In Memoriam: Ellen Bernstein

Tara C. Trapani

Everyone here at the Forum was deeply saddened to hear last week about the unexpected passing of Rabbi Ellen Bernstein. Ellen was part of the Forum Advisory Group, and has been a friend and partner in our work for decades. The creative energy and enthusiasm she brought to her work and collaborations energized all whom came in contact with her. See this lovely and moving tribute to Ellen from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, by her friend Shira Dicker. 

Ellen began her work in the 1980s by creating a Tu B'Shavat seder for the trees, which graced the inaugural event for Shomrei Adamah, the first national Jewish environmental organization, founded by Ellen. She became known for that ritual, as well as her later environmentally-inspired Passover Haggadah. She believed, as we at the Forum do, that science is absolutely essential, but not enough to inspire people to change their ways.
In her own words:
“We are moved most powerfully by our emotions.  Science alone will not move us to care about the earth.  Religion at its best can help us to get in touch with our deepest selves, and inspire us to see the godliness in everything.  In the end, we will only save what we love.  I believe that the Hebrew Bible can help us see the beauty and aliveness of the earth.  The poetry of religious language can speak across political divides and call us to care and to act.”

Her latest book, Toward a Holy Ecology: Reading the Song of Songs in the Age of Climate Crisis was published less than 2 weeks ago. This volume uplifts the ecological language and message of the Song of Songs to inspire connection and re-invigoration to heal our hearts and prepare us for the work ahead. She had many events scheduled to celebrate the release of the book. The Center for Deep Green Faith has decided to still hold the online event on March 20 in her honor, where they will talk about Ellen and the message of Toward a Holy Ecology. Find out more and register here

From the publisher:
Song of Songs is known as the erotic part of the Bible, but Ellen Bernstein shows how it is also an ancient source of deep ecological wisdom. Toward a Holy Ecology is a new translation of this Hebrew text, illuminating the place of humans in the natural world and inviting you to develop a holy, ecological language for life. This book sets the natural world before you with intensity and beauty, inviting you to savor it with all your senses. Then you are able to return to the world with a renewed clarity, love, and energy necessary for creating a healthier future for the earth and all her inhabitants. Toward a Holy Ecology is for all who love the earth and its inhabitants—including outdoor enthusiasts, spiritual seekers, fellow poets, feminists, and students of the humanities, religion, and ecology. It will change how you see, how you speak, and how you live.

She was also the author of The Promise of the Land: A Passover Haggadah (Behrman House, 2020); The Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology (Pilgrim Press, 2005); the co-author of Let the Earth Teach You Torah (1992, available free to download at Ellen's site–scroll down to the bottom of the page); and the editor of Ecology & the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature & the Sacred Meet (Jewish Lights, 1998). 

Any search of YouTube will provide a wealth of multimedia content featuring Ellen, including speeches, webinars, and creative communal rituals. We've included a few highlights below, and encourage you to explore more. See also her website for more multimedia and written offerings. 

We honor Ellen's legacy and many contributions to the field and to the Earth and our hearts are with her family.