Rodef Shalom High Holiday exhibit raises environmental awareness
High HolidaysRodef Shalom Congregation

Rodef Shalom High Holiday exhibit raises environmental awareness

Collection asks individuals to reflect on themselves as human beings and 'how we are stewards of this planet'

"Olive" by Maureen Kelly (watercolor). Photo by Adam Reinherz
"Olive" by Maureen Kelly (watercolor). Photo by Adam Reinherz

A Rodef Shalom Congregation gallery is cultivating the High Holiday spirit.

Sixteen botanical drawings, all by local artists, are not only associated with the Days of Awe but feature fruits, vegetables, grains and trees that grow in Rodef Shalom’s Biblical Botanical Garden.

The exhibit is both educational and inspiring, according to Holly Dobkin, a lifelong member of the Shadyside congregation and co-president of the tri-state regional chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Beside one group of works is a card describing the four species of Sukkot: Viewers can learn both that the etrog is the “fruit of a citron tree (Citrus medica)” and that the etrog is “used as part of the blessings laid out in Leviticus (Vayikra) 23 for the holiday of Sukkot as ‘fruit of a beautiful tree.’”

Similar information is provided regarding the lulav (Phoenix dactylifera), hadass (Myrtus communis) and aravah (Salix babylonicus).

The images are unique, with artists having relied on various media, including pen, watercolor, graphite and colored pencil. Several images bear striking resemblance to their three-dimensional counterparts, and each plant depicted was thoroughly researched by the artists, Dobkin said.

“Spelt” by Iza Kubanowska (pen and ink). Photo by Adam Reinherz

The need for accuracy required learning about how, and where, each species grows and its different stages of life, she added.

Dasya Petranova, director of plantscapes at the garden, began working with Dobkin and the other artists — most of whom are not Jewish — in November.

The generated works gave Petranova a newfound appreciation for many plants she already loved.

“The exhibit helps me see the care other people are taking when they look at the plants,” she said.

Along with learning about the intricacies of olives, wheat and other species, there’s another educational element to casting Rodef Shalom’s Biblical Garden in a new light, Dobkin explained.

“We should be aware of our environment and our dependence on plants and pollinators,” she said. The High Holidays are a time for people to not only reflect on themselves “as human beings but how we are stewards of this planet.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “July 2023 was more likely than not the warmest month on record for the globe since 1850”; and the “past nine Julys have been the warmest Julys on record.”

Even before the heat, there was extensive flooding, intense storms and wildfires this year.

The majority of Americans (62%) told Pew Research Center in 2109 that “climate change is affecting their local community either a great deal or some.”

This is a time for introspection and, with the High Holidays approaching, people should ask not only “how much they take for granted,” Dobkin said, but “how much we don’t think about our environment.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

“Botanical Holiday Drawings” is on display in the Commons Area at Rodef Shalom Congregation through Oct. 8. Information about the exhibit and biblical gardens is available at 412-621-6566.

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