AJA Dedicates Greenhouse

AJA Dedicates Greenhouse

By Robyn Lindenberg

Austin Jewish Academy will celebrate the dedication of the Noah E. Rockowitz Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center, a project of the Anna C. and Dr. Murray Rockowitz Fund, Thursday, March 29. The dedication will be held at the Austin Jewish Academy Science and Innovation Center from 3 to 4 p.m. honoring the visionaries who made the greenhouse a reality: Kathy Rosenmann, Cheryl Hersh, the family of Noah E. Rockowitz, Treva and Dr. Jeff Horwitz, Barbara Horwitz, Dr. Kenneth Horwitz and AJA National Junior Honor Society Students of 2016-2018.

Many people devoted time, love, energy and money to accomplishing the ambitious project. In 2016 the National Junior Honor Society of AJA drew up green campus initiative and goals, describing steps that had already been taken to make Austin Jewish Academy a green campus and their goal of building a greenhouse.

Five years ago, through the help of generous donations, the school was able to build the Science and Innovation Center. The portable building, nestled in a wooded section of the campus, is devoted to innovative engineering and environmental education. From the beginning, students worked to develop systems to transform AJA’s campus into a model for sustainable living and environmental education.

The National Junior Honor Society began with the goal of diverting all lunchroom food waste to three compost piles. Students measured the amount of food waste each day before implementing a comprehensive food waste education program. Another group of students were inspired to build an aquaponics system completely powered by solar power. The result was an off-grid sustainable food system used to learn about physics, chemistry, biology and environmentalism.

Students soon began a new round of green campus initiatives, one of which was adding a chicken coop to the campus. AJA now feeds its chickens some of the food waste each day and adds the chicken waste to the compost pile. Students also established vermicomposting bins in each of the classrooms, to educate and promote personal responsibility for green campus practices.

To close the sustainable loop and establish a gardening and farming program on campus, the students worked tirelessly to raise the money to build and run a greenhouse. In doing so, students at AJA have given themselves the opportunity to experience hands-on, experiential learning in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, visual arts and nutrition.

By deepening children’s sense of connection with nature, school gardening inspires environmental stewardship. When children learn about water and energy cycles, the food chain and the peculiar needs of individual species, they have reason to care about all the forces that impact that plant’s future. A garden offers many occasions for achieving insight into the long-term human impact on the natural environment. From water shortage to the overuse of pesticides, children who engage in gardening have firsthand opportunities to observe the importance of conservation and intelligent allocation of resources.

Adding an educational greenhouse to the campus also enabled the AJA community to help feed the hungry. In Travis County alone, there are more than 160,000 food insecure citizens. It is part of AJA’s mission to donate a certain percent of our fresh produce to people in need. In doing so, the community is fulfilling the mitzvah of Pe’ah, the law of leaving the corners of one's field for those in need.

When Noah E. Rockowitz (1949-2015) visited AJA before his death, he admired the school’s commitment to imbuing the next generation with a deep curiosity about the world around them through hands-on project based learning, and pledged his support to deepen and strengthen the roots of the institution.

An avid gardener, Rockowitz had an equal passion for growing vegetables and cultivating Jewish community. He served in leadership roles of various Jewish organizations including the Westchester, New York, Jewish Council; American Friends of Magen David Adom; and Beth El Synagogue of New Rochelle, New York. A former social studies teacher and a strong advocate of Judaic education, he was also a strong supporter of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, New York, where he served as chair of the Board of Education.

Rockowitz was the eldest son of Anna C. and Dr. Murray Rockowitz (“z”l”). A longtime resident of New Rochelle, New York, where he raised his family with his wife Julie, he developed a bond with the city of Austin and the Austin Jewish Academy when his middle daughter, Leora, moved here.

Rockowitz was proud to be married to Julie, a graduate of Brandeis University, Hebrew College in Massachusetts, Columbia University, and a longtime Jewish educator. The couple had three daughters: Shira, a Los Angeles-based senior manager with The Sundance Institute; Leora, a senior technical talent consultant at worldwide employment-related search engine, Indeed, and a former member of the AJA board of directors; and their youngest, Dahlia, who in May will graduate from University of Michigan - Ann Arbor’s master’s degree program in environmental justice and policy.

Julie, Shira, Leora and Dahlia deeply miss Noah’s compassion and sense of humor, but are proud that his legacy will be continued with the Noah E. Rockowitz Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center, a project of the Anna C. and Murray Rockowitz Fund.

AJA is now accepting applications to transitional kindergarten through eighth grade for the 2018-2019 school year. Contact admissions@austinjewishacademy.org to schedule a tour or attend an admissions event. ■

For more information about Austin Jewish Academy visit www.austinjewishacademy.org.

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