Going Green Jewishly

We Need Green Rabbis

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 7:00am
By David Krantz on HayimHerring.com

Meals served on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils. Trays of leftover food simply thrown away. And the lights left on all night. From synagogues to Jewish student centers, these are very common Shabbat experiences. Clearly there is a gap between modern Jewish practice and environmental values. But there’s also a large gap between modern Jewish practice and the environmental tenets of Judaism.

Judaism is an inherently environmental religion, with so much written about it, by myself[1] and many others — particularly rabbis Ellen Bernstein,[2] Fred Scherlinder Dobb,[3] David Sears,[4] David Seidenberg,[5] Lawrence Troster[6] and Arthur Waskow,[7] and profs. Richard Schwartz,[8] Hava Tirosh-Samuelson[9] and Martin Yaffe[10] — that I don’t need to repeat here the extent of environmental values present in Jewish laws, customs and practice. Still, outside of the nascent Jewish-environmental movement, I rarely meet rabbis who are familiar with Jewish-environmental wisdom. Usually, as a leader of a Jewish-environmental nonprofit, Aytzim: Ecological Judaism, I am asked by rabbis what’s Jewish about environmentalism. It is the extent to which Jewish clergy and, in turn, their communities, are unaware of the environmentalism that flows through Judaism that is troubling. And that lack of knowledge, in part, can be traced to the lack of Jewish-environmental education in rabbinical schools.

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Down to Earth: The Vital Lessons Learned in Burying the Dead

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 7:00am
Returning our deceased to the soil honors the injunction for a proper burial—and keeps us mindful of the life cycle of which we’re a part
By Regina Sandler-Phillips for Tablet Magazine

“Bury him a burial,” commands the biblical passage at the center of our Jewish funeral imperatives (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)—asserting that even the corpse of an executed criminal is worthy of respect. By traditional extension, all our Jewish dead are given the honor of levayah, which literally means “accompanying” to the grave. Full levayah includes active participation in burial, which carries two protections against desecration: one of the human body (adam), the other of the earth (adamah).

My funeral attire as a rabbi allows for full freedom of movement and is worn with the expectation that I will be actively navigating piles of soil, clay, or mud. An Italian-American friend of one bereaved family told me that I “wielded a shovel like an Italian ditch digger.” (It was a flattering, if irreverent, exaggeration.)

The ancient sage Shimon ben Gamaliel declares, “The learning is not primary, but the doing.” I’ve learned how to offer words and music, to help mourners share memories and recite Kaddish, to organize lines of comforters leading away from the grave.

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The Power of Service Can Transform Community, When Rooted in Strong Partnerships

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 7:00am
By Cindy Greenberg for Zeek

Last month I spent three hours sorting radishes at a Brooklyn food pantry in Bed-Stuy — edible, rotten, edible, rotten. It was the least glamorous of volunteer experiences, and honestly, at first I was disappointed to have committed my time to something so mundane. But the radish sorting slowed me down, and those hours created space for thinking and conversation that shifted my perspective.

Talking to my fellow volunteers as we sorted side by side, I learned that some were there to fulfill mandatory community service hours and others were motivated by uneasy feelings about moving into a low-income community and the impact of gentrification. I exchanged smiles with the clients as they lined up for donated groceries and experienced a deepening sense of obligation to my neighbors. I quietly observed inefficiencies in the system and contemplated how I might personally contribute to better supporting Brooklyn’s hungry.

I’m not alone in recognizing the power of service.

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Considering the Chicken

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 7:00am
By Jacob Siegel, Rabbinic Intern for Hazon, for The Jew and the Carrot

I slaughter my own chickens.

For the past several years, I have seen many animals die. I have experienced a range of feelings, from total cold focus to sadness and even fear. But I recently experienced a slaughter that transformed the way I see meat.
I trained in kosher slaughter four years ago, after seeing a slaughter myself. I realized I wanted to be able to produce my own meat — I saw making local kosher meat accessible as an essential way to create a healthy Jewish community, healthy food systems and a healthy local economy.

At the Hazon Food Conference in December, I helped with a demonstration led by fellow shochet (slaughterer) and food activist Yadidya Greenberg, and I performed the actual slaughter.

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Planting Trees for Tu Bishvat

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 7:00am
This act has always been held in high regard in Judaism.
By Lesli Koppelman Ross for MyJewishLearning.com

Reprinted with permission from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook (Jason Aronson).

In the Jewish scheme of the world, trees have always occupied a key and revered role.

 According to the Creation story, seed bearing plants and fruit trees were put on the Earth before any other living thing (Genesis 1:11-12). In other words, the first thing God did once He had firm land was to plant trees!

The Tree of Life, which God placed at the heart of the Garden of Eden, became a symbol of Jewish existence, a core value of individual and communal living: continuity.

The Talmud sages held wonderfully imaginative discussions about trees in life and legend. They believed that mankind, which they often compared to trees, owes its existence to them and should treat them with special recognition. Serious consequences would result from destroying a tree. The Torah (itself called a Tree of Life in Proverbs 3:18) prohibits the destruction of fruit trees, even in times of war (Deuteronomy20:19-20), and to prevent the loss of Israel's natural forests, the sages prohibited the Jews from allowing goats to graze freely. Today in Israel, anyone who wants to destroy a tree must apply for a license, even if the tree is on his or her own property.

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Sustaining Resistance: How My Everyday Practices Make My Everyday Activism Possible

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 7:00am
By Yaira A. Robinson for Zeek

  •     “We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning.” —Sandra Cisneros

We do this — the work of tikkun olam

Because the world we live in is a house on fire: Racism. Hunger. Economic Justice. Climate. Education. Domestic Violence. Poverty. More.

And the people we love are: Oppressed. Attacked. Desperately poor. Sick. Afraid. Hungry. Vulnerable. Suffering.

Burning. The people we love and the world we live in are burning.

Sometimes, this is how it feels — like the world is on fire — and in the face of systemic racism, climate change, or the widening gap between rich and poor, it’s difficult to see what difference my individual actions could possibly make. I pour my heart into work for a better world, often with no tangible immediate results.

I suppose I could just watch TV and drink beer. Or maybe go shopping, like all the advertisements tell me I should. (Yes! What would make me really happy is a diamond bracelet!)

That’s not real, though. Escapism and consumerism don’t solve anything — least of all, the questions or yearning of my heart.

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Israel's oil drilling in Golan criticised

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 7:00am

From AlJazeera online

Southern Golan Heights - Heavily subsidised Jewish-only settlements, large Israeli military areas and tanks dot the rolling green hills in this part of the Golan Heights; Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

In addition to the ubiquitous signs warning of landmines, remnants of Syrian life are everywhere; bombed-out homes, dilapidated schools, crumbling hospitals. Most of the region's indigenous Syrians - an estimated 90,000 Christians, Muslims and Druze - were expelled from the 70 percent of the Golan Heights under Israeli control.

Today, only some 20,000 Syrian Druze live in six villages still standing in the territory, while more than 21,000 Israeli settlers reside in dozens of Jewish-only colonies built atop villages demolished after the war.

It is here that Afek Oil and Gas, an Israeli company, has been granted exclusive license to conduct exploratory drilling for oil. Afek is a subsidiary of Genie Energy Limited, a New Jersey-based company for which former US Vice President Dick Cheney is an adviser.

On September 11, Afek won approval to conduct exploratory drilling in 10 possible locations throughout the Syrian territory. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli High Court froze Afek's efforts due to a petition submitted by environmental activists. The petition remains undecided.

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Holy Harvest: 6 Faith-Based Farms Worth Knowing

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:00am
By Ben Harris for modernfarmer.com

If you think demand for local food is the sole domain of big-city foodies and godless hipsters, think again. For religious farmers, the locavore impulse is more than a lifestyle preference -- it's a divine imperative.

And their numbers appear to be growing. “It’s absolutely on the rise,” says Fred Bahnson, the director of the Food, Faith & Religious Leadership Initiative at the Wake Forest School of Divinity and the author of “Soil and Sacrament,” a memoir chronicling Bahnson’s experiences at four religious farms. “It’s partly influenced by the larger cultural renewal of interest in food, the whole food movement phenomenon. But I’d say it’s also coming from more a place of spiritual hunger, the desire for a deeper connection with our food, with the land, with community.”

Dozens of religious farms now dot the landscape. Here are six worth knowing about.

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JNF USA Doctors Mission Connects to a Healthy Israel

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 7:00am
A JNF USA Doctors for Israel Mission visited Israel from the USA for a week of tours, meetings with medical professionals and getting acquainted with KKL-JNF's diverse projects a number of which are funded by JNF-USA. From start-ups in northern Israel to medical centers in the Arava, the members of the mission learned about Israel and its innovations, especially in the field of medical technology. “Our objective is to promote contacts between American and Israeli medical professionals, and to become acquainted with KKL-JNF's diverse projects in Israel,” said Dr. Robert Norman, who co-chaired the Doctors for Israel Mission. “It is amazing to see how the country is developing, not only in medicine, but in all areas. There is a true spirit of initiative here, of creativity and innovation.”The tour began in northern Israel, where the doctors got a close-up look at some hi-tech companies developing medical technologies.

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The Place of Tikkun Olam in American Jewish Life

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 7:00am
By Jonathan Krasner for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs


The symbolic moment when the now ubiquitous phrase “tikkun olam” entered the American Jewish mainstream probably took place during the visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States in September 1987. A crisis in Vatican-Jewish relations was precipitated by the Pope’s meeting in June with President Kurt Waldheim of Austria, whose activities as a Nazi intelligence officer were the subject of controversy. The meeting in Miami between Jewish leaders and Pope John Paul II on September 12, 1987 was meant to signal the desire of both sides to embark on a process of repairing their relations. In his public remarks to the Pope in Miami, the leader of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, called for a spirit of reconciliation and goodwill. “A basic belief of our Jewish faith is the need ‘to mend the world under the sovereignty of God’—‘l’takken olam b’malkhut Shaddai,’” Waxman declared: “To mend the world means to do God’s work in the world. Your presence here in the United States affords us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the sacred imperative of tikkun olam, the mending of the world.”2

Waxman’s remarks were notable mainly because he mentioned the term “tikkun olam” in public. By the mid-1980s, rabbis, educators, communal workers, ac­tivists and others were invoking tikkun olam as a value concept in support of a variety of humanistic and distinctly Jewish causes, ranging from environmentalism and nuclear non-proliferation to Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation and unrestricted Soviet Jewish emigration.3 For the most part, however, its use was confined to internal American Jewish discourse. Waxman’s introduction of tikkun olam to a broad international audience indicated the extent to which the term had become embedded into the fabric of American Jewish life. Before long, tikkun olam found its way into the pronouncements of non-Jewish public figures such as New York Governor Mario Cuomo and became the rhetorical motivation for service learning and social justice organizations such as AVODAH, American Jewish World Service and Panim el Panim. “Tikkun” also radiated from the masthead of a new, self-consciously intellectual, progressive Jewish magazine. By the 1990s, tikkun olam was everywhere.4

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Rooted in Israel’s history, five remarkable trees

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
Tales of timber, from the cedars outside the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, to the 600-year-old oak at the tomb of Rabbi Yosef Abba Halafta in the Galilee
By Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am for The Times of Israel

'One day Honi Hameagel, a righteous miracle worker, saw an old man planting a carob tree. Knowing that a carob tree took 70 years to bear fruit, and that therefore the old man would not live to see the results of his labor, he asked why he was planting a tree whose fruits he would never enjoy. ‘Carob trees were here when I was born, planted by my father and his father,’ answered the old man. ‘Now I plant trees for the enjoyment of my children and their children’s children.’” (Talmud Ta’anit 23a)

Although trees offer desperately needed shade, and add that extra dash of beauty to our lives, we rarely take the time to admire their barks, their leaves, their towering heights.

Yet trees are the oldest forms of life, and, aesthetically pleasing, they are ecologically essential.

If trees could talk, they would be able to tell us wonderful stories about our history, our nation, and the lives of those who came before us.

Here are just a few:

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Eco-Friendly Hanukkah Traditions

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 7:00am
From sustainablebabysteps.com

Have you started preparing your eco-friendly Hanukkah traditions yet? No doubt you are thinking about polishing your menorah, dusting the dreidels and starting the search for the perfect presents.

However, how will you polish that menorah? Did you keep the dreidels from last year and what types of presents will you buy? These are all things which need to be taken into consideration if you want this holiday season to be a sustainable one.

My household Hanukkah traditions usually consists of a nightly Menorah lighting and present giving, so that each family member receives eight presents in total. We might also go to a public Menorah lighting and attend or hold our own Hanukkah party during the 8 day festival. We don't put up much in the way of decorations or exchange cards, but every family is different with their own Hanukkah traditions over decorations, food, present giving and so on.

There are a few basics though that are generally common to all and I have listed some eco-friendly ways to celebrate the holiday below which cover those basics:

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The Darkness of Winter: Environmental Reflections on Hanukkah

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 7:00am

By Ebn Leader, Hebrew College for COEJL

It has often been noted that the Jewish holidays function within a dual cycle of history and nature. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in the Kiddush of Friday evening, where within one sentence we speak of the sanctity of Shabbat as a memory to the act of creation and as a memory to the exodus from Egypt. Most of the holidays are strongly rooted in the agricultural cycles of the land of Israel, connecting the people to the flow and change of the seasons, while at the same time commemorating formative experiences from our national history. Ever responsive to the needs of their communities, the Rabbinic authorities in the period following the destruction of the second temple de-emphasized the agricultural aspect of the Holidays. Torn away from their connection with the land, the Jewish people created an identity based on a shared sense of history and destiny rather than an identity based on the experience of shared living off the land, an experience they no longer had. Although some memory of the seasonal cycle was retained in the liturgy and ritual, the main body of the holiday experience was formed so as to recall and enhance the continuity of the Jewish people and their relationship with God through history.

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Social Justice and Climate Change

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 7:00am
Jewish Energy Guide: Policy for COEJL

By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

The rabbis of the Talmud ask the following question: When the people of a town decide to build or repair a guard wall, how much should each resident pay? Perhaps the wealthiest residents should pay

the most, as they can best afford to shoulder the burden. On the other hand, maybe the people who live closest to the wall should pay more as they will benefit most, since thieves or murderers who enter the town are likely to target the first houses they encounter. “But wait,” the residents of these wall-hugging homes may say, “we’d never have bought these homes if we could’ve afforded to live where it’s safe, in the middle of town.” “That’s true for some of you,” the wealthy residents may respond. “But some of you chose to live near the edge of the city just because you like it there.” Or: “We don’t even need the wall — we feel safe enough already.” While the Talmudic discussion (Bava Batra 7b) remains indecisive, most commentators conclude that the wealthiest residents should contribute the most, regardless of where they live. And only in the case in which two people have an identical household income should proximity to the walls be factored into the calculation of responsibility. (For example, see Rabbenu Tam, Maggid Mishnah on Rambam, Mishnah Torah Hilkhot Sh’khenim 6:4, and Joseph Caro, Beit Yosef Choshen Mishpat 163:3.) This Talmudic discussion comes to mind when I think about who bears the burden of our environmental choices. When we think about climate change, we often think in terms of dramatic shifts in the natural world: melting glaciers, heat waves, tornadoes and earthquakes. One might think that changes in nature affect us all equally. But in fact, poor and non-white populations — both in the United States and around the world — disproportionately pay the price for our overuse of natural resources. For example:

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Israel’s New Pioneers Work to Transform the Negev Through Farming

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 7:00am

By Maayan Jaffe for JNS.org

In southern Israel, the next generation of Jewish pioneers is making the desert bloom.

A group of young, Zionist, idealistic adults are cultivating a previously uninhabited area in the northwest Negev on Israel’s borders with Egypt and Gaza – growing tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, pomegranates, olives, and more.

“I am there (in the Negev) because I can make a difference,” said Nava Uner, who lives in Bnei Netzarim, one of three Halutza (pioneer) communities in the Young Farmers Incubation Project.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) established the project shortly after the 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza, one of the most polarizing events in Israel’s history. The Halutza planned communities are part of JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign, which is aimed at developing southern Israel through infrastructure and jobs. The Negev comprises about 60 percent of Israel’s land, but only eight percent of Israeli citizens live there. But in recent years, the Negev has rapidly evolved into a hub of activity, with a new cyber-security park, an expanded Israel Defense Forces presence, and the growth of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The Young Farmers Incubator Project – co-sponsored by the Ness Foundation, Karen Ferber, and Ellen Aschendorf – is part of the area’s innovative spirit, aiming to encourage young entrepreneurs who are looking to make a future working the land to stay and invest in their own farms in the Negev.Continue reading.

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Make Your Thanksgiving Celebration Eco-Friendly

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 7:00am
From Jewcology.org

Thanksgiving, while an ecumenical holiday, is a great time to consider the Jewish principle of baal tashchit (do not waste).  There are many things you can do to make your celebration of this holiday more earth friendly.

Reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible:  Try to buy only as much food as you need and look for food that either has no container or that has a container that can be recycled.  Plan to compost any non-meat food items that can’t be eaten (such as carrot peel) or that have to be thrown out after the meal.  Also plan to use reusable cloth napkins instead of disposable paper ones.

Use local and organic products for your feast:  Most Thanksgiving meals focus on food that is in season.  Use organic and locally grown pumpkin for your pie.  Locally grown vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash taste great and are plentiful this time of year.  Buying locally means that your food is not flown miles away wasting fossil fuels as it travels from across the country or another continent.  Eating organic food means that what goes on your plate will not contain traces of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  If you plan to make a traditional turkey for the holiday, buy one that is from a family farm that does not use antibiotics or artificial hormones.

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