Shaping Our Ecosystem

By Shuli Karkowsky, CEO of Moving Traditions

As we approach the High Holidays, I am honored to share Moving Traditions’ latest resource, Reflect & Repair, which offers a series of self-reflections tied to themes from this time of year. The resource maps the three tools for self-growth that the liturgy offers – teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity/justice) – across the three values that Moving Traditions seeks to instill in our teen participants: shleimut (wellbeing), hesed (caring relationships), and tzedek (justice). 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days hiking in Colorado, trekking up trails full of the area’s famous Quaking Aspen trees. Quaking Aspens are amazing in many ways. A grove of Aspens is likely the largest – and possibly oldest – living organism in the world, with an interconnected root system creating a single clonal organism that looks to the naked eye like 47,000 distinct trees. The trees also have a signature leaf shape and orientation, with leaves that run perpendicular to their flat stems, causing them to “quake” at the slightest breeze, allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor and nurture the surrounding plants.

Sun shines through the yellow leaves of a grove of narrow aspen trees with white bark in front of a mountain.

As often happens when I’m engaged in nature, the incredible world I saw around me seemed the perfect corollary to this time of year on the Jewish calendar.

During the High Holidays, we individually engage in fervent self-reflection. At the same time, the traditional liturgy is written in plural, communal language: “we have sinned,” and “we must repent.” As part of the Jewish community, we each stand tall as individuals, needing our own sustenance and self-care to survive. Yet, we are also part of something much bigger, rooted in shared, complex traditions and history that help us stand stronger and withstand adversity and the winds of change together. Our resource, Reflect & Repair, captures that balance of repairing oneself, our relationships, and our communities. In our constant ability to adjust and evolve, to move with the winds of time, we also help create a stronger and more just ecosystem around us.

As the Quaking Aspens echoed the trembling humility of High Holiday prayers, I was struck by the movement of the leaves, the movement of their shadows on the forest floor, and ultimately, by the power of the traditions we move ourselves – and in so doing, how we shape the ecosystem around us for the better.