TELEM and Environmental Sustainability: A Hot New Service-Learning Program

Published on December 13, 2012 by Emily Reichman


TELEM’s mission is to connect Jewish teens in Greater Boston with meaningful service learning experiences. A unique feature of the program is that students spend the year building relationships, both with their Jewish peers and the individuals they serve through their ongoing service work. Whether it is the individuals students see week after week at the soup kitchen or the seniors they spend time interviewing and getting to know, these relationships are what keeps the teens coming back and often what compels them to return to TELEM year after year.

The issues of climate change and environmental sustainability have become an increasingly critical global concern and an issue of importance to the Jewish community. All too often, the challenges associated with climate change disproportionately affect those people in marginalized groups who lack access to decision makers and people in positions to influence policy. It is without question, a social justice concern and intersects with other issues TELEM addresses,, such as poverty and environmental justice. So, TELEM decided to expand our idea of service to go beyond working with individuals to include volunteerism in connection with the needs of our environment.

To provide the most cutting edge educational material, TELEM engaged with Jewish environmental education experts at the Teva Learning Alliance in developing a curriculum that covers a broad range of environmental sustainability issues, including urban planning, renewable energy, building efficiency, food access, water scarcity, and recycling. Of course, it wouldn’t be a TELEM program without the foundation in Judaism. The curriculum examines all these environmental challenges from a uniquely Jewish perspective. Students not only learn about each topic but get to explore what makes each a “Jewish issue” and why we as people and as Jews should live sustainably.

The new TELEM Sustainability track was launched this fall, with our long-standing partner Prozdor as the host site for the program. They have begun the service part of the program with the Boston Nature Center (BNC) in Mattapan, a facility that is part of the Mass Audubon network whose mission is to educate people from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan about environmental and sustainability issues. The BNC is a terrific service site, with an on-site community garden, small solar field, a certified green building, and other educational tools that provide students with hands-on experiences in a variety of environmental topics.

Deep and meaningful connections through service work come not only from interactions with people, but from an entire experience. Sometimes that can mean working side by side with your classmate, getting your hands dirty harvesting vegetables that will be donated to a local soup kitchen. Students often come away from their environmental service trips feeling like they accomplished a tremendous amount. They can count the rows of crops they planted; they can see the piles of debris they cleared from walking trails. The impact is immediate and real. Our hope, as with the other TELEM tracks, this will have the students coming back week after week and year after year.

Emily Reichman, the TELEM Program Manager, worked with the Teva Learning Alliance to build this new TELEMyouth track. Emily has a deep interest in environmental sustainability and food justice, as she is studying food justice in her master’s program at Northeastern University.