An idea that has been germinating at Temple Emanu-El for several years is now growing with the help of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and a group of eager volunteers.
The Reform synagogue in Edison is receiving a $2,500 grant for its Gan Yarok community garden, which will be used to supply produce for its community food pantry.
“We’ve wanted to get it going for years, but we needed federation’s help,” said Colin Hogan, garden cochair and social action committee chair.
With the federation money, approved at a May 20 meeting (see story, this page), the synagogue plans to plant vegetables to supplement the nonperishable items distributed to those who use its pantry.
The garden will be tended by volunteers from the temple, community, and New Jersey’s Gay and Lesbian Havurah, with whom the temple has a longstanding relationship.
Hogan said he sees “a lot of overlap” between the partners and would also like to involve the youth group from Conservative Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, among others.
“Our kids go to school with each other,” said Hogan, who is also a member of the havurah, which he called “a member of the larger Emanu-El family.”
“We want to be as inclusive as possible,” he added.
Organizers also envision an educational component for the garden, using it to impart values of tikun olam (repairing the world), caring for the environment, sustainable gardening, and Torah learning. Hogan said he also sees the garden as a potential mitzva project for families of bar and bat mitzva youngsters.
“Members of the allocations committee loved this program at Emanu-El, a synagogue committed to social action,” said the federation planning and allocations director, Laura Safran. “It’s innovative, feeds people, is low-cost, and allows participation by volunteers in a low-barrier setting….
“It reaches the unaffiliated who relate to Judaism through social action and acts of tikun olam.”
Federation has asked the temple to prepare a booklet for others who want to establish such a garden and is also linking Emanu-El’s garden with a community garden at a youth center it supports in Ashkelon, Israel.
“We’re very excited to foster this connection with Israel,” Safran said.
The temple held a ground-breaking ceremony several weeks ago, but it plans on bringing in professionals to level the ground and erect fencing to keep out animals. A member who is a carpenter will construct raised beds. Another member recently became certified in gardening through a Rutgers extension program.
Casey Horgan, the garden’s other cochair, said the temple’s food bank receives donations from some members on a regular basis and hosts a successful food drive over the High Holy Days. The pantry also gives out gift cards to local supermarkets donated by members.
As one of the only food pantries associated with the Metuchen-Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association, it also receives gift cards from church members.