Lombard Jewish congregants plant victory gardens during pandemic

Lombard Jewish congregants plant victory gardens during pandemic

  • Karen Friedman, a member of Congregation Etz Chaim, shows off her victory garden at her home in Burr Ridge.

    Karen Friedman, a member of Congregation Etz Chaim, shows off her victory garden at her home in Burr Ridge. Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim

 
Posted6/16/2020 6:00 AM

At Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, its members are taking a page out of the Great Depression and World War II: They're growing victory gardens.

Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky suggested the idea back in April, and she even offered to distribute seeds to get them started.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Looking at history, I believe we are again faced with an opportunity to act to bring about a common good," Cosnowsky said to her congregants. "Let's once again create gardens to help bolster the local food banks in our area. This is something we as a community can start now and harvest throughout the summer."

Members of Congregation Etz Chaim are growing vegetables in victory gardens. These vegetables are from the backyard garden of Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky, who suggested the project to her congregants.
Members of Congregation Etz Chaim are growing vegetables in victory gardens. These vegetables are from the backyard garden of Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky, who suggested the project to her congregants. - Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim

Cosnowsky is an avid gardener herself. More than that, she saw the gardening initiative as a way to bring healing during the downturn in the economy as a result of COVID-19. She also saw the chance for her congregants to go back to the land and leave the world a better place.

To help purchase the seeds, Cosnowsky obtained a grant from Hazon (pronounced Ha-zone), a national movement started in 2014 that strengthens Jewish life and contributes to a more environmentally sustainable world for all.

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Members of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard are growing vegetables in victory gardens. Kim Leffert and her son, Daniel Silverstein, both of Chicago, work in their backyard garden.
Members of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard are growing vegetables in victory gardens. Kim Leffert and her son, Daniel Silverstein, both of Chicago, work in their backyard garden. - Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim

In fact, Congregation Etz Chaim is one of 11 sites in Chicago working to achieve Hazon's Seal of Sustainability. The program provides guidance on how to advance sustainability related education, action and advocacy.

So far, Cosnowsky says she is thrilled with the response. Most of her members who wanted to participate are first time gardeners, and they range from those who have established backyard plots to planting their seeds in pots. As a group, they are planting lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peppers.

Mary Hason is a lifelong gardener who lives in Downers Grove. She was eager to participate in Congregation Etz Chaim's victory garden project.
Mary Hason is a lifelong gardener who lives in Downers Grove. She was eager to participate in Congregation Etz Chaim's victory garden project. - Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One of the more seasoned gardeners to join the project was Mary Hason of Downers Grove.

"I have gardened all my life," Hason says. "I loved the idea Rabbi Cosnowsky had for the congregants to have victory gardens to raise food for ourselves and to share with our neighbors in need.

"In the Torah, we are taught, 'Do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you,' she adds. "We will do more than leave it, we will make sure they get it."

Members of Congregation Etz Chaim are growing vegetables in victory gardens. Brothers Alasdair, left, and Keaton Selbert test the soil in their backyard garden in Wheaton.
Members of Congregation Etz Chaim are growing vegetables in victory gardens. Brothers Alasdair, left, and Keaton Selbert test the soil in their backyard garden in Wheaton. - Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim

In fact, the gardeners are growing vegetables for the food pantry at Christ the King Catholic Church, located down the street. Congregation Etz Chaim has partnered with the parish for years to feed local residents -- both as volunteers and holding food drives. Consequently, providing fresh produce was a logical next step.

"Offering produce products fresh from the garden is huge," says Joe Maderak, a volunteer with the food pantry. "Our clients can't get produce this fresh from a local grocery store."

Keaton Selbert is shown in his backyard garden in Wheaton. Congregation Etz Chaim gardeners are growing vegetables for the food pantry at Christ the King Catholic Church in Lombard.
Keaton Selbert is shown in his backyard garden in Wheaton. Congregation Etz Chaim gardeners are growing vegetables for the food pantry at Christ the King Catholic Church in Lombard. - Courtesy of Congregation Etz Chaim

Typically, the food bank draws nearly 50 clients per week who come from Lombard and its surrounding communities, such as Aurora, Berkeley, Glen Ellyn, Hillside, Villa Park and Westmont.

Originally, Cosnowsky had hoped to have a community victory garden on the temple grounds, but the restraints of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions prevented that plan. However, it has not deterred them, with backyard gardeners going it alone.

"People just feel so powerless right now," Cosnowsky says. "Gardening and growing vegetables to feed the hungry offers powerful healing to everyone."

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