For those of the Jewish faith, while Rosh Hashanah has passed, the season for challah and honey is still going strong. Despite the threat American bee populations are facing with their declining numbers, the Jewish beekeepers of Pittsburgh, PA are reminded to dip their bread into sweet honey and solidify a vow to protect this species of insect among the growing, united community around the Jewish faith and beekeeping.
One of these Pittsburgh beekeepers is Mark Schmidhofer, who has had his hives for a decade, making honey for himself and his friends. He became interested in bees when he learned the honeybee populations in this country were falling substantially, something that is devastating in general and also for Rosh Hashanah. Another Jewish beekeeper is Max Jahnke, a resident of Fox Chapel, who has kept bees for seven years now. “My dad started, and he brought me into it,” he said. Jahnke, his younger sister, and his father sell their honey and call it Hannah’s Honey.
Other Jewish beekeepers have had difficulty coming into the growing Pittsburgh community including Steve Kroser, who has gone so far as to say, “I have friends and mentors to engage when I have issues, but none of the people that I am directly involved with are Jews.” Agreeing with Kroser is Elise Beck, who’s said, “I don’t know that many Jewish [bee] people who are deeply involved in Pittsburgh.” Beck is the owner of Schwartz Living Market, a store on the south side that promotes sustainable living.
A few weeks ago was Pittsburgh’s Apples and Honey Fall Festival, which the Jahnke family has attended for several years. It is hosted by Shalom Pittsburgh, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “They come and bring a portion of the hive. The kids love it and love looking at it. It’s great,” said Carolyn Slayton, a Shalom Pittsburgh coordinator. A part from the aforementioned families, Slayton did not know of any other local Jewish apiarists.
“In my opinion, the Jewish community in Pittsburgh has not yet embraced an understanding and relationship to tikkun olam,” Beck said, suggesting that by learning about bees, Jews may discover things not only about honey but about the Jewish faith as well. “People understanding how important bees are is just so important because bees are closer to the bottom of the food chain and people are at the top, and what we’re doing environmentally is really affecting the bees…That’s why honey production and beehives have become such a hot topic,” Beck said, who has a bee friendly lawn.
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