Planting the seeds of community

The Bay Ridge Jewish Center, at Fourth Avenue and 81st Street, has joined forces with a green-thumb teacher named Jacqui Roytman to start up a community & educational garden there.

Roytman, creator of the SNAP to Grow program (Science Nature & Art Projects), said that Rabbi Dina Rosenberg of the BRJC has allowed her to utilize the outdoor space around the synagogue to create a flourishing garden.

What sets this community garden apart is its unique mission statement: “BRJC Community Garden provides hands-on activities in a variety of gardening methods that promote a feeling of unity and pride in Bay Ridge. Through a partnership with Community Board 10, the garden will provide on-site educational opportunities that will enhance the knowledge of the community and engage them in sustainable living practices.”

The goal is to create not just a community garden where individuals grow plants on plots of land, but also a place to teach different methods of growing, composting, recycling and other activities that encourage urban green-scaping. Urban green-scaping, also called nature-scaping, is a term that refers to a method of landscape design that allows people and nature to coexist.

Beyond teaching the joys of gardening, the purpose of the project, said Rosenberg, is to facilitate “a partnership with all different faiths and age groups, to create educational opportunities on sustainable living practices by using an interfaith and intergenerational program.” The design of the garden, with raised beds, will ensure that it is handicapped accessible, she added, as well as accessible to the elderly.

Bringing together people of different faiths is key, Rosenberg stressed, in a neighborhood as diverse as Bay Ridge. “It will allow us to get to know each other as people,” she said. With diverse planting areas as well – incorporating a wildlife sanctuary, a botanical garden and a kitchen garden – “People will see the harmony that will be created,” Rosenberg noted.

Although the garden is still in its preliminary design phase, Roytman said that she is already beginning a garden log to document the progress of cultivation. She wants to start off small, to avoid a chaotic beginning, and grow into a collaborative effort of community members from all different walks of life.

“I believe this is going to take off and people will want to donate time and be involved,” said Roytman.

Roytman is excited that her enthusiasm with respect to intergenerational programs is matched by Rosenberg’s interest in interfaith programs. Having people of various ages, religions, and nationalities working and learning together should truly create the diverse community garden that they hope for, Roytman explained.

On Tuesday April 9, a group of first graders from P.S. 185 and Bay Ridge Lower Prep School were the first students to attend Roytman’s after-school program at the BRJC. Roytman said that the SNAP to Grow program offers nature-based science creative art classes to kids from Pre-K through sixth grade, from both public and private schools.

When asked why she is so passionate about this project, Roytman said, “Because I am a teacher, I feel responsible to share my knowledge of green-scaping.”

For more information about the SNAP to Grow program go to

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