Gillers is probably the only person whose interest in Jewish education was sparked by taking out the family trash.
Growing up in Newton, Mass., one of his jobs was putting the leftovers into compost. “I didn’t like it, but I did it,” he said. That alerted him to the importance of protecting the environment with such efforts as recycling and composting.
Now he educates the Jewish community, in a literally hands-on way, about these topics through GrowTorah. The five-year-old, independent organization encourages day schools and other Jewish institutions – a dozen so far, all in the Greater New York area, mostly Modern Orthodox — to establish gardens (“experiential classrooms”), tended by students and teachers and other staffers, on their premises.
GrowTorah was among six nonprofit startups that won entrepreneurial grants last year from the Orthodox Union’s new Impact Accelerator mentorship program. The OU praised GrowTorah’s commitment to “environmental stewardship, compassion for creatures and Tzedakah.”
“We are trying to make Torah more relatable and more relevant,” said Gillers, a day school graduate who studied environmental studies and education in college and now lives in Teaneck, N.J.
As part of his outreach, Gillers is developing a GrowTorah curriculum that teaches the participants the Jewish perspective on ecology and on donating the gardens’ produce to the less fortunate.
Participating organizations “are able to create personal connections to the Torah they learn every day,” GrowTorah’s mission statement declares.
Gillers plans to establish a modest garden — 400 square feet — on the grounds of the home into which his family (wife, Sara, and young daughter, Zeva) are moving this week.
His goal: “educational gardens” at every Jewish institution in North America. Which would mean a lot of fruit and vegetables. And a lot of compost.
Hitting the slopes: Gillers has been skiing since he was 3 and is now a certified instructor in Telemark skiing, a sport that combines downhill and cross-country techniques. His daughter is ahead of his pace; he introduced her to Telemark at 14 months, a few months after she learned to walk.