Every year, when Rabba Amalia Haas, Rabbi in Residence at Oberlin College Hillel, dips the first bite of her Rosh Hashanah apple into a jar of honey, she thinks about the year of effort and blessings that come together to create even a small teaspoon of honey. As Jews around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year in the Jewish calendar, Rabba Amalia reflects, “The honey we taste on Rosh Hashanah is the culmination of an incredible landscape of blessing; the soil, the flowers, the rain, the nectar, and the bees. My hope for the new year is that we are also tasting a small moment of the blessings to come this year.”
Rabba Amalia grew up in a family passionate about education and science. Her mother was the first woman to become a tenured faculty member in the education department at the University of Chicago, and her father was an integral member of the group of scientists who mapped the human genome. This early exposure to different types of learning inspired her to think about education in a unique way as she entered the rabbinate and started teaching in different communities.
Rabba Amalia is also guided by her commitment to environmentalism, and in particular, her work in beekeeping, which she started almost 15 years ago. She says, “Beekeeping is such a complex art and it’s an example of the complexity of our environment.” She uses bees and their work as an educational tool in her teaching at Oberlin College Hillel, local elementary schools, and beyond.
When students return to campus in the fall, often around the same time as Rosh Hashanah, Rabba Amalia shares with them an important intention, based on her work with bees, for their year ahead.
She teaches, “Starting a new year in college is a time of sweetness and blessing, as well as renewal. It is a time to reflect on what flowers we are each seeking out for nectar and pollination this year. There will be many small steps that are involved in building a sense of home on campus, much like the incremental steps that bees take to produce incredible honey for their hive. Hillel is a hive, a home, you already belong to with many different types of Jewish students filling different roles and needs for our larger community. Each person in Hillel brings a different kind of sweetness to our hive. What kind of sweetness will you pursue this year?”
Learn more about Rabba Amalia’s honey and her educational work with bees at her website, Bee Awesome, also known as Amalia’s Bees.