by Eli Burg, Etzim Rosh Eidah

This summer Etzim, our 3-week session for rising 6th & 7th graders, spent time learning about ecology through a Jewish lens. We examined our traditions’ creation myth, framing the story as our people’s particular testimony of how our world and existence all came to be. We looked for hints in the text about what our human relationship to nature ought to look like. With these ideas Etzim was able to learn about the ecology and natural systems of our Porter Creek home. All towards an ecologically inspired means by which to interact with our inherited tradition and the world around us. 

Potentially termed as ‘Jewish Ecology,’ Etzim’s sojourn into the complimentary worlds of science and cosmology shifted the focus of our learning not only to understanding the natural systems of our biosphere but also contributed to basic cosmological understandings of, how not only our world, but how our entire universe may have come into existence. Etzim had the unique opportunity to participate in cross-cultural learning to better understand how another ancient tradition - Buddhism – understands the world in which we live. 

In 2017 shortly after the Tubbs Fire our community was gifted several sets of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags that were blessed by the Dalai Lama. These flags sat in wait until the time was right to put them up. Etzim started this learning through examining the origins of the Buddah, learning about different Buddhist rituals, learning about the significance of the prayer flags, all with an eye on how understanding other traditions can enhance our understanding of our own Jewish traditions. In Buddhist thought there are several different texts that might appear on prayer flags. The prayer flags gifted to the camp have the blessings or mantra for healing written on them in Sanskrit, and an image of the Medicine Buddha in the center of each. 

We also learned that there is a particular order to how the flags are arranged. Blue for space, white for air (or wind), red for fire, green for water, and yellow for earth. In examining the meanings of each color used in prayer flags we also kept an eye towards our tradition examining tahellit (the blue strings in Tzitzit), blue stripes on tallitot, and the black color of Tefillin. This was in order to show that in our tradition the color of ritual objects might also contain deeper spiritual meaning, too. The goal of this process was to hang the flags that were gifted to camp after our own communal tragedy and before Etzim could do this it was critical to cultivate kavanah in this process, to infuse this experience for our campers with meaning and intention. 

After the initial learning about Buddhist thought we had the opportunity to make our own Jewishly inspired prayer flags. First we took white linen squares and in Camp Newman fashion tie-dyed them. Afterwards we examined blessings and words of praise from Shacharit, morning services, to pull out phrases and words that we found meaningful that we could adorn our flags with. From there we used permanent markers and paint pens to write our words of praise and gratitude on our flags in Hebrew and/or English. Finally each camper had the opportunity to either keep their prayer flags to take them home or hang them on Har Nof with the Tibetan Buddhist flags that were gifted in blessing to our community.

Today, when you hike up to Har Nof, an amphitheater and prayer space built by Avodah ‘21, you’d find two trees at the crest of the hill with prayer flags in the branches,  blowing in the wind. In Buddhist thoughts the flags are meant to hang at a highly elevated place so that the wind can blow the prayers on the wind to scatter their blessing throughout the land surrounding the flags. Now the flags we received after the fire and some of the flags created by Etzim campers are blowing in the wind sending their blessings to all of camp, all our neighbors, all of Sonoma County, and to the whole world.