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A garden grows in Manchester

Hebrew school students at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel were among the many volunteers who helped install the 
Manchester synagogue’s Jessie’s Community Garden.

Hebrew school students at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel
were among the many volunteers who helped install the
Manchester synagogue’s Jessie’s Community Garden.

The first Jessie’s Community Garden was installed in the spring of 2011 on the grounds of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, close to the kosher food pantry of the Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS). Since then, the gardens have been installed on the grounds of synagogues and Jewish agencies all across the Hartford area. This fall, the 10th edible Jessie’s Community Garden was installed on Beth Sholom B’nai Israel (BSBI) in Manchester.

Established in 2010 by MIchelle and Dane Kostin of West Hartford in memory of their daughter Jessica Kostin, with the support of the Jewish Federation, the gardens’ fresh fruits and vegetables supply the JFS Kosher Food pantry as well as other food pantries throughout the greater Hartford area. The gardens bring awareness of sustainable farming, offer hands-on learning and have become therapeutic outlets for Hartford residents.

The first of the 10 Jessie’s Community Gardens to be installed in the fall – all the others were spring projects – BSBI is now in the process of deciding whether to do a cool-frame planting this fall and harvest that at the end of the winter or, alternatively, to plant in the spring. The shul’s congregants, including its Hebrew School children, will tend the garden and then harvest in the summer and fall. The vegetables produced will be donated to the Manchester Area Conference of Churches’ food pantry in Manchester and to the Hockanum Valley Community Council’s food pantry in Vernon.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for our synagogue in that it can involve all ages. It is something new for us to try, and the end result is a mitzvah to help our local communities,” says Laurie Bayer, vice president of the synagogue’s Social Action Committee.

Rabbi Richard Plavin, BSBI’s spiritual leader, sees the project as a “garden” of mitzvoth.

“Our community garden project gives us the opportunity to fulfill several mitzvoth,” he notes. “In Genesis 2:8 the Torah tells us, ‘The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east.’ The rabbis tell us that ‘as God is compassionate, so should we be compassionate,’ in other words, we are to imitate God to sanctify our lives. So, as God planted a garden in the east, we do the same. Then in 2:15, the text tells us that God took man and placed him in the garden ‘to till it and tend it.’ We went further, we placed both men and women, not to mention boys and girls, in our garden. We look forward now to the spring when our labors will bear fruit (and vegetables) and we will fulfill the mitzvah of feeding the hungry. To all our gardeners, we say ‘Tizku l’mitzvot’ –  may you have the merit of fulfilling many mitzvot.”

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