Thinking green
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Thinking green

Drinking from a cup made of 100 percent corn — completely compostable and biodegradable — Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, religious leader of Kesher Community Synagogue, acknowledged a growing concern that Jews have been late to act on environmental issues. Speaking two weeks ago at a panel discussion hosted by the synagogue, the rabbi suggested that one reason for this situation is that acting on this pressing issue requires financial resources, time, and effort — areas in which many Jews already feel overstretched.

Kesher is "struggling with spreading the word of lifestyle changes," said Fox, pointing out that this is what environmental consciousness often requires. The synagogue will practice what it preaches. Its new building, scheduled for ‘009, will be "an energy-efficient structure," he said, noting that the shul is considering the use of geothermal energy, which uses steam below the earth’s surface to supply power. He also pointed out that the light bulbs in the sanctuary have all been converted to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs, and recycling bins have been added.


Rabbi Jeffrey Fox installs an energy-efficient light bulb.

David Marks, Kesher’s Green Shuls committee chair and coordinator of the event, called "Greening the Orthodox Jewish Home," said that the program "was designed to encourage the Jewish community to get involved and take action on energy conservation as well as environmental and health concerns." Attendees were offered fresh organic fruits, vegetables, and sushi.

Speakers’ topics ranged from how to make one’s home more eco-friendly to religious standards that apply to conservationism.

Evonne Marzouk, representing Canfei Nesharim — which, says its Website, is "dedicated to building a better world for our children, by learning and acting on the wisdom of our Jewish tradition to protect the environment" — pointed out that the organization’s slogan, "l’avdah u’lishamrah," to work the land and protect it, is drawn from the Bible. Marzouk tours the country, speaking to schools, synagogues, and other Jewish groups about how to reduce the human impact on earth with a Jewish mentality.

According to Marks, Canfei, which he called an innovator in the field of Jewish environmentalism, "basically coined the idea for Jews to ‘go green.’"

The Rev. Fletcher Harper, the executive director of Greenfaith, which works to educate religious leaders, outlined three steps for creating awareness: spirit, stewardship, and justice. Harper said that spirit comes from the drive to make a difference, stewardship uses that drive to influence others, and justice uses those collective efforts to help those affected by ecological damage. The director, who hosts tours to low-income neighborhoods demonstrating the damage caused to families in urban settings, said that "poorer communities have to deal with more environmental health threats, which is not a reality for many people."

Harper’s consciousness-raising tours target religious institutions and families, spurring them to make their places of worship supportive of conservationist efforts and legislative activism.

Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, the religious leader of Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md., and associate professor of law at the University of Maryland, told attendees that the notion of preserving the earth derives from two Jewish ideas: first, that every Jew is responsible for his or her fellow Jew and that by helping the planet continue its natural cycle, we ensure the safety and well being of every Jew worldwide, and second, "the wonder and awe of God’s creations." All Jews should appreciate the beautiful earth that God has given us, he said, and make an effort to protect it.

Fox said he has tried to bring these values into his own home. He noted that for every Shabbat and holiday meal except those during Sukkot, he uses standard dishes to reduce the waste caused by paper plates and plastic cutlery — thus leading the community "one spoon at a time."

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