Fall at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Religious School and Early Childhood Centers means learning about the High Holidays, eating apples and honey and discovering honeybees with Dr. Jim Salander.
Jim has worked with bees as a hobby for over two decades, currently managing nine hives at two locations in Maryland. Ten years ago, at the request of a local teacher, he started taking his honeybees into classrooms, synagogues and the Library of Congress to teach children about bees.
For Jim, the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and educating our children are linked. “Passing along our knowledge and passion should be a cornerstone of our lives, both from a practical and a spiritual perspective,” he says. “What we gather we must share with others. Sharing helps others, helps us feel needed and serves a larger purpose. These are valuable elements in the process of developing, maturing and aging.”
Children at WHC are captivated when Jim walks into the room with bees, frames from his beehives, wax, beekeeping suits, tools and honey samples. Under his supervision, eager students, usually between the ages of three and ten, dress up as beekeepers and try out the tools of the trade.
“The kids get to look at them; talk about the wings, the eyes and the stinger; and actually hold the bees in their hand.” It’s a learning opportunity where Jim teaches that “everything that flies isn’t a bee—there are wasps and other insects. They have to be respectful, but they don’t have to be afraid of the honeybee.”
When he works with children at WHC, he teaches the links between bees, flowers and our food chain, and also helps them make the connection between the honeybee and Judaism.
“Honey has been part of the holidays because of its taste,” he says, “but there’s also an appreciation for the uniqueness of this tiny insect as a metaphor for the specialness of God’s creation. It’s not just that they’re cool and they make honey and honey is good to eat, but that these tiny insects, working as a group, can create something wonderful.”
The education doesn’t end in the classroom. In early July, Jim and his wife, Mary, invite the community to join them in processing the bees’ honey. Typically over 100 people, half of them children, participate in the Salanders’ annual event.
According to Jim, “It’s an interactive thing; they get to really see where the honey comes from—it’s not just a story. They see the frames with the wax, then help uncap the honey, separate the wax from the honey, then help filter it and put it in jars.”
Taking part in this process is more than just seeing how the wax is separated from the honey; it’s an opportunity to discover firsthand the big picture of what bees accomplish by working together. It’s this message that Jim hopes children take away from meeting his bees.
“There is an idea that they, the little bee and the little kid, can make a contribution,” he says, and “Working with others, they can enhance the lives of others, and none of us know all the people who will benefit from our efforts.”
Top photo: Jim at the Rabbi Joseph Weinberg Early Childhood Center at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Julia Bindeman Suburban Center in Potomac, Maryland.