When the international president of the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism asked Lymor Wasserman of Wayne to cochair its environmental and sustainability committee, the longtime member of Congregation Beth Sholom of Teaneck was eager to make a difference. “It was an opportunity to be involved in a cause that was meaningful,” Ms. Wasserman said.
Her connection began through her longtime membership in Beth Sholom’s sisterhood, as Women’s League’s local synagogue-based chapters are called.
Her father died during the pandemic in 2020. She wasn’t able to say kaddish in person, but “a friend suggested I come to Makom B’Yachad,” an online international women’s study program that offers participants the chance to say kaddish. She did join the group, and so she spent the full 11 months of mourning as part of a close-knit group of women— praying, reading psalms, and studying and discussing text. “The lockdown allowed us to program over Zoom, affording us a chance to get to know one another better and meet Women’s League leaders,” Ms. Wasserman said.
That’s when the offer to cochair the Women’s League’s committee was made.
She’d been interested in environmental and sustainability issues for some time. “I’d been involved with the Jewish Earth Alliance, a lobbying group that speaks with local Congress people on behalf of environmental issues, but chairing this committee was a chance to do more,” she said.
Since becoming cochair, Ms. Wasserman has organized a number of programs supporting sustainability. She’s particularly proud of Reverse Tashlich, which for the last two years Beth Sholom has done between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
At Tashlich, which ideally happens on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews throughout the world throw pieces of bread that represent that year’s sins into a body of running water. For Reverse Tashlich, instead of throwing symbolic sins into the water, participants remove tangible objects — society’s sins — from the water. Both are acts of cleansing.
Reverse Tashlich is inspired by the work of Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, the executive director of Repair the Sea — Tikkun HaYam, a group that works to bring a Jewish focus and vision to cleaning and protecting the world’s oceans. Congregation Beth Sholom, along with more than 200 other Conservative synagogues throughout North America, participates in cleaning local bodies of water.
“Rabbi Rosenthal has been more than just an educational resource,” Ms. Wasserman said. “He believes that the Jewish tradition is filled with deep spiritual teachings about water and the sea, yet most Jews have not been exposed to this part of our heritage.”
Repair the Sea works to raise awareness of the threats facing the aquatic environment, and to encourage action to address them. The international organization, based in Tampa, Florida, is both nondenominational and nonprofit, offering educational programs on a variety of facets of Jewish life and thought.
While any time is a good time to repair our world, Ms. Wasserman appreciates the value of restoring cleanliness to waterways at this time of year. “The reflective period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time when we’re focusing on relationships,” she said. Those relationships, she explained, are bein Adam l’atzmo — the internal relationship between a person and him or herself — bein Adam l’chaveiro — between two people — and bein Adam l’Makom — between a person and God.
“What a better way to respect all of those relationships than to help clean up our waterways?” she said.
In the fall of 2022, Teaneck’s Department of Public Works gave Beth Sholom permission to collect litter on the Teaneck bank of the Hackensack River. “We cleaned up in the area where we’d tossed our bread in the water during Tashlich, concentrating on areas of the Hackensack River from West Englewood Avenue to the FDU campus,” Ms. Wasserman said.
This May, Ms. Wasserman attended a Bergen County environmental fair in Overpeck Park in Teaneck called EarthFest. Her goal was to talk to various activists as she looked for a new area for the 2023 cleanup. It worked.
“I was fortunate to connect with Tyler Tierney, outreach coordinator with Hackensack Riverkeeper,” she said.
Mr. Tierney suggested Staib Park in Hackensack for the group’s cleanup this year. He also garnered permission from the local DPW and provided everyone who registered with gloves, grabber tools, and trash bags.
The cleanup was scheduled for September 10, before Rosh Hashanah, because the holiday fell on a weekend this year. And since Yom Kippur begins the next Sunday at sunset, there were no Sundays available.
Although rainy weather didn’t cooperate with the event, it went well, Ms. Wasserman said, even though the turnout was lower. “We had high hopes going into the cleanup after last year’s successes — and despite the rain — we fed off of each other’s energy,” she said.
“Women’s League contacts the presidents of all 13 regions throughout North America to spearhead this program,” Ms. Wasserman continued. “The Garden State region, which includes congregations in Highland Park, South Orange, and Teaneck, had planned to participate in this year’s event, each in its own area, but the bad weather caused some rescheduling.”
“Water covers 70% of our Earth,” Ms. Wasserman said. “Since most local townships are responsible for cleaning up their waterways, many areas are already clean.” That said, last year Congregation Beth Sholom filled 25 trash bags of garbage that had been tossed in the Hackensack River.
“There’s a feeling of purification that I get when helping to clean up our precious environment,” Lainie Rosen of Teaneck said. Ms. Rosen is a member of Beth Sholom, and she participated in Reverse Tashlich this year. “I pray that the people who dispose of these things will get a wake-up call to cherish it as well.”
Lymor Wasserman agrees. “There’s never a bad time to do a good deed,” she said.