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What Is Teva?

In addition to my six practice sessions that I ran for my Forest School practitioner training (which were confusingly also referred to as Teva in my programme Handbook - Teva means 'nature' in Hebrew), since November I have been running a group for adults focussed on creating nature-based experiences centred around Jewish festivals. (Note - The 'Teva' referred to in my attached Handbook refers to the six practice sessions I ran. The 'Teva' referred to in my Forest School Workbook refers to this programme of activities).

While these programmes are not strictly considered to be a Forest School, I would consider them Forest School adjacent, and they have been greatly influenced by the Forest School ethos. In addition, the confidence I've gained through my Forest School practitioner training has really helped me in my planning and facilitation of these sessions.

The reason why I would say these activities are more Forest School adjacent than strictly being Forest School are as follows:

-While there have been many people who have attended multiple sessions, they are advertised as stand-alone sessions. I see Teva as being a community of people coming together, but it is not the same people at every session, and people come and go more freely than they would in a traditional Forest School setting

-While many of the activities are Forest School inspired, there is less 'free play' than in a traditional Forest School setting. There is often an activity being presented, which participants tend to go alone with. Part of this is due to the fact that they are predominantly adults, who are less prone to free play and exploration. However, I do try to imbue a sense of choice and play in activities, and always give participants the option to choose their own activity if they don't want to participate in the main group activity.

I'll start with a review of the events that I've hosted since November, as well as noting specific areas that are particularly aligned with the Forest School ethos.

November - Mitzvah Day

Mitzvah Day is the international Jewish Day of volunteerism. As this was our first event, and took place before I had attended the first week of Forest School training, I felt less confident in the idea of making people spend time outside in the winter, and so the event took place indoors. I brought in an external facilitator, who led us in the making of fire cider, a traditional herbal remedy. I also shared Jewish insight into the vegetables and herbs that we used in the making of the cider. The participants could take some home with them, and some was donated to the Community Apothecary at MILK. As the event took place on a Saturday night, we began with a traditional Havdallah ceremony.

While this event was just the beginnings of Teva, I think the idea of herbal remedies, and turning to nature for healing sparked ideas of nature connection, and showed me that there was demand for these sorts of activities.

December - Chanukah Foraging Walk

A central theme of the winter festival of Chanukah is the idea of finding light in the darkness. We light the Chanukiah candles to be a sign of hope and miracles in the darkest months, just like our ancestors did during the destruction they witnessed so many years ago. Many people stay indoors this time of year, but I felt that it important that we continue to embrace nature all year round, and to realise that even though we've been told December is no time to be frolicking in a park, we can appreciate nature for what it is in all seasons and weather.

For this event, I brought in an external facilitator, who led us on a foraging walk around the park. This was first event in the park that was to become our sort of 'home base'. A big part of Forest School is forging connections with a specific place, getting to know it and appreciating it throughout all seasons, which was a big focus of this activity. During the walk, in addition to the insights shared by the foraging guide, I shared Jewish ideas about winter weather and appreciating it for the sense of perspective it gives us on the seasonal cycles.

As I was yet a newbie in the Forest School ethos, we headed to a community centre nearby where we had a Chanukah brunch, incorporating some of our foraged greens. It was great to see some of the participants getting excited about eating certain foods, and going all-out on making tea out of spruce tips. At the time, I didn't feel confident enough in my skills to consider building a fire, setting up a tarp, and cooking brunch over the fire, but I think if I were to do it again, I might try to incorporate that, to further our embracing of the winter nature.

January - Tu B'Shvat Tree Celebration

January marks the Jewish New Year for the Trees, a historical festival which was relevant in terms of the calculation of tithes, and for other Jewish laws which relate to the age of the trees. In more recent times, it has taken on a spiritual air, with people spending time in nature, planting trees, and taking part in elaborate and symbolic fruit-eating ceremonies. In Israel, the festival takes place as the almond tree is blooming, one of the first trees to bloom. Here in Scotland, I always await the flowering of the snowdrops, and think it's fascinating that Tu B'Shvat has so much in common with the traditional Wassail festivities.

For this event we gathered in another local park, where we went for a walk, set up a tarp to shield us from the torrential rain, did some singing, yoga, and studying traditional Jewish texts around trees and nature. We also had nature snacks - muffins made out of the seven traditional fruits of the Land of Israel, and locally foraged herbal tea.

A lot of the programme was quite open. I had suggested a leaf gathering and art-making activity, which people weren't very into. One of the participants suggested we go on a short walk to look at some of the trees in the park, which we did. This is an example of a participant suggesting and then taking the lead on an activity, which was really lovely. The participant guided us down to a beautiful large redwood tree, and suggested we try to wrap our arms around it (which we couldn't). It was quite a lovely experience, because I had prepared activities, some of which the participants were into, and some of which they weren't, and I was okay with that. This is so much influenced by the Forest School ethos, as in the past, I have been quite tied to pre-made plans and keen to carry on with them, instead of being flexible and adaptable. It was so lovely to see participants becoming invested in the experience and facilitating activities for others.

The heavy rain meant that many people didn't come to the event, but those who did came prepared, and enjoyed the activity. We put up a tarp, and still got soaking wet, but it gave me the confidence to bring groups outside, even in inclement weather.

February - Hike

Because of the fact that this year was a leap year, when a whole additional month is added to balance the lunar and solar cycles, there were no holidays in February (there is usually at least one [and sometimes four or five] in each month). So we went on a hike! We did the Greenock Cut, which I selected because of its easy transit access, relatively short length, and the fact that it had a good clear path.

Participation was very low. However, we went ahead, and we had a great time. Some participants noted how having a supportive group made the challenge of hiking more accessible, which is great.

I had tried really hard to promote the hike in a way that made it seem open to new people, especially those who weren't experience hikers. I provided loads of information on accessibility, facilities, terrain, transit, etc. but it didn't seem to work. A few people messaged me saying that the faff of it all (taking transport, being out all day, and taking transport home) was just too much for a Sunday, while others mentioned potential social anxieties about being out in so much nature with people they didn't know and no easy escape route, which are all fair concerns.

While it was a lovely event for those who came, I think that perhaps it's not the right activity for the community just now, so I haven't run more out-of-Glasgow hikes, although I may revisit in the future.

As the Greenock Cut is built along an aqueduct with an important history of supporting the industry and populations along the Clyde, I led several short discussions and text studies about times when the Jewish people have sought access to water, primarily rooted in biblical narratives. We also stopped along the way for an art-making session, where I provided a prompt and a variety of art-making materials for the participants to respond with. A focus was on getting to know the water we had been walking along in a deeper way, and so the water for the watercolours was collected from the stream by the participants. This was a way for them to become involved in the collective making process. While the art-making activity was leader-prompted, the participants took it and made it their own, with each person working in a different way.

March - Outdoor Purim Seuda and Basket Weaving Workshop

Purim is a lavish festival celebrating the story of the Book of Esther, whose title character saves the Jewish people from a genocidal plot. It's marked by joyous celebrations full of costumes, clowns, noise makers and general revelry which has never totally been my vibe. One of the four mitzvot, or commandments of Purim, is the giving of Mishloach Manot, or gift baskets of food, which are given to friends and family. The base commandment is to give two different types of food (i.e. a fruit and a vegetable, or a biscuit and a drink) to one person, but in many communities, it's turned into a massive gift-giving holiday, with families giving elaborate gift bags to everyone they know. It can be both a financial and a social strain, making sure you give to all the right people and don't offend anyone by forgetting, and with people trying to come up with bigger and better offerings than previous years. Furthermore, these baskets are often choc-full of disposable plastics (little noisemakers, small toys, piles of plastic streamers and glitter, and of course all the wrappers) and piles of refined sugars.

None of this appeals to me. The environment of a Purim party is often full of elaborate costumes (yet another financial, environmental and social strain), horrible blaring music, stale hamantashen (traditional Purim biscuits), and people rushing to complete the various mitzvot (you have to hear the book of Esther being read outline twice, each time taking around 45 minutes, making sure you hear every word, in a room where people are chatting and blasting air horns [part of the reading ritual]).

So I took people outside. I hosted a plastic-free Purim seuda (meal), where healthier foods were all served on reusable dishes. The fresh air was instantly soothing after the hectic, airless party I'd attended in the morning. The weather was beautiful for once, and it attracted lots of new people, which made for a great community vibe. Being in nature allowed us to focus on the real meaning behind the holiday - which is about personal growth, taking on challenges, and finding our inner strength.

We replaced the plastic-filled disposable mishloach manot with foraged ivy baskets. First, I guided the participants in an exploration of places where ivy is mentioned in Jewish texts. We then discussed safe and sustainable foraging practices, and I demonstrated safe use of the secateurs and gloves. We then went further into the woodland, and participants foraged for ivy to make their baskets.

Back at the picnic site, I guided participants through the process of making an ivy basket. A lot of the participants, who were adults, joked that their baskets were uneven and wonky, and we spoke about the benefits of engaging in this sort of contact with nature and mindful activities, even if the results aren't what we expect, and the idea of it being about the journey and not the destination, which is quite in line with the Forest School ethos. Even though I provided a set activity, the participants all did it in their own way, and also had the freedom to do something else if they wanted. At the end, everyone seemed quite content with the work they had done and the experience in general. I love working with ivy with groups because it's something that we all pass every day but pay so little attention to it that we may not even notice it. This event helped connect people to these bits of everyday nature and think about them in a more intentional way.

April - Outdoor Matza Baking

In April comes Pesach, or Passover, when we celebrate the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It's a major festival with many rituals, one of which is clearing your house of any grain products (bread, pasta, beer, cake, crackers and the like, with Ashkenazi Jews [like myself] also refraining from corn, soy, rice and the rest). We replace this with matza, which is an unleavened cracker, made only of wheat and water, with the whole process from mixing the dough to finishing the baking taking place in under 18 minutes, so as not to allow for any leavening. The base reason for this is because the Jewish people left Egypt in such a rush that they didn't have time for their bread to rise, although there are many other spiritual reasons and explanations.

Today, matza is made in strictly regulated factories, with the highest level of supervision to make sure it does not touch any chametz (leaven). You can get a box of 10 pieces for £2, but stricter families will only eat handmade shemura matza, which will cost about £35 for a box of 8. Families will go through many of these boxes throughout the 8-day holiday.

But there's a growing movement towards people making DIY matza at home. Part of the original ritual was because matza was considered a poor man's food, something accessible to everyone, while bread was for the rich. But today, we see the opposite taking place, and people are fighting back against these societal norms.

I've never been brave enough to make my own matza on Pesach itself (maybe one day), so I gathered a group of people the week before Pesach. It was raining again, so we set up a tarp for shelter. It was before my second week of Forest School training where we focussed a lot on fire building and outdoor cooking, so we lit up a wee portable BBQ, and went about the process of mixing the dough and baking it, finishing in well under the 18 minutes required. I had also brought along wheat berries and a mortar and pestle, so people could gain a deeper understanding of all of the steps in the flour and bread making process. The matzas we made weren't delicious, but it was a meaningful process, and I certainly felt a deeper connection to these traditions as we headed into Pesach.

Note: This event took place before the second week of Forest School training, where we focussed a lot on safe fire practice and outdoor cooking. If I were to do it again, I would take additional safety precautions, including wearing fire gloves when tending to the fire, maintaining a fire circle, and asking participants to keep one knee down when near the fire.

Future Plans

In May, I hosted a 3-day Shabbaton, or weekend retreat, in Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. This was immediately after the second week of Forest School training, and had loads of relevant connections, which I will explore in a separate post.

In June, and hopefully throughout the summer, I hope to host outdoor Shabbat dinners, with participants helping to build the fire and cook the meal outdoors, as well as traditional Shabbat prayers around the fire. This is a bit controversial because on Shabbat itself we don't light fires, or carry items outdoors, so I've been working hard (and making use of the lengthy daylight hours) to find solutions that create meaningful opportunities for connection and nature experience, while also holding true to our tradition and halacha (Jewish law), which is not always easy.

The future of Teva depends on what I do and where I am in the coming years, but it's truly been an unforgettable experience for myself and the participants, and I'm so grateful for these opportunities to meld my passions for Judaism and experiencing nature.


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