By Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Manager

Along with the lyrics to Outkast’s “The Way You Move” and every line to the movie School of Rock, I know the definition of sustainable development by heart:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

– Brundtland Commission report to the United Nations on Sustainability (1987), “Our Common Future”

My bachelor’s degree is in sustainable development, and although it may seem like this isn’t related to Judaism, MHWOW hosts all over the world are showing us that Jewish community is connected to the environment. Enjoy our outdoor program photos Hall of Fame throughout this article!

Shabbat in the Lawn
Shayna Denburg, Brooklyn, NY

Many of us know the importance of protecting the environment for future generations, but did you know that sustainability is also a Jewish value? Traditional prayers proclaim L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. We are mandated to pass down God’s greatness to future generations, and in order to fulfill that commandment, we should ensure that there are future generations.

Are you planning to get your Jewish community outside? Whether it’s a Shabbat picnic, Havdallah hike (there’s a retreat for that!), farm volunteer day, or a terrarium making workshop, sharing Jewish perspectives on the environment can make your MHWOW programs even more meaningful. Here are resources to guide your discussions and concrete ways to make your MHWOW programs more environmentally sustainable.

Yosemite Shabbat Dinner
Saar Sagir, Sunnyvale, CA


As Jews, do we have an obligation to protect the environment?

Based on the following texts, the answer seems to be a resounding…


Genesis 1:26 says:
And God said, Let us make Adam in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”

There has been discussion about the translation of the word “rule;” some interpret it to mean that we can use the Earth and those who dwell in it as we see fit. Others interpret the word to mean “steward,” meaning we are responsible for taking care of the earth just as we take care of ourselves. Some other Jewish texts support this concept of our role as stewards of the Earth.

Farm-to-Fork Shabbat Dinner & Oneg in the Garden
Amy Krigsman, Boynton Beach, FL

Midrash Ecceliastes Rabbah 7:13 says:

“When the Holy One created the human being, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: Behold my works, how beautiful they are. All that I have created is within your domain. Take care, therefore, that you do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one else to set it right after you.”

L’taken Olam: To Fix the World

According to Jill Jacobs, the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, a few midrashim have taken the words from B’reishit Rabbah 4:7 “l’taken olam,” which translates as “to fix the world.” They believe that the world is “fixed” when it is in healthy equilibrium.

Volunteering at Ekar Farms
Max Alpert, Denver, CO

Grounded in Gratitude

Another Jewish value is giving thanks for all of our blessings, and the Earth and all its bounty is certainly something to give thanks for. Here is a lovely prayer from Hazon that gives thanks for our land, food, covenant, and a bunch of other stuff.


Here’s more on gratitude as a Jewish value and how you can actively exercise gratitude at your MHWOW programs. I originally put this together for Thanksgiving, but gratitude is relevant year-round.

Shabbat Hike
Rachel Gilfarb, Columbus, Ohio


If you want to take it to the next level and make your MHWOW programs more sustainable through the food you’re serving, read this I identify seven common foods that have a negative impact on the environment and provide lower impact alternatives with great recipes from different Jewish traditions!

Hazon also has a guide for 20 Ways to Green Your Meal and a Sustainable Shabbat Dinner Guide!

Do you want to learn more? Host more outdoor programs? Enjoy the outdoors with other Jews your age? Then come on one of our outdoor-focused Jewish retreats this year! Retreats are fully subsidized, and we offer $250 for travel to hosts with 4 or more programs, and $100 for everyone else!

“Havdalah marks the unique transition between Shabbat and the rest of the week. Together we’ll explore how to take new Shabbat and Havdalah experiences outside, utilizing the public and outdoor resources available to you back in your home community. Being in the beautiful setting of Sonoma County, California gives us a wonderful opportunity to be outdoors together and create an unforgettable Havdalah experience.” Apply here.

“Have you ever wanted to spend Shabbat under the stars? This is your chance! With professional outdoor guides, we will venture into the wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park for an amazing weekend of hiking, rock climbing and exploring the Colorado Rockies. Join us for an incredible Shabbat of a shared outdoor experience that you won’t forget.” Apply here.

“Have you ever wanted to build a Sukkah but didn’t know where to begin? We’ll reflect on the Jewish harvest festival together by creating an amazing, sustainable temporary structure to honor the Israelites who wandered in the desert. The Sukkah is also a work of art, both in its design and the ambiance of hospitality that it creates for Jews everywhere. We’ll explore how to become spiritual architects, curating Sukkot for our niche communities at home, be it your art studio, your book club or your Moishe House.” Apply here!