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David Haimes with his hives. GWEN OREL/STAFF

Rosh Hashanah
Begins Sunday, Sept. 29, at sundown, continues through Tuesday evening

At Congregation Shomrei Emunah, 67 Park St., services are at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 29, and begin at 8:45 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 30. Check shomrei.org for full schedule, as there are teen discussion sections, storytime, as well as other services.

Community Tashlikh ritual at Edgemont Memorial Park Pond, with Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue, Monday, Sept. 30, at 5 p.m.

Some local beekeeping organizations:

• New Jersey Beekeepers Association, njbeekeepers.org
• Essex County Beekeepers Association, essexcountybeekeepers.org
• Essex Beekeepers’ Association/EBKA, ebka.org
• Essex County Beekeepers Society, ecbs.squaresspace.com
• Essex County Beekeepers Society, Inc.; ecbs.njbeekeepers.org




By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Under a brilliant blue September sky, Montclair’s David Haimes smiled as he looked at bees buzzing in the hot sun around his three beehives. “They’ve just been out for a run,” he said. Haimes, a member of Montclair’s Congregation Shomrei Emunah, sells his honey this time of year for congregants who want to buy it to send as gifts or use themselves for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Because the bees go where they want to (you could call them free range), he can’t say exactly which flowers the bees have gathered their nectar from. “I just call it wildflower honey,” he said.

Dipping apples in honey is a Jewish tradition for Rosh Hashanah, which begins this Sunday night, Sept. 29. It will be the Jewish year 5780. At many Jewish homes, dinner before Rosh Hashanah services will include a plate of apple slices, and a bowl of honey.

Pictures of apples and honey adorn Jewish New Year cards. 

“We share at our holiday table a cut-up apple, which we dip in honey. Some people dip challah. We wish each person that we hope this year will be a good and sweet year, just like the honey,” said Shomrei Emunah’s Rabbi David Greenstein. 

Haimes sells his honey at Shomrei Emunah. It always sells out, and sometimes he has none left. Greenstein also receives packages of the honey this time of year.

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DAVID GREENSTEIN

“A former congregant, about 100 years old, lives in Texas with family, and sends a jar of honey every year,” Greenstein said.

The ritual is a set practice, with spiritual significance, done at a certain place and time, but it’s not mandatory, he said. “The Hebrew Bible mentions honey and sweetness in various contexts. Sweet means sweet, but it also means wholeness, healing, restoration.” In some places, the word sweet is used to talk about things being better than they used to be, he explained.

Apples, in the Jewish tradition, are a symbol of love and beauty. The feminine side of God is sometimes called “the field of apples,” Greenstein said, adding that the fruit in the Garden of Eden has never been considered an apple in Jewish tradition.

In recent years, the notion of “restoration” and “healing” connected with the state of honeybees. The Washington Post reported in July that last winter saw a record loss of honeybee colony losses. Some of that is due to wildfire, some to verroa mites, which feed on bees and weaken them to the point of death, and some due to fungicide and pesticide.

Consuming honey, and caring for bees, connects to the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world, Greenstein said.

“I’m concerned for the planet, for the environment. The denial that people are in, perpetuates the mistakes and the bad things we’re doing. We will talk a little bit about it on Rosh Hashanah. We’re running out of time. When you hear the shofar, you need to wake up to things like that as well.”

HEALING THE WORLD

It isn’t only honey that would be lost without honeybees.

“We need the bees more than they need us,” said Haimes. “One-third of everything we eat is pollinated by bees, or some other beelike creature.”

Rabbi and beekeeper David Senter, who is not a pulpit rabbi, but works for a kosher supervising agency that certifies products to have a kosher symbol, agrees. “Many of my bees are rescues, unwanted bees in the wall of a house, or the hollow of a tree. I go there and extract bees as a rescue, or relocate apiaries,” he said. 

He has hives in Teaneck, where he lives, and some in New York state. Each hive holds 20,000 to 80,000 bees, he said. Like Haimes, he sells every ounce of honey the bees do not need.

Honey was the original draw for him, but then he became fascinated by the way bees work together, how they function as a group and also work individually. He also gets his bee colonies through bee packages, that have about 6,000 bees and a queen bee, from Georgia by mail.

“Honeybees are our most efficient pollinators,” he said. “We need bees to pollinate crops. As the demand for insect-pollinated drops increases, the loss could dramatically affect the food chain.” Factors that contribute to putting bees at risk include the loss of area for forage and disease, he said. Bumblebees that pollinate tomatoes are in trouble too, he added.

“The feral [i.e., indigenous] population of bees is disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s much harder for beekeepers to maintain colonies,” he said. Every season, beekeepers are having to replace whole hives.

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READ: TASHLICH IS SYMBOLIC, AND REAL

READ: WHAT IS MONTCLAIR DOING TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE?

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On the other hand, there’s a lot of awareness about this now, with people trying to deal with the issue on a local level.

“Agriculture and academia are working hard on trying to find solutions,” Senter said. “Israel is at the forefront, working to identify viruses that affect bees.”

It’s all connected to Tikkun Olam for Senter. 

“We are called beekeepers, not bee farmers. It’s not like cattle or vegetables.We just keep the bees. 

“Primarily we monitor the activity of bees, and provide them with resources during the times of year when resources are not available. In the winter, we open up the hive and if there is not enough food, we will supplement the food with a candy board,” he said. The bees are left with about 80 pounds of honey for the winter, but if they run through that, they starve.

“The Talmud talks about beekeepers and what they did, and to be careful not to overharvest, and how many frames to take and have the bees survive,” he said.

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Winters’ own honey, with apples, all set for Rosh Hashanah. JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS/STAFF

HONEY IN THE PYRAMIDS

Nobody knows when the custom of dipping apples and honey began.

But it’s clear that it’s very old.

Greenstein said. “It’s about 1,000 years, maybe more. We have records of it in the early middle ages, of people talking about it as an established custom.

“Who doesn’t like sweets?”

Some Biblical scholars think that the honey referenced in the Bible is not always bee honey, but date honey, and the phrase “flowing with milk and honey” refers to the sap from date trees. That means that vegans can also observe the ritual. 

Beekeeping dates back to ancient Egypt. Haimes said, “They’ve opened up the Egyptian pyramids and found honey, which may have been placed there by somebody Jewish.”

And It makes sense that some Jews who were slaves in Egypt might have brought the beekeeping practice to Israel, said Senter. 

The practice does take some training and knowledge.

Haimes is a graduate of Master Gardeners of Essex County, and a member of the Essex County Beekeepers Society, but he’s been stung. “I don’t wear rings,” he said with a laugh. (Fingers swell up when stung and make rings hard to take off.)

Jaimie Julia Winters, associate editor of Montclair Local, has kept bees for seven years. She stressed that it’s crucial for aspiring beekeepers to join an organization where they can be mentored. She is vice president of the Northeast New Jersey Beekeepers Association, and recently won the Northeast NJ’s Honeycup of 2019.

“I had been beekeeping for two years before I joined,” she said. “I needed help.” She also enjoys the camaraderie among like-minded people.

The late Dorothea Benton Frank, Montclair bestselling author, titled her last novel “Queen Bee,” and made a beekeeper a central character. People are fascinated with the practice.

Beekeeping has grown enormously in recent years, Winters said: “When I first joined the association, there were 80 members. Now there are 350.”

Like Haimes, she pointed out that since bees go where they want to, you don’t really know what they are pollinating. “There’s no such thing as organic honey,” she said.

The issues facing bees are frustrating and real. She’s lost whole colonies. Verroa mites are an ongoing problem, and the only way to deal with them is to use mite treatments in the hives.

‘MY ZEN PLACE’

Despite the challenges of keeping bees, beekeepers find emotional satisfaction in it, too.

Haimes, who belongs to the Essex County Beekeepers Society, said “I can take a chair and sit out here and watch them all day long.” And in some ways, he admires the bees. “They may not be an efficient insect. They make 1/25 of a teaspoon every eight weeks. But they definitely have a system down,” he said.

“They function individually, but also have a collective consciousness. They function as a group,” Senter said with admiration.

And for Winters, being with the bees is a way to find peace.

“It’s my zen place. When I open up the hives, the bees are buzzing around me. I get into a rhythm with them. I can hear when they are getting upset. I know when they’re calm. It’s just being one with nature. I’m under the sun, and the bees are buzzing around, with their legs filled with pollen, all different colors of the rainbow — their legs get all fat and puffy and filled with pollen. They could be red, purple, yellow, orange.”

That spiritual connection is also part of Tikkun Olam, said Greenstein.

“Bees are the agents that help so much in this world flourish. You need fruit? You need bees. You need flowers? You need bees,” he said.

“Taking care of bees is necessary for our survival. The message of the Days of Awe is that everybody can change. If we give up on the possibility of change then we’re gone. We have to decide to change.”

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EXCERPT

from “Queen Bee”

By Dorothea Benton Frank

I want to introduce you to my bees first. Everyone knows honey bees are good for the environment, but few people know why or how their hives are organized. There’s a division of labor for every stage of a honey bee’s life. Every bee has his or her job to do to ensure they continue to coexist as one. Everything they do is to preserve the colony. Humanity could take a few lessons from them. You’ll see what I mean as time goes on, the same way I came to gradually understand them. In any case, I loved the time I spent with my bees because, despite their intense activity, it was so serene. Serenity was in short supply around here. The good news was that there was zero chance of Momma following me out to the apiary. She wouldn’t come near the hives out of fear. I keep telling her she’s not sweet enough to sting. She doesn’t think that’s funny.