The Fifth Topsy Turvy Bus Tour: Exploring Holy Spaces

If you happen to be on the road this summer anywhere between Washington D.C., New York City, and Connecticut, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a golden-orange school bus traveling upside down along the highway. You’re not seeing things. The Topsy Turvy Bus (created originally by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream) is indeed real, and will be on a seven-week summer tour from June 24 – August 16, 2015.

The Topsy Turvy Bus is a bio-fueled environmental schoolhouse on wheels that is driven and staffed by Teva educators. Teva – a program of Hazon and North America’s leading Jewish environmental education program – provides pluralistic outdoor, food, and environmental education experiences throughout the Jewish community. Teva works with Jewish day schools, congregational schools, community centers, synagogues, camps, and youth groups.

“The Topsy Turvy Bus has never been more important than it is today,” said Nigel Savage, Hazon’s president. “It’s inherently fun – it just makes people smile – and yet the pedagogy behind it is serious. Hazon exists not only to strengthen Jewish life, through Jewish food educahannahseneshtion, Jewish environmental education and Jewish outdoor education, but also genuinely to create a more sustainable world for all. The Topsy Turvy bus is here to inspire us all – young and less young; Jewish and not-Jewish – to make a real difference in the world.”

Starting out at Hazon’s Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT, where most Teva programs take place, the Topsy Turvy Bus will travel and make stops in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and eventually make its way back the Isabella Freedman center. During the tour, Teva educators will show people around the veggie oil-fueled bus, share their knowledge about all things environmental and Jewish, and engage participants to feel empowered to make change in their everyday lives. As the bus embarks on its fifth annual expedition, the Topsy Turvy Bus Tour will engage communities across the country in thinking, learning, and teaching important Jewish values and how they relate to the various cycles that govern and impact our lives.

benji teaching4“I was part of the bus team last year and as an educator I’ve seen firsthand how kids’ eyes light up when they’re on the bus,” shared Teva educator Sonia Wilk. “That’s what we’re about – inspiring kids in a way that’s exciting for them and, actually, very meaningful for us.”

“‘V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham—And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among [within] them” (Terumah/ Sh’mot 25:8). In the spirit of fostering a greater sense of community, Teva educators will introduce the concept of mishkan, commonly translated as “tabernacle,” “residence,” or “dwelling place.” The concept of building a mishkan, or a sacred communal space, will be a starting point to explore questions such as: How do we create holy spaces? What do they require? Furthermore, how do we value the things that everyone brings to the table, from skills and strengths, to questions and attitudes, to dreams and hopes? Through the tour, campers will make connections between the ways we define and use our spaces and how these ideas are related to resource use, energy and conservation issues, and building community.

“We had multiple campers come up to us and say that the Topsy Turvy bus was the coolest thing they had seen at camp ALL summer,” said Sara Sideman, Assistant Director at the Medford JCC Camps, the largest day camp in the country. “The educators were able to take really interesting material, relate it Jewishly, and have it be age appropriate for campers from age 6 to 14… very impressive.” Andrew Schwebel, Director of Ramot Amoona Summer Camp in St. Louis, MO, reflected, “What a great way to share the important message of sustainability and our responsibility as Jews for the planet. Parents called me the next day to share hbus at climate marchow much the campers had learned. It was the topic of conversation over the dinner table.”

In 2009, Teva conducted its first bus tour in honor of Birkat HaChama, a little-known Jewish blessing that is recited only once every 28 years when the sun completes the cycle that, according to Jewish tradition, returns it to its position when the world was created. That summer, the bus travelled throughout the Northeast and involved almost 1,500 learners of all ages and backgrounds. The following year, Teva led a cross-country Climate Change Tour, with programs attended by almost 2,000 people nationwide. In 2011, the Topsy Turvy Bus toured the South on a “From Purim to Freedom” Tour that began on Purim and ended with Passover.

Drawing on the success and excitement of the last four bus tours, Hazon is thrilled to be once again using this unique and engaging vehicle to bring Teva’s dynamic experiential Jewish environmental education across the country. “I was thrilled with every aspect of the program! It was very interactive and kept my 8th- and 9th-graders engaged, which is no small feat!” said one participant from a previous tour.

At each stop on the Mishkan tour this summer, Teva educators will run programs focused around energy, environmental problem solving, social justice, and Jewish values. Program participants will watch an interactive theater-piece, make smoothies on a bicycle-powered blender, assist worms in turning old food into new soil, and learn first-hand about and on a unique bio-fueled bus.

“From highway to interstate, Topsy Turvy is paving a path for more mindful communities to spring up everywhere,” said Stefanie Groner, a 2014 Moishe House Bus Program participant.

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