Events

Arrange a Torah Flora Event
Upcoming Events
Recent Programs
Sample Speaking Topics

Arrange a Torah Flora Event

If you are considering a Torah Flora program, I encourage you to contact me (jon@torahflora.org) to discuss possible formats and topics. I would be happy to collaborate with you to come up with a format and topics that are customized for your audience. I can also provide references from sponsors of earlier events.

I’ve listed some sample topics following the list of events below. The list of possible formats and topics for a Torah Flora program is flexible and always changing. Possibilities that may be suitable for your group include botanical garden tours, PowerPoint lectures, hands-on student activities, a scholar-in-residence program, ancient food and drink tasting or dinner, or a presentation followed by a food tasting.

Upcoming Events

To receive e-mail announcements of upcoming Torah Flora events and new articles, please e-mail me at jon@torahflora.org. The Torah Flora e-mail list is strictly confidential and involves no ads, spam, or sharing of e-mail addresses.

Sunday, May 31, 2015
Eating our way Through Torah and Jewish History

Biblical and Jewish-historical botany brunch & lecture at Temple Emanuel Sinai, Worcester, MA. Brunch will be served at 9:45 AM and the program will begin at 10:00. There is no fee for this event. Reservations are recommended but not required. To reserve one or more places, e-mail pogould@yahoo.com.
Additional details will be posted as they become available.

Tentative Speaking Tours for 2015
The following tours are now in the planning stages. Details will be posted as these plans develop. Please contact me at jon@torahflora.org to discuss adding an event to the itinerary for any of these tours:

  • Feb. 16-21: Southeast Florida
  • June 26-July 2: Northern California and New Mexico
  • August: Western Connecticut and Massachusetts, Toronto

Recent Programs

Sunday, Oct. 26, 4 PM
Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War that Shaped Jewish History

Lecture and related refreshments at The Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, 71-25 Main Street, Flushing, NY. Highlights included:

  • Columbus’s gifts to the Jews: Ample feasts for the Persians, new beers for the Germans, easier Passovers and a halachic Thanksgiving problem for American Ashkenazim
  • The real maror: What’s wrong with horseradish and why it’s not supposed to blow your head off
  • How a Jewish exile showed Americans that tomatoes are not poisonous, paving the way for pizza and ketchup
  • Why it matters that Joseph’s Pharaoh drank wine, but Moses’s drank beer.
  • The critical importance of beer to the origin of civilization
  • Why Israel became a Roman gourmet destination

Sunday, Oct. 12, 10:30 AM and 2 PM
Torah Flora walking tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Highlights included:

  • King David’s pomegranate and the “Divine right” of European kings.
  • The Jewish roots of Italian eggplant and Greek lemon sauce
  • The Jewish doctor who rescued tomatoes from witchcraft for pizza and ketchup
  • The “etrog problem”: How a conflict between science and Torah began and is coming to an end.
  • Why civilization may have begun as a search for beer.
  • How the apple tree became a symbol of religious faith.

Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014
Torah Flora walking tour of the New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY

Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014
Torah Flora walking tour of Teaneck, NJ

August 4-13, 2014
Speaking tour of Northern California and New Mexico

  • Monday, Aug. 4
    Biblical & Talmudic botany walking tour of ABQ BioPark Botanical Garden, Albuquerque, NM
  • Tuesday, Aug. 5
    Biblical & Talmudic botany walking tour of Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Santa Fe, NM
  • Saturday, Aug. 9
    Scholar-in-Residence (three lectures) at Congregation Beth Israel, Berkeley, CA.
    * Some Puzzles, Curiosities, and Solutions in Nature, Science, and Torah
    * Civil Wars, the Liberal Arts, and the Social Security System: Lessons from the Olive Tree
    * Parshat Ekev on Irrigation and Idol Worship
  • Sunday, Aug. 10
    Biblical Botany Brunch Lecture at Congregation Beth Israel Judea, San Francisco
  • Monday, Aug. 11 (Tu b’Av)
    Torah Flora walking tour of the Urban Adamah farm plots, Berkeley, CA
  • Tuesday, Aug. 12
    Biblical & Talmudic botany walking tour of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
  • Tuesday, Aug. 12
    Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War that Shaped Jewish History. Lecture and related refreshments at Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Foster City, CA

July 7-12, 2014
Lecture Series at Senior Summer Camp, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

July 14, 2014
Apples, Milk, and Honey: Moses’s Blessing, Isaiah’s Curse, and the R-rated Story of the Bay Leaf and the Rhododendron

Illustrated lecture at Congregation Knesset Israel, Pittsfield, MA. Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.

June 29, 2014, Biblical and Talmudic botany tour of the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown, NJ
This program was eligible for 2.0 Rutgers Master Gardener CEU’s.

April 17-22, 2014 Passover at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT
Events included two lectures, a narrated Torah Flora dinner, a Biblical and Talmudic botany tour of the Isabella Freedman greenhouses, and a new event: A narrated Shabbat lunch based on Shir HaShirim (Solomon’s Song of Songs), which was read in the synagogue that morning.

February 2014
Speaking Tour of Southeast Florida

  • February 18 “Noah’s Wine versus Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War that shaped Jewish History” Lecture with food and drinks at Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale.
  • February 19 Guided Biblical and Talmudic botany tour of Mounts Botanical Garden, West Palm Beach.
  • February 19 “Eggplant & pizza, Modigliani & limoncello. Italian? No, Jewish!”
    Lecture on the history of the Jews of Italy, followed by tasting of kosher Italian wines, beers, and liqueurs at Boca Raton Synagogue, Boca Raton.
  • February 20 “Achashverosh: Bumbling king or agricultural pest insect?”
    Lecture at Temple Beit HaYam, Stuart.
  • February 22 ‘Land of milk and honey,’ a blessing for Moses and a curse for the later prophets” Lecture at Congregation Kol Ami, Boca Raton.

December 22-25, 2013
Speaking tour of the San Francisco Bay area

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013
Lecture at Yeshiva Ketana of Queens, New York

Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 (Chol HaMoed Sukkot)
Two Biblical walking tours of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Wednesday, July 30 Lecture at the OU Israel Center, 22 Rechov Keren HaYesod, Jerusalem.
Friends and Enemies: Some Puzzles and Solutions in Torah and Science

Monday, July 22 “Passover and Peter Rabbit, Olive trees and Social Security:
How insights from nature, science, and agriculture can help us understand and appreciate the Torah”
Congregation Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road, Pittsfield, MA.
Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. Lunch followed by lecture

Monday, July 15-Saturday, July 20 Lecture Series at Senior Summer Camp at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

  • Botany is Theology: Jeremiah and the Mystery of the Arar
  • Biblical and Talmudic botany tour of the Berkshire Botanical Garden
  • Narrated Shabbat Dinner: A tour of Torah and Jewish history through food and drink
  • Biblical and Talmudic botany tour of the Isabella Freedman vegetable garden and greenhouses

July 14, 2013
Torah Flora walk through the Freilinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ

March 28-April 2, 2013
Passover at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

Five lectures and a narrated dinner tour of Torah and Jewish history.

March 16, 2013
Insights into Pesach from Barbecue Physics and Peter Rabbit

Lecture at Congregation B’nai Jacob of Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

February 18-23, 2013
Speaking Tour of Southeast Florida

  • Monday, Feb. 18, Boca Raton “Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War that Shaped Jewish History” Tasting and lecture on beer and wine in Torah at Boca Raton Synagogue
  • Tuesday, Feb. 19, Miami Beach “Passover Insights from Barbecue Physics and Botany” Lecture at Miami Beach Senior Adult Vacations, Days Inn
  • Tuesday, Feb. 19, Stuart “Lessons from the Olive Tree for Families, Jewish Unity, and the Social Security System” Lecture at Temple Beit HaYam
  • Wednesday, Feb. 20, Boca Raton “Botany, Prophecy, and Theology: Jeremiah and the Mystery of the Arar” Lunch and Learn at Boca Raton Synagogue
  • Wednesday, Feb. 20, Ft. Lauderdale “Lessons from the Olive Tree for Families, Jewish Unity, and the Social Security System” Lecture at Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft.Lauderdale
  • Saturday, Feb. 23, Boca Raton “Achashverosh: Bumbling King or Manipulative Tyrant? The Story of an Insect Named for an Ancient Persian King” Lecture at Boca Raton Synagogue

Friday, February 1, 2013
Shabbat Dinner: A Guided Tour of Torah and Jewish History Through Food and Drink
Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue)

70th St. at Central Park West, New York City

Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012
Guided tour of the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY

Highlights included:

  • The real maror: What’s wrong with horseradish and why it’s not supposed to blow your head off
  • The meaning of a common spice plant that looks like a menorah
  • How a Jewish exile showed Americans that tomatoes are not poisonous, paving the way for pizza and ketchup
  • The critical importance of beer to the origin of civilization

Sunday, July 22, 2012
Guided tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Attended by 70 adults and children.

Friday, July 6-Thursday, July 12
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

Three talks and guided tours of the Center’s Adamah fruit and vegetable plots and the Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, MA. The topics of my talks were:

  • The Hazards of Natural Religion: The First Fruits, the Seven Species,
    Irrigation, and Idol Worship
  • Milk and Honey, Apples and Wormwood: Lessons for the Three Weeks from
    Biblical Plant Metaphors
  • Puzzles, Curiosities, and Solutions in Torah, Nature, and Science:
    Noah’s Gopher Wood, the Etrog Problem, and Lessons from Mushrooms and Olive Trees

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Guided tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Sponsored by the YM-YWHA of Union County, NJ.
Highlights included:

  • The vegetables that kept Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden
  • How Columbus made Passover food easier
  • Why Israel became a Roman gourmet destination
  • The Biblical fruit that crowned European kings

April 9-14, 2012
Passover at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

As part of the Center’s Passover program, I presented four talks:

  • Passover insights from beer, botany, and barbecue physics
  • Avoiding the hazards of natural religion: The seven species and the sefirah period
  • Botany, prophecy, and theology: Jeremiah and the mystery of the arar
  • Changing times, changing Torah? The cases of milk and honey, mushrooms, and astronomy

Sunday, March 18, 2012
Brunch-Lecture at the YM-YWHA of Union County, NJ
Matzah, maror, and lamb: Passover insights from science and food history

Highlights included:

  • Bread and beer: Pride of the slave drivers
  • The Talmud’s warning: Slavery grows like wild lettuce
  • The God who hates superstition mocks sheep and onion worship

Friday, March 16, 2012
Torah and Jewish history through food and beer:
Narrated Shabbat dinner and beer tasting at Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue), New York City

Monday, March 12, 2012
Insights into Passover from botany, food history, and barbecue physics
Illustrated lecture with light refreshments

East Midwood Jewish Center, Brooklyn, New York
Highlights included:

  • Peter Rabbit and what’s wrong with horseradish
  • Pomegranate anatomy explains the Paschal lamb sacrifice
  • Did civilization begin as a way to get a beer? Saying no to yeast worship

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012
Mushrooms and Blessings in Science and Torah
Beth Emet Elementary School, Cooper City, FL

Lecture-Discussion and food-preparation activity

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012
Insights on the meaning of Passover from botany, pharmacology, and barbecue
physics
Temple Beit HaYam, Stuart, FL

Lecture and tasting of the original wild maror

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012
Lessons From the Olive Tree for families, Jewish Unity, and the Social Security system
Miami Beach Senior Vacations at Days Inn, Miami Beach, FL

Lecture

Friday, February 24, 2012
Science and Torah: Friends and Enemies
Kol Ami Reconstructionist Synagogue, Boca Raton, FL

Lecture highlights included:

  • Barbecue physics, Peter Rabbit, and the meaning of Passover
  • What was the tree of knowledge?
  • Noah and Pharaoh: Was civilization just a way to get a beer?
  • Talmudic mushroom physiology, 1800 years ahead of academic biology

February 18, 2012
Botany, Prophecy, and Theology
Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Bronx, NY

Lecture

Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012
Brunch-Lecture at the YM-YWHA of Union County, NJ
Lessons from the olive Tree for families, Jewish unity,and the Social Security system

Highlights included:

  • The Chanukah story they DIDN’T tell you as a child
  • Why a nineteenth-century rabbi used botany to make sense of the Friday night prayers
  • The hidden tree and advice to adult children and parents in Psalm 92

December 8, 2011
Lunch & Learn at Congregation Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) in New York

Lecture on “Lessons from the Olive Tree for Chanukah, Jewish Unity, and
the Social Security System”

August 17-18, 2011
Four Talks at the Chabad National Jewish Retreat

August 11-16, 2011
A Healthier Planet, A Healthier You: Two six-part program series at Block and Hexter Vacation Center in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania:

  • Series 1: Nutrition for a Healthy Retirement
  • Series 2: Environmentalism: Part of a full Jewish life?

July 31, 2011
Guided tour of The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY.

Highlights included:

  • Samples of the original maror
  • The “Etrog Problem”– How a conflict between science and Torah was created and solved
  • Why wine is important in Judaism but beer helped create civilization
  • Botany is Theology: Our understanding of Jeremiah’s theology depends on what plant we think he used as a metaphor for faith

Sunday, July 24, 2011
Biblical botany tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with sign language interpretation for the deaf and hearing-impaired and their families

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Biblical botany tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for women and children

Torah Flora Weekend in the Berkshires, July 15-17, 2011
Three Events:

July 15, 2011
Slide Lecture and Lunch at Hevreh of the Southern Berkshires, sponsored by Jewish Federation of the Berkshires
Great Barrington, MA
Passover and Peter Rabbit, Olive trees and Social Security:
How Insights from Nature, Science, and Agriculture can Help us Understand and Appreciate the Torah

July 15-16, 2011
Shabbat at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

(Part of the Center’s summer Senior Adult Program)

  • Friday night lecture on Nature and Torah
  • Shabbat afternoon Torah tour of the Retreat Center’s vegetable gardens

July 17, 2011
Biblical botany tour of The Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, MA.

  • How the Exile helped Jews teach Americans that tomatoes are edible.
  • Why wine is important in Judaism but beer is just something we don’t drink on Passover
  • How the onion family traces Jewish history from the Philistines and Romans through Dutch New Amsterdam to bagels and lox.

June 7-9, 2011 Shavuot
Lecture-demonstrations, all-night Shavuot learning, and Torah nature walk at Kutsher’s Country Club resort, Monticello, NY

The theme for the learning during Shavuot this year at Kutsher’s was “Halachic issues related to the state of Israel.” I spoke along with Rabbi Rafael Grossman (former president of the Rabbinical Council of America), Rabbi Yale Butler, and Meir Weingarten (Middle East affairs commentator and Israel tour operator). My speaking topics were:

  • When most Jews are Israeli: Halachot that are about to change
  • Beer and wine, pistachios and idol worship: The fruits of Eretz Israel in halachah and symbolism

The guided Torah nature walk by the lake was beautiful and as always, a very successful favorite of singles: After enjoying the tour, nearly all of them wandered off to talk in pairs!

April 21-26, 2011
Beer, Peter Rabbit, and Barbecue Physics: Insights into Pesach from nature and agriculture

A series of six daily presentations during Passover in the Poconos at Block and Hexter Vacation Center in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania.

September 28, 2010
Biblical botany tour of The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Two tours of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Conservatory greenhouses, one intended primarily for families and children, and one for Jewish singles.
Highlights of the tour included:

  • A poisonous relative of tomatoes and potatoes, and the story of how a Jewish exile helped Thomas Jefferson overcome his fear of tomatoes
  • The tree that Noah probably used to build his ark (There is no such thing as a “gopher tree.”)
  • The forest fire and the history lesson hidden in the lulav and etrog
  • The secret of the olive tree that connects Chanukah and Tu B’Av
  • See for yourself why the rabbis decided that a banana is more like an onion than an apple

August 20-22, 2010
Lecture-demonstrations and nature walk at Kutsher’s Country Club resort, Monticello, NY
The Shabbat afternoon Torah nature walk was full of surprises and a strong favorite of singles. The topics of my lecture-demonstrations were:

  • The Seven Species and the Choice Products: Taste the Difference
  • Apples & Honey: Symbols of Prosperity and Chaos

The presentations were enhanced by tastings, botanical art, and fragrant myrrh and frankincense (Hebrew Mor and Levonah)

August 15, 2010
Biblical botany tour of The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Highlights of the tour included:

  • Five Passover plants that got fired (They used to be on the seder plate)
  • Vegetables that kept Adam and Eve from slipping back into the Garden of Eden
  • The critical role of beer in the Exodus and the origin of civilization

July 26, 2010
Biblical botany tour of The Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, MA. Highlights of the tour included:

  • Lilies you have eaten that trace Jewish history from the Philistines and Romans to Dutch New Amsterdam, bagels, and lox
  • A flowering plant that created a choice between defrauding the Jewish people and Roman execution
  • A plant that looks like a menorah, was the namesake of the Temple Mount, and is now eaten on Thanksgiving

July 25, 2010
What is Maror?
Lecture and sampling at the annual convention of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists at the Heritage Hotel in Southbury, CT

July 14-21, 2010
In the Fields and Footsteps of Our Ancestors–A Journey through Nature to the Heart of the Torah
A series of six lectures with food samples and a meditation on Torah and nature at Block and Hexter Vacation Center in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania

July 11, 2010
Biblical Botany Tour of the New York Botanical Garden.
This event was enthusiastically reviewed on the Jew and the Carrot blog: JCarrot Review. Highlights included:

  • The meaning of a common spice plant that looks like a menorah
  • How the exile of the Jewish people led Americans to see that tomatoes are not poisonous, paving the way for pizza sauce and ketchup
  • The critical importance of beer to the origin of civilization

May 18-20, 2010
Shavuot at Kutsher’s Country Club Resort in Monticello, New York. Four sessions:

Fruits of Idolatry, Fruits of the One God: The Meaning of the Bikkurim
Lessons of the Olive Tree: Jewish Unity, Jewish Families, and the Social Security System
Botany Determines Theology: Jeremiah’s Puzzling Simile of the Faithless Man and the Desert Tree
Understanding the Korban Pesach Barbecue with a Little Help from Botany and Food Science

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Interview on Land Minds, a Web radio program devoted to Israeli and Biblical history and geography. The interview has been archived and can be heard at http://www.foundationstone.org/page49/page49.html or at http://www.israelnationalnews.com/radio/.

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Two talks at Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange, NJ: The Origin, History, and Meaning of Tu B’Shvat and Shivat HaMinim and Zimrat HaAretz: The Hazards of Natural Religion

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Insights from Ethnobotany and Culinary History that Help us to Appreciate the Mitzvot of Pesach: Address to Professor Karen Shawn’s graduate course, Resources for Jewish Educators, at Azrieli Graduate School of Education, Yeshiva University

Friday and Saturday, May 29-30, 2009 (Shavuot) Two classes at Block & Hexter Vacation Center: Insights into the Mitzvot of Pesach From Thermal Physics, Ethnobotany, and Beer; Tales of the White Squill and Decoding the Secret of the Hidden Tree: Jewish Unity, Piety, and the Social Security System

Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008, 7:30 PM at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, E-304 Midland Ave., Paramus, NJ 07652
Spices Around the World, in History, and in Judaism
This dinner and lecture/demonstration was sponsored by Hadassah for their members and prospective members.

Sample Speaking Topics

  • What is maror? Species, symbolism, why it’s not bitter, and what it has to do with the Civil War, Peter Rabbit, and Renee Zellwegger
  • Botany and theology—How plant identification affects our understanding of prophetic metaphor
  • Tu b’Shvat–History and symbolism (Why are we trying to plant trees in February?)
  • The importance of beer and wine in Jewish history and the origin of civilization
  • Why the menorah? Chanukah, Jewish unity, and the symbolism of the olive tree
  • Shavuot and the first fruits–Why these seven species?
  • Egypt, Israel, and Sukkot–Why the sukkah? Why these four species? Why does the Torah connect idol worship with irrigation?
  • Mizmor Shir l’Yom haShabbat: Why the date palm? Why the cedar? Is there a hidden third tree in this psalm?
  • How did Betzalel get the huge logs he needed to build the mishkan?
  • Astronomy and theology of the calendar in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
  • Pesach: What does “Chag ha’Aviv” mean? (Not ”springtime festival”)
  • What is the “gopher wood” that Noah used? (There is no “gopher tree”)
  • Mushroom physiology—How the kabbalah anticipated biology
  • Lessons for families and Social Security from the olive tree (Psalm 128)
  • Tales of the white squill (Tu b’Av, unity of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and Li’l Abner)
  • Sefirat HaOmer, the mystical significance of wheat and barley, and the modern problems of the mitzvah of yashan
  • Why was the expression “land of milk and honey” a blessing for Moses, but an expression of disaster for the later prophets?
  • Spices: Sacraments, medicines, symbols, preservatives, and flavorings
  • Your enemy’s olive tree: Halachah and vandalism of Arab orchards
  • When most Jews are Israeli: Halachot that are about to change
  • Michshol lifnei ha’ever: The halachic question of Israeli arms exports