How does it connect to Jewish learning?

Shana Alter knew she was on to something special when she signed up her son, Henry, for Tiyul Adventures Year Round program at The Associated’s Pearlstone Center. After all, she and her husband, Jeremy, were married at the site, and they both had an affinity for the way the organization connected individuals to nature while integrating Jewish learning.

“I wanted Henry to feel at home in nature,” says Alter. “And I like that the programming is connecting nature to bigger themes around Judaism and the Jewish year.”

Yes, Henry has learned how to whittle wood, start a fire and even identity and eat wild edibles. Yet, he’s also incorporated an understanding of how the earth-based world is connected to his heritage.

Tiyul, which meets once a month in the fall and spring – the next session is scheduled in March – takes the participants through forest adventures and farm activities, zip lines and rock climbing, while tying it to the Jewish and the agricultural calendars.

“Nature,” says Sara Shalva, assistant director at Pearlstone Center, “tells the story of Jewish life.”

For example, during the Jewish holiday season, as the grapes were ripening in Pearlstone’s vineyards, the young participants picked grapes, crushed them and turned them into grape juice. They then learned what it means to make a blessing over food.

And the following Hebrew month, Cheshvan, when there are no holidays, youngsters learn how to find magic in the ordinary – nature walks while the sun sets – while tackling physical challenges and linking it to our forefathers who were wanderers.

“We let their imagination guide them – we might ask them to meditate on what might have been done a couple thousand years ago,” adds Abby Woloff, director of programming at Pearlstone Center.

Becky Brooks, whose twins Maizy and Max Nodelman have signed up for the year-long Tiyul programming, finds her kids coming home talking about the game or activity they played that day.

“It’s like a summer camp,” Brooks says. “They are singing songs, playing camp-type games and building a little community.”

At the same time, the Brooks twins are bringing home Jewish concepts tied to what they are doing.

“At home, we often talk about mitzvahs, good deeds,” says Brooks. “Yet now they can relate these concepts. We talk about how the actions we do in the world can be the seeds that can grow goodness similar to the seeds we plant in the garden each spring.”

Pearlstone also engaged Tiyul families, inviting them to a community dinner. With the sun setting over the goat pasture, families who signed up for the year enjoyed a sustainable farm-to-table meal of pan roasted black  cod filet with glaze plus grilled, marinated tofu and roasted carrots from Pearlstone’s farm, while lingering over conversation as their children played.

“Tiyul,” explains Shalva, “is the culmination of our desire to build a pluralistic Jewish community, open and welcoming to all.”

“I’ve never seen my son so happy,” says Alter. “He is so happy and excited at the end of each session.”

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