool, green Sabinal River. read more…

Feet on the Earth: Take Your Shoes Off

When Moses stood at the burning bush,  (Exodus 3:5), YHWH told him to remove his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground. If weather, terrain, and social setting permit, going barefoot can be a great way to make a fast connection with the earth (even indoors but all the better if you can do it outside on the ground). Take some time to feel the textures and temperatures on your feet and sense your connection with the earth.

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Bitter and Sweet of the Garden at Passover

Passover, the Festival of Spring and Freedom, is a holiday associated with food. Matzah, of course, the flat unleavened bread (I recommend whole wheat), to remind us of the unleavened bread that our ancestors baked in their haste to leave slavery in ancient Egypt, with no time for the dough to rise. The other tastes of Passover have their own associations, bitter and sweet. Eating these symbolic and seasonal natural foods helps to literally internalize the Seder’s message of freedom.

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Farming Tzedakah: The Gleanings and Corners of Your Field

The Torah (Leviticus 19:9-10) teaches that farmers must  leave the gleanings of their harvest and the corners of the fields for the needy to come and collect This is an early form of tzedakah (justice, charity) that is elaborated on in the Mishnah, the foundational text of Rabbinic Judaism, and found in many Jewish siddurim (prayerbooks). The sense is that land is not strictly our property, but ultimately belongs to God (because “I am YHWH your God”). How can we do this mitzvah (good deed, divine imperative) today?

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Shemitah: The Sabbatical Year

Shemitah, the Sabbatical year (Levicitus 25), is a revolutionary Torah commandment: every seven years the land will lie fallow and enjoy a Sabbatical year of rest and release. The land needs to rest just as human beings need a weekly Sabbath.  read more…

Gallery: A Synagogue Farm in the Suburbs

Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor, New York, founded the CSI Community Organic Farm on 1.5 acres at the back of the synagogue’s property. The farm offers communal gardening, a farmer’s market, and donations to the needy. Chickens are raised and their eggs are sold at the farmer’s market. The farm promotes Jewish traditions and values in areas such as ecology, agriculture, nutrition, wellness, spiritual connection, social and environmental justice. Check back for more photos as they grow!

Please share in the comments if you know of a synagogue farm or communal garden.  (Return to the Gateway of Gardens.)


Sharing Circle: Your Garden of Eden

Join the sharing circle to share your reflections about any of the themes in this Gateway.

Did you have a special place in nature that was formative to your soul, your own “Garden of Eden”? What was it like? Do you have such a place now?

Is gardening a spiritual practice for you?

How can we share the joys of gardening, or share those special places of the soul with others? Is there any project you are working on, such as a community garden, that you would like to share with other visitors to Wellsprings of Wisdom?

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