Rainbow Day – Noah’s dead and it’s our turn to save the earth

We all know the story of Noah. We might even be a little sick of it, especially if we’re parents. There seem to be hundreds of picture books on the topic, at least three of which my kids have received from The PJ Library. Why a story of God’s threat to destroy the earth seems appropriate for little ones is a mystery to me. I still haven’t gotten used to seeing the playful artwork of Lucy Cousins, of Maisy fame, paired with the words “I shall make a flood of water and wash all the wicked people away.”


Because it’s such a popular tale for tots, I think many adults have forgotten that the story of Noah is complex and meaningful. It frames a significant, even radical, shift in humans’ relationship to God, animals and the earth. While humans were charged with working and protecting the earth way back in Gan Eden, it’s not until the flood that they actually do something significant about it. Not only does Noah fulfill his mandate of preserving biodiversity for the post-diluvean era, but immediately after the flood he plants seeds and produces food, the first evidence of a garden planted by humans, not God. (Yes, it’s a vineyard, and yes the wine leads towards some fairly unsavory behavior, but let’s not quibble about details.) People are given more responsibility, but also more privileges (they are given permission for the first time to eat meat.)


As everyone who has read the picture books knows, the story ends with a promise from God, a dove, and a rainbow. (Too bad there aren’t any unicorns as well, considering how badly this story begs for a happy ending.) The rainbow, of course, is the symbol that God will never again destroy the earth.

I’m thrilled that God will never destroy the earth again. Unfortunately, humans seem to be doing a pretty terrific job of it. There’s no simple way to get all of humankind to make the same promise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. And that’s the basic premise of Rainbow Day. Held on the anniversary of the day Noah left the ark (according to the book of Genesis), Rainbow day is, according to Jewcology,


a time to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth, and to remember our role in God’s covenant. It is a time to remember that the first covenant was not with human beings but with all living things. It is a chance to reflect on the deep spiritual and religious meaning of diversity, creation, and our role as part of creation and partners with God.

Jewcology’s Rainbow Day website has dozens of suggestions of ways to honor the day (which falls on Tuesday, May 31) through ritual, song, education, and hands-on activism. Why not choose at least one to do with your family?  As some of you know, my earliest work in Jewish education was helping create the Teva Learning Center, an institution that’s now at the forefront of Jewish envrionmentalism. In other words, this stuff has mattered to me for a long time.

My kindergarten class will be planing sunflower seeds and trees. My own family will add some new beds to our backyard garden We’ll probably sing adamah v’shamayim a few hundred times for good measure. Please come back and let me know what you did!

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posted May 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Just posted this link for all my PJ parents to read. Thanks for the wonderful material—-keep it comin’!

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posted May 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I love this Lucy Cousins book, and have used it in the classroom since the first edition, editing the words of her story to make the childlike illustrations and words both toddler-friendly. Lucy’s first editions of the book did NOT have a rainbow at the end, and I had to glue one into the back of my copies. Fortunately, the more recent edition (from England?) have added the rainbow!

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Bible Belt Balabusta

posted May 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Thanks for sharing this neat resource, and for the commentary. So there is something else I can do besides make rainbows with the garden hose set to “mist?”
I recently discovered an older picture book (out of print) called Noah’s Trees, by Bijou le Tord (HarperCollins, 1999). The animals get one single page, and the rest of the short book focuses on the trees Noah cares for, uses appropriately, appreciates and preserves. A lovely balance to most Noah picture books. And the environmental message is delivered so gently and simply.

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posted June 1, 2011 at 11:53 am

I join this discussion as a Catholic who doesn’t know much about the Jewish faith, but wants very much to learn.

That said, another balance to the traditional Noah books that I admire very much is “Noah’s Wife: The Story of Naamah” by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso ( It tells the story about how Naamah saves seeds while Noah corrals his animals onto the ark, how Naamah carefully protects the seeds on the voyage, and how she joyously plants them later. While not from the biblical narrative, it is based on a folk tale, and makes abundant sense to me as midrash; how else would Noah have been able to plant his vineyard if Naamah had not saved grape seeds?

Also, while I do enjoy Lucy Cousin’s “Maisy” books (I’m not a parent, but I do volunteer in the children’s section of a public library and know the books fairly well), I still can’t imagine her brightly colored tempura paintings showing the story of Noah’s Ark without doing the story some disservice. Then again, I haven’t read the book, so I could be wrong…

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    posted June 2, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I like the Naamah book as well, and read it to my kindergarten class before planting our garden.

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