January 3, 2008
What would Noah do?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)The idea is to provide a unified approach and to help keep synagogues from duplicating each other's efforts since, according to Pacific Southwest Region executive director Joel Baker, "Everybody's tripping over each other to get it done."
To coordinate efforts further, Wallach, who is working with the Board of Rabbis' Green Congregations Best Practices Initiative, also convened a CoejlSC Kitchen Cabinet last spring, composed of representatives from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements as well as organizations including Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and the American Jewish Committee.
Wallach said Kitchen Cabinet members will begin in January to develop a list of resources, to be available online and in book format, to assist synagogues and organizations in everything from how to form a Green Team to how to benefit from bulk purchases of environmentally friendly services and supplies.
In the meantime, an abundance of environmental activities are taking place in Southern California's synagogues and Jewish institutions. A few examples:
At University Synagogue in Brentwood, facilities coordinator Bonnie Kebre is working to establish a permanent Green Committee. Meanwhile, the synagogue has added paper to its list of recyclable items, has removed most toxic cleaning products and is looking into buying drought-resistant plants.
Additionally, a major remodel is in the works. Already 4,000 square feet have been demolished and construction on a 9,300-square-foot remodel, with a definite green component including lots of natural light and up to 50 percent recycled materials, is slated to begin in the spring, according to the temple's Executive Director Hal Daum.
At The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, each of the 350 Federation employees has had his or her own paper-recycling basket for the past month. Additionally, each of the 40 departments has its own large recycling bin, according to Federation spokesperson Deborah Dragin. The Federation also provides filtered tap water on each floor and carpooling incentives.
At Sinai Temple, the Green Team, created 18 months ago, has passed out about 400 ceramic mugs to all Sinai Temple staff. It also sells "Go Green" travel mugs to congregants. Additionally, the Green Team has worked with the Sinai Akiba Academy caterer to begin in January to serve student lunches in biodegradable clamshells, instead of Styrofoam containers.
And last Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish National Fund kicked off its Go Neutral campaign for individuals or organizations that want to reduce their carbon footprint by planting trees. That means they will be balancing out the carbon dioxide they are creating by investing in trees that will soak it up, with each tree absorbing about one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime of approximately 70 years.
CoejlSC's Wallach is opposed to buying carbon offsets, as he believes they don't result in people changing their behaviors. But Temple Emanuel's Siegel views them as a practical way to zero out energy expenditures that can't otherwise be reduced, such as air travel. And, in fact, the Union of Reform Judaism, at its 2007 Biennial in San Diego in December, offset staff travel as well as energy used in the Convention Center by purchasing trees in Israel through JNF's Go Neutral program and by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects promoted by the nonprofit organization CarbonFund.
Wallach believes that the number one priority for a synagogue or organization is to build a strong Green Team. But even that isn't always a sure key to success.
Two years ago, during Sukkot, Temple B'nai David-Judea launched an initiative for the synagogue's almost 300 families to take their carbon footprint and then reduce the community's total footprint by 20 percent.
The results, according to the synagogue's Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, were "a mixed story." While Kanefsky feels the undertaking successfully raised consciousness, it proved difficult logistically and practically to follow through on.
The environment, however, remains high on Temple B'nai David-Judea's social action agenda. During Chanukah, the synagogue passed out more than 100 energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs to congregants. And this Tu B'Shvat the congregation is orchestrating a community tree planting for private home's parkways, between the curb and the sidewalk.
Still, Kanefsky explains, it is difficult to move forward on the green initiative when the world is so full of hard issues, such as Israel and Darfur. "The challenge is to try to identify a realistic number of issues and do something meaningful concerning each one during the year," he said.
Concern for the environment is placed higher on the agenda for Temple B'nai David-Judea than for most Orthodox synagogues.
According to Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, director of community and synagogue outreach for the Orthodox Union West Coast, "traditionally, Orthodoxy takes a more inward look at what issues the Orthodox community needs to address, such as at-risk teens who are moving away from religion or the tuition crisis for private schools." If the Orthodox community doesn't tackle these issues, no one else will, Korobkin said.
Still, at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, where Korobkin also serves as Rosh Kehillah, or spiritual head, solar panels have been constructed on the gymnasium roof, reducing the building's energy bill by about 50 percent. And on Tu B'Shvat, Yavneh is coordinating a tree planting with the city of Los Angeles and the Third Street School, Yavneh's public school neighbor.
Korobkin believes it's only a matter of time before greening becomes a higher priority for the greater Modern Orthodox community.
But one item that seems to be overlooked on everyone's environmental agenda is the role of vegetarianism in reducing global warming and other environmental threats.
"The world is not only trying to feed 6.6 billion people, but also over 50 billion animals that are raised for slaughter," said Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA).
To make this point, as well as to demonstrate how Jewish values can help heal the environmentally impaired world, JVNA produced the one-hour documentary, "A Sacred Duty," which premiered internationally at the Orthodox Union's Israel Center on Nov. 12, and which is available free to religious, cultural and environmental organizations.