Since he was a child, Elan Margulies always felt connected to nature and the outdoors.
"I've always been inspired by nature," he said. "My parents really encouraged my connection with the natural world and I pursued that into high school and college where I studied ecology and environmental sciences."
Margulies has taught ecology in New York at the Teva Learning Center, the Student Conservation Association and the Cornell University Naturalist Outreach program. Last summer, he developed the science of nature curriculum for Eden Village Camp, America's first Jewish environmental camp. He studied ecology at Cornell University and the Hebrew University and has led hikes in Israel, volunteered in South Africa's Kalahari Desert and worked for the U.S. National Park Service.
Today, Margulies serves as the Farm Manager and Educator at Pushing the Envelope, his family's Jewish community farm in Geneva, Illinois. Several years ago, the Margulies family began planting on the 14 acres outside of their family business, Continental Envelope, focusing on the community aspects of farming as a non-profit farm. The farm has goats and chickens and they are planting fruit and nut trees, among other things.
"We engage the land Jewishly, from a Jewish perspective, [by] letting the land rest and giving ourselves rest," Margulies said. "We don't circumcise our carrots and our cabbages don't wear kippahs but there are many ways of how we pay our workers, about how we work the land, the relationship with the land. Adam and Eve they went out of the Garden of Eden and they went to go farm and it's about cultivating that intimate relationship with the land."
Margulies said he hopes the farm will become a vibrant educational center. "We want groups to come out here to really bond with themselves," he said. "We hope to inspire the Jewish community to build vibrant gardens, to build vibrant community through that work, and to realize and empower ourselves with our hands and show that we can do meaningful work on the land.
"Judaism very strongly has agrarian roots and our holidays are very strongly agrarian as well, and so part of being a Jewish farm is celebrating [this]," he said. "It's returning to something that was very visceral and part of our Jewish identity. Margulies will lead an interactive workshop at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago called Rooted Judaism: Exploring Jewish Connections to the Land Sunday, July 10 at noon. The program will explore Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic sources through theater games and chevrutah (group) study. Additionally, each participant will plant their own microgreens to bring home and harvest.
"We all are dependent on the systems that bring us life and we feel more alive when we can get in touch with that part of ourselves and that part of our history," Margulies said.
To purchase tickets ($18, $10 for Spertus members, $8 for students) visit www.spertus.edu or call (312) 322-1773.