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December 9, 2005 Gan Academy Bul...
The Jewish Week...
Outdoor Programs In 2003, on the High Holy Days, Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Cong. Sharey Tefilo-Israel stood JTA - The Slaug...
NY Ride before his congregation and wondered aloud, “Do we need to drive the biggest possible The Wall Street...
vehicle imaginable?” The Forward - K...
Israel Rides
The Jerusalem R...
Advocacy With the parking lot filled with SUVs and other gas-guzzlers, the rabbi was taking a risk. He Associated Pres...
challenged his listeners to reflect on how their habits squared with Jewish values and what Philadelphia Je...
they might reasonably consider doing to alter their behavior. Philadelphia Je...
Torah Trek LA Jewish Journ...
Fortunately, few took his remarks as a personal condemnation. On the contrary, within 12 Jerusalem Post ...
Food hours, Cohen had a phone call from Elliot Sommer, a congregant in this South Orange Blueprint - Lat...
Food Conference Reform community, asking what he could do to help. The synagogue’s “Green Team” was off JTA - Dietary C...
and running. New Jersey Star...
Tuv Ha'Aretz
Atlanta Jewish ...
Min Ha'Aretz “Initially, we consulted the COEJL [Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life] Website Kansas City Jew...
[] for ideas,” recalled Sommer. It was on that site, in November 2004, that Atlanta Jewisht...
Food For Thought
members of Sharey Tefilo-Israel learned about “Greening Synagogues,” a pilot program Washington Jewi...
Jew & The Carrot COEJL was launching in New Jersey, with the support of a grant from the Johanette Jewish Herald V...
Shmita Project Wallerstein Institute, a family foundation dedicated to improving the environment. In short San Mateo Count...
order, Sharey Tefilo-Israel was accepted into the program. Jewish Standard...
Jewish Farm
School Unorthodox New ...
Around that same time, Rabbi Alan Silverstein, spiritual leader of Cong. Agudath Israel in Jewish Ledge- B...
West Caldwell, called together a few key lay leaders to meet with representatives of COEJL Jewish Ledger-B...
Store after the organization reached out to invite the Conservative congregation to become part of The Jewish Worl...
Reading Room “Greening Synagogues.” COEJL, and its partner in New Jersey, the New Brunswick-based Jewish Week - T...
Green Faith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment, presented a menu of options for Jerusalem Post ...
involvement in the program; the rabbi had a simple question, according to Dr. Gerald Daily News - Se...
Photos Buchoff, chair of CAI’s Environmental Committee, who attended the meeting: “Why can’t we The New York Ti...
do them all?” New Jersey Jewi...
Jewish Ledger-S...
Shortly thereafter, Silverstein announced that CAI would be one of four New Jersey Forward - Lette...
congregations — one from each major denomination — to join “Greening Synagogues.” A The Jewish Week...
shul committee that for at least half-a-dozen years had only about half-a-dozen participants Blueprint - Hea...
focused largely on recycling efforts suddenly attracted about 50 members to its next UJC - Chronicle...
meeting. “People just flocked,” Buchoff recalled. UJA-Mitzvah Kid...
Jewish Week - D...
The program’s overall mission, said COEJL’s director of communications, Barbara Lerman- The Jewish Week...
Golomb, is to create model communities that preserve, renew, and defend the environment. Washington Jewi...
Bnai Keshet in Montclair (Reconstructionist) and Kesher Community Synagogue of Tenafly The Jewish Week...
and Englewood (Orthodox) are also part of the pilot group. JTA News - Envi...
The Jewish Week...
COEJL is hoping this year to recruit another four congregations willing to make the required Jewish Life - J...
two-year commitment to fulfill a series of activities that encompasses facilities management; Forward - Even ...
You can make a education and worship; and environmental justice and advocacy, all carefully outlined on the JTA News - Seve...
tax-deductible organization’s Website under a link for “Greening Synagogues — Menu of Options” Jerusalem Repor...
donation to Hazon ( Jewish Week - I...
through Network for Koach - Jews On...
Good. (100% of In Bergen County alone two synagogues, Temple Sholom in River Edge, a Reform Blueprint - Fos...
proceeds go to congregation, and Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, a Conservative Forward - Envis...
Hazon). congregation, have shown interest in environmental initiatives. The latter is already working Forward - For A...
with Green Faith. A third, Cong. Ahavath Torah, which just received approval from the city of Temple Beth El ...
Englewood for its specifications to entirely rebuild its Broad Street facility, has taken pains to Jerusalem Repor...
go way beyond current guidelines to plan a structure that is environmentally sensitive, said Jewish Week - C...
Rabbi Aryeh Stechler, who is serving as the interim rabbi during Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Daily Freeman -...
sabbatical in Israel. Groundbreaking there is set for late spring. Ivanas Wild Rid...

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hazon :: Jewish Standard - The Greening Of The Shul

In the beginning, there was speechifying; today, specifying Forward - On Su...

JTA News - Jews...
Since religious leaders across the board first took up the call after the United Nations Jerusalem Post ...
convened the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, speaking out publicly and publishing JTA News - Jewi...
their views, organizations such as COEJL and Green Faith that were established in the
summit’s wake have been working with religious communities on the local level to move environmentalism from
highbrow language to grass-roots activism and practice. A review of the Website of the National Religious Partnership
for the Environment (, an organization also founded during that period, reveals scores of such
initiatives under way across the country and throughout different faith communities.

“The first decade was about writing, concepts, getting the language down,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an
Episcopalian minister who is Green Faith’s executive director.

Harper’s contention is borne out by the resolutions put forth over the years by the various Jewish movements urging
political advocacy in the form of support for legislation to protect the environment and the incorporation of sound
environmental practices in public and private life. Among the earliest supporters of environmental protection and a
forceful religious response to the issues, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the
titular head of the Conservative movement, stirred the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional association of the
Conservative rabbinate, in 1989 with these words:

Our planet is under siege and we as Jews are transfixed in silence. Judaism pulsates with reverence for God’s
handiwork…. Judaism is a religious tapestry designed to sharpen our eye for the divine, in nature as well as in history
is laced with universal motifs relevant to our contemporary crisis. (Excerpted in the Melton Journal, Spring, 1991 and
reprinted from

The issue has in fact remained front and center in the Reform movement, with the leadership translating rhetoric into
action. Two articles in the Summer 2005 edition of Reform Judaism put environmentalism on the front burner,
including one featuring the environmentally friendly (and stunningly beautiful) facility built by Temple Emanuel in
Kensington, Md., a congregation long ahead of the curve. Two sidebars to the piece offered practical suggestions for
congregations to emulate the example of Emanuel and other Reform communities: “10 Ways To Green Your Temple”
and “Going Green — More Congregational Models. And at the invitation of Rabbi Marla Feldman, the director of the
Commission on Social Action for Union of Reform Judaism, COEJL’s Lerman-Golomb participated in a panel discussion
at last month’s URJ biennial on how greening a synagogue can help create a just congregation.

Despite the fact that Orthodox religious leaders were among the original signatories of COEJL’s founding statement in
1992, it has been hardest to galvanize Orthodox congregations to action. However, there is evidence that resistance
to prioritizing environmental issues is changing. “There’s a built-in skepticism when selling to a population that is wary
of outside sources, said Ora Sheinson, an attorney who serves as the associate director and chair of the Halachic
Committee of Canfei Nesharim, a three-year-old organization “whose goal is to educate the Orthodox community
about how halacha informs environmental issues.” Primarily an organization that operates online (board members live
in such far-flung locations as Toronto, London, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.), Canfei Nesharim
nonetheless has a growing constituency. Four hundred to 500 people now receive mailings, according to Sheinson.

While Canfei Nesharim has the endorsement of mainstream Jewish organizations –— COEJL, for example is “a huge
supporter,” as are United Jewish Communities and Bikkurim, a group that makes incubator grants available to
innovative Jewish non-profits — Sheinson maintained that COEJL “material doesn’t translate well into the Orthodox
world. It’s not text-based enough or put out in a context appealing to the Orthodox community.”

The group recently held an event to promote its newly published “Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the
Environment,” a series of articles from rabbis on Jewish law and the environment, based on writings from the Talmud,
Mishnah, Maimonides, and other traditional commentators. Held at Cong. Ohab Zedek in Manhattan, it attracted about
100 people, roughly double the number who ordinarily attend the shul’s regular weekday evening study/lecture
series. The book is available on the organization’s Website ( for $10 a copy, with a discount
for schools. An educational module with lesson plans for use with different age groups is in the works, Sheinson said.

Once environmentalism becomes more ingrained in Orthodox education, Sheinson foresees a smooth transition to
practice among adherents. “I’m just reminding them of halacha, and [within Orthodoxy], there’s already an
imperative to follow appropriate halacha.” Another benefit to sparking interest in environmentalism among the
Orthodox, she contended, is that it will force those in the community to come to terms with any disillusionment they
may feel that Orthodoxy is divorced from wider societal concerns. When fully integrated into Jewish education and
Jewish religious thought, she believes, environmentalism will propel people to “see there is a greater need to become
involved with what’s happening in the wider world. We spend so much time worrying about what goes into our
children’s heads in terms of exposure to cultural content and not enough time worrying about the air they breathe and
the water they drink. Halacha dictates that should be of equal concern.”

Posing questions, seeking answers in a religious framework

Education must indeed set the tone for changes in attitude and practice, agreed Green Faith’s Harper. “Now the real
challenge,” said Harper, “is how to create opportunities to educate ourselves to really do this stuff. It used to be very
easy to dismiss living greener as a washed out, hippie way to be,” he mused, noting that biblical language casts
conservation in its more authentic form. “It’s really about restraint, a classical conservative [societal] value, and that
the motivation [to alter behavior patterns] can be deeply religious instead of political, [because] religion is giving
people a world view about how they’re related to people all over the earth. Environmental concerns are giving

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religious leaders an opportunity to [teach people] to care for the earth instead of destroy it.”

Underscoring the importance of education, Sommer recalled an incident at Sharey Tefilo-Israel when the congregation
was first getting its environmental program off the ground. Henry Gluckstern, an environmental lawyer and a member
of the synagogue’s “Green Team” committee, suggested the distribution to the synagogue’s 1,000 or so households of
water-flow restrictors that screw into faucets. The rabbi agreed, defraying the expense for some 200 of the devices
through his discretionary fund. “People didn’t want them,” said Sommer, until an educational program in the religious
school on Tu B’Shevat, promoted the concept of saving water. This fired up the students who brought them home to
install in their own bathrooms and kitchens.

Harper, with input from Rabbi Lawrence Troster, rabbinic fellow at COEJL, has developed an interfaith curriculum for
adult education. Called “Splendor,” it contains an exercise that calls upon participants to describe a single spiritual
experience they have had in the natural world. Most, said Harper, talk about an experience that filled them with awe,
if not outright fear, of the power of nature.

“The reason we wanted to do this project,” explained Troster, referring to “Greening Synagogues,” “is that a
synagogue can become a moral exemplar for the community. People will see that it [environmentalism] is an
important Jewish value. A lot of great social movements began or were generated by religious communities, and we’re
hoping to be one of them.”

The rabbis with whom he has been working, both on “Greening Synagogues” and more informally, to bring a Jewish
environmental education component into their programming, share his perspective. (Troster, who lives in Teaneck, is
scheduled to speak at Temple Israel in Ridgewood on Jan. 30 and at Temple Sholom in River Edge on Feb. 11.)

In their talks from the bimah and in their support of ongoing programs within their shuls, spiritual leaders across the
denominational spectrum convey a consistent message that environmentalism is strongly rooted in sacred text and
traditional practice.

“How do we learn to respect the fact that the laws of nature are as much God’s laws as the Ten Commandments and
ritual laws?” asked Rabbi Neil Borovitz of Temple Sholom, who cited as one impetus for inviting Troster the Southeast
Asian tsunami and Gulf Coast hurricanes, natural disasters that he believes challenge human beings to learn how to
live with nature rather than defy it.

Recalling his Rosh HaShanah talk two years ago, Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s Rabbi Cohen said, “In the Creation story, [we
are given] dominion [over other creatures and the land], but [told] ‘be a protector and a guardian… it doesn’t say
‘[use it] overwhelmingly’ so that we destroy it in the process.”

“In Micah 6:8, we are asked, ‘What does Adonai require of you?’ [The prophet answers], ‘Only to do justice, to love
kindness and to walk humbly with your God,’” said Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, Bnai Keshet’s rabbi. “Many congregations
are pretty good at finding ways to take care of their relationship with God and of taking care of each other. It’s harder
to find ways to ‘do justice,’ and at Bnai Keshet, we’ve found ways to do this through environmentalism. It’s touched
many different corners of synagogue [life].”

Projects and programs

By happy coincidence, synagogue boards have learned, the varied programs and projects that are generating buzz
within congregations aiming to “go green” are also conserving financial resources. That’s why it’s no surprise that,
when they do their homework, committee chairs spearheading the environmental programs are finding their proposals
met with enthusiastic endorsement.

Just about everybody doing or contemplating doing a renovation is exploring the installation of solar panels. In
partnership with Sun Farm Network, Green Faith has inaugurated “Lighting the Way,” a program to install solar panels
in 25 houses of worship around the state, with no up-front costs. Three of the pilot synagogues in COEJL’s “Greening
Synagogues” program are engaged in renovations that may enable them to accommodate solar panels. The fourth
synagogue, and the smallest, Kesher, is at the very beginning stages of discussion with COEJL and has not yet
committed to specific menu options, although the shul’s rabbi, Jeffrey Fox, said that a solar panel installation is
definitely under consideration. “Not only will it save us money in the long term, it will also make an important
statement,” he said.

Another piece of good news for New Jersey homeowners, businesses, and other institutions is that PSE&G, the public
utility, as well as the state offer rebates for energy conservation measures, noted Sommer, chairman of Sharey Tefilo-
Israel’s “Green Team.”

At Temple Israel in Ridgewood, one young congregant, Michael Graifman, a student at Ridgewood High School, has
been pursuing an independent study course to identify different options for installing solar panels, both at the high
school and in the synagogue, said Robert Obeiter, a volunteer spearheading the congregation’s expanding
environmental activism.

The synagogue has also been looking into the possibility of installing a rain harvesting system that would enable it to
cut consumption of, and thus dependence on, village water. The system, developed by an Israeli, Amir Yechieli, would
require an initial outlay of approximately $1,500, said Obeiter. Relatively simple to install and operate, the system
would provide for all of the synagogue’s irrigation needs. The process would take at least three to six months,
however, because Temple Israel is next to a wetlands, said Obeiter, and would therefore require permits from PSE&G

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as well as state and village approval.

Other devices designed to save water, such as low-flow faucets and low-pressure toilet flushers, save congregations
money, as well. Sharey Tefilo-Israel, for example, realized a 20 percent savings by the end of one year after
retrofitting all the temple’s bathrooms, said Sommer.

Native plantings, congregations have been advised, are yet another tactic to reduce water consumption because they
don’t require as much watering. Agudath Israel in West Caldwell, in the final stages of a $9.5 million capital campaign
to renovate its facility, is looking into wild flowers, tall grasses, and ferns, along with installation of drip irrigation
tubes that water only where needed, said Randi Brokman, the synagogue’s program director and liaison to COEJL.
“The building committee has welcomed input from the greening committee, which has knowledgeable people who
have career experience in this area,” she said. Among the long list of suggestions the greening committee has made
are recycled building materials, such as sustainable wood and recycled carpet; timers for lighting; tubular skylights,
which allow for natural light to filter through rooms; and radiant floor tiles for more efficient heating. “An issue may
be cost,” Brokman noted, however, thus far, the board has been very receptive to environmental concerns.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR label (information is available through its Website,, or call 1-800-STAR-YES) is generating
considerable interest. With its offer of free technical assistance to houses of worship to conserve energy through
changes in management and practices, like lowering thermostats and converting to compact fluorescent bulbs, the
EPA has enabled many to significantly lower utility costs while contributing to a cleaner environment. Synagogues
(and churches) have discovered these suggestions to be low impact and for the most part, easy to implement, said
Harper, despite initial reservations people express about being uncomfortable in cold, dim spaces. “The benefits and
attractions really do outweigh the negatives,” he said, as people come to “feel grateful thinking about levels of
consumption and realize that … consumption without boundaries … is not all that satisfying.”

Consumption — of the oral variety — has been on the minds of Bnai Keshet’s approximately 250 families who this
year are exploring the opportunity to join an innovative community-supported agricultural program, “Tuv Ha’aretz,”
developed by Hazon, an organization promoting Jewish renewal through environmental education and engagement
with nature, and co-sponsored by COEJL. The way the program works is that individuals in a community buy shares in
a local organic farm, entitling them to a percentage of the farmer’s harvest for the duration of the growing season.
The community is thus Jewishly linked to the traditional agrarian world of its forebears who ate local, in-season food,
while helping to support the growing contemporary movement to eliminate pesticides from the environment and the
food supply.

“In a very serious way, we’re in the early stages of reframing what it means to keep kosher,” explained Nigel Savage,
the founder and executive director of Hazon. “Kosher means ‘fit,’ and how in a deep sense can something be kosher if
animals have been abused or if the land has been sprayed?” he asked. In the coming decade, he envisions engaging
between 50 and 100 synagogues and Jewish community centers across North America in the campaign to “put Jewish
purchasing power behind local, sustainable agriculture,” he said.

“One, it’s a mitzvah. Two, you get to eat healthy food. And three, it’s reconnecting an ancient Jewish conversation
about what is fit to eat with a contemporary conversation that questions, ‘Is this fit [to eat] based on how it’s grown,
how it’s packaged, and how it’s transported?’

“Two aspects of Jewish identity: eating kosher and stewardship of the environment have been under the radar
screen,” Savage contends. “Tuv Ha’aretz gives [people] a chance to pull together these [disparate] parts of their
[Jewish] identity.

So far, Savage has successfully worked with Star Brite Farm in Hardwick to bring “Tu Ha’aretz” to life for several
communities, among them Congs. Ansche Chesed in Manhattan and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. He is
seeking three more communities and is already in discussion with a JCC in Houston and a Conservative congregation
in the D.C. area. Based on response to Hazon’s Website posting of “Tuv Ha’aretz,” Savage has every reason to believe
that the program will take off once it’s made more widely available. “With the first two community supported
agriculture projects we created, we had more than 20 communities [inquire],” proving, he said, “that below the radar
of the organized Jewish community are increasing numbers of Jewish families and communities interested.”

Another area of institutional life that has come under increasing scrutiny is the janitorial, with more and more
communities seeking to switch to non-toxic cleaning products. The motivation is as much to be sensitive to the health
of the custodial staff as it is to eliminate toxic pollutants from the atmosphere.

Kesher Community Synagogue is fortunate to have among its 60 member families a congregant with professional
expertise in non-toxic cleaning products as its liaison to COEJL. David Marks, a project assistant for the Deirdre Imus
Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center, works with a range of clients in
his day job, including schools, hospitals, and government and communal agencies, to distribute the Imus Center’s
exclusive and non-profit line of non-toxic products, “Greening the Cleaning.”

Marks anticipates an opportunity to introduce the line to Kesher and invite fellow congregants to buy the products for
in-home use as well. According to his supervisor, Environmental Programs Director Mark Blaire, the Imus Center and
COEJL are operating on the same page. “Our two agendas intersect very well,” he said. “We have to educate people
that there are alternatives to mainstream products that are equally effective.” “Greening the Cleaning” products,
Blaire said, are manufactured using naturally derived renewable and fully biodegradable resources. They have been
produced by a Canadian firm since 2002, whose philosophy and corporate culture, said Blaire, is “in line with ours,

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and they have the research and development background in less-toxic cleaning products. Any profits from their sale
go back into research for cancer and other environmentally related illnesses.” Blaire cited asthma as one such
condition that can be triggered by chemicals in the environment, for example bleach and the fumes of ammonia
typically found in cleaning products.

Ten ways to begin greening your synagogue

COEJL’s Lerman-Golomb, suggests that synagogues:

1. Switch to cost-effective and energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.
2. Buy recycled paper products, use both sides of the paper, then recycle it again.
3. Pre-cycle; buy products that are in recycled packaging or that can be recycled, such as cans, glass, plastic, paper,
and cardboard.
4. Minimize use of disposable plates, cups, paper towels, napkins, plastic, and silverware for synagogue functions.
Avoid using Styrofoam products.
5. Turn thermostat down a few degrees in the winter and up a few degrees in the summer.
6. Encourage congregants to car pool to religious school and to turn off car engines while waiting to pick up children.
7. Buy Energy Star (energy-efficient) appliances. Turn off lights and office equipment, such as copy machines, when
not in use.
8. Buy flow restrictors for sinks and water-saving toilet tank dams.
9. Use non-toxic cleansers.
10. Don’t use pesticide on the lawn and use a non-toxic integrated pest management system.


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