For Judy Tsafrir, cultivating plants was not a new task. “I have enjoyed flower gardening for many years and have an extensive garden around my home with lots of whimsical sculptures and fun things,” she said when describing her garden. “But I never grew vegetables in any kind of serious way until last [2020] season.”

Judy heard about Beantown Jewish Gardens’s gardening brigade through an email from Temple Emanuel in Newton, her synagogue. “It seemed like a nice opportunity to get some support and try my hand at [gardening],” she said. She got some soil from Black Earth Compost, as well as some seedlings, and planted her first vegetable garden last year. It was a huge success: “I had gotten some advice about how many plants to put in the beds, and as it turned out, they were incredibly crowded because everything grew so abundantly and so hugely that it was like a crazy jungle.” The garden grew as if by magic. “I had this zucchini; it was like something you would see at a state fair, like a fairytale kind of thing,” she recalled, though she credits her first season’s success to the rich Black Earth soil.

In addition to growing food, Judy’s garden has also been a source of community. Through the volunteer brigade, Judy was matched with a mentor, Nina. Her mentor introduced her to other gardeners, cultivating Judy’s gardening community. Together, Judy and Nina also celebrated Sukkot with some brigade members. “It was very enjoyable. It’s a nice thing to connect around the garden,” she said. Beyond meeting friends, the garden was also a point of connection for Judy’s family. “Everyone was getting a lot of pleasure out of seeing what was going on in the garden,” she explained, sharing her family’s excitement in seeing everything grow. Her garden even created a stir in the neighborhood. In addition to zucchini, Judy grew several vegetables, including tomato plants. Unfortunately, a frost came last season and she had to gather the tomatoes early to protect them. She ended up harvesting 30 pounds of green tomatoes and gave them away to neighbors. The neighbors put the tomatoes to good use in various recipes. “It was like the tomato bake-off!” Judy joked.

Beyond a sense of community, the brigade and her mentor have also been a source of knowledge for Judy. When pests invaded her garden, her mentor Nina was able to recommend neem oil, an organic spray she could use. Additionally, the brigade has been a source of wisdom for Judy. “If I have questions, there are knowledgeable resources of more experienced gardeners than me,” she said appreciatively.

When asked about her Jewish connections to the garden, Judy said, “I have the perspective that everything is sacred. [Gardening] puts you in very close touch with [the sacred] experience when you’re growing vegetables. And particularly with the seeds, the whole miracle that something that’s the size of a poppy seed can grow into a leek, or something the size of two poppy seeds can grow into an eggplant.” The garden is clearly a source of Jewish inspiration for her. “It’s beyond miraculous and feels very divine to me,” she said, “and it puts me in touch with beauty, it elevates my spirits and it opens my heart. That all seems to me like Jewish values.”

This season Judy is trying her hand at growing vegetables from seeds rather than the seedlings she used last season. “If it works, I’m going to have so many seedlings to give away,” she quipped. Luckily, Judy has the same mentor as last year, so she’ll be able to again have a local resource to turn to as she begins her new endeavor.

When asked what advice she would give to new gardeners, she recommended the Black Earth soil she had used initially and lots of watering, and said, “It doesn’t hurt to bless the garden regularly. I do that as a regular practice, not just the vegetable garden but the whole garden, and it’s working.” Every morning she pours coffee grounds on a different spot in the garden while sharing her daily blessing. When asked about the blessing, she says, “It’s unique each time; it’s ‘bless the garden’ and ‘thank you for the garden’ and ‘wow to the garden.’”

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