The National Park Service turns 99 years old on August 25, 2015. To celebrate, everyone is getting free admission to any of the 408 National Park Service sites across America!
It was President Woodrow Wilson who signed legislation on August 25, 1916 to protect and preserve sites of national interest for future generations, whether they be a national park, historic site, or national seashore. Some parks recognize historic people and achievements, while others conserve magnificent landscapes and natural wonders.
"The National Park Service's 99th birthday is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the role of national parks in American history," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "And it's also a time to look ahead to our centennial year, and the next 100 years. These national treasures belong to all of us, and we want everyone- especially the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates- to discover and connect with national parks."
So, how can this be a Jewish experience? Judaism has historically been a green faith, placing great emphasis on respect for and the protection of the environment.
It is in the very first chapter of Genesis (1:31) that we read that God ceased from creating and saw that the world was good. Tradition teaches that humankind was created in the image of God (tzelem Elohim), meaning that our role is to act as God's agents and to actualize God's presence in Creation. We remember and feel this connection every seven days on Shabbat, when we too stop creating and witness the beauty of the world around us, in emulation of the Divine (a uniquely Jewish observance).
Deuteronomy 22:6-7 states "If along the road you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life." Our sages have taught that this prohibits the extinction of species and the causing of undo pain to animals.
An ancient Rabbinic commentary (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13) says "When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: 'Look at my works! See how beautiful they are- how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."
From these teachings and others, we see that Judaism has long been concerned about environmental protection and justice. It is a set of values that each of us, young and old alike, can comprehend and connect with. It brings our faith alive, and allows us to truly experience the gift of being God's partner and advocate here on Earth. And what better time to share and experience these wonders of creation than on the birthday of the National Park Service when admission is FREE!
I encourage you to visit www.nps.gov to learn more and find a park near you.
Author of Historical Thriller, True Identity