Compiled by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb for COEJL
2004- With Some Updates in 2012.
For a full PDF version click HERE.
Below are links to seven different areas where we can make a difference in our synagogue – one meaningful ‘sample’ action is listed here for each area, but dozens more will appear at the click of a hyperlink. Each of the seven sections begins with a short description of what we can do and how and why to do it; much more detail is found in numerous specific webpages under each category.
God’s circle of concern extends far beyond ‘us.’ It includes untold future generations of humans, who face a doubtful future due to our actions. It includes billions of God’s children, alive and suffering even today from poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, and other social ills. And it includes tens of millions of species, many under threat today, all of which are part of the intricate and sacred and “very good” (Gen. 1:31) web of Creation.
Judaism has specific sacred language for all these concerns, which are not only God’s, but ours as well. We speak of transmitting that which matters l’dor vador, from generation to generation. We promise to follow tzedek tzedek tirdof, the commandment to pursue justice (Deut. 16:20). And we claim to be enlightened stewards of the seder and ma’aseh beresheet, the Divine order and the integrity of the works of Creation.
Synagogue life is about many things. We come to our batei knesset to create community, praise God, educate adults and children, celebrate simchas and mourn sorrows, heal ourselves, heal the world, connect with Israel and with Jews around the world, observe holidays, and much more (including the volunteer and financial infrastructure which enables all the rest to take place). Within that larger context, “the environment” may seem like one small piece of one piece.
But in fact, ecological concern is not something we can opt out of. Minimizing our environmental footprint is a communal, a Jewish, a civic, and a theological imperative. All streams of American Jewish religious life acknowledge this, through their involvement in COEJL (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, including URJ, USCJ, JRF, and UOJC). As Martin Buber wrote (On Judaism, p. 209), “real relationship to God cannot be achieved on earth if real relationships to the world and to [hu]mankind are lacking. Both love of the Creator and love of that which [God] has created are finally one and the same.” And a popular new saying puts it succinctly: “no planet, no Torah.”
On the pages within this website that follow, you will find numerous resources to help synagogues, as key centers of Jewish life, become ever greener (though many of the same resources work for homes, schools, offices, and other facilities, too). On the main page, there are links to seven different areas where we can make a difference – one meaningful ‘sample’ action is listed here for each area, but dozens more will appear at the click of a hyperlink. Each of the seven sections begins with a short description of what we can do through our building / program / education / etc., and how and why to do it; much more detail is found in numerous specific webpages under each category.
May we all be shomrei adamah, guardians of God’s good Earth. And may we all help our synagogues and other sacred communities to better care for Creation.
Get Energy Star programmable thermostats, divided by zones, so you’re not heating or cooling the building beyond what’s necessary. Cutting back on the heat or A/C by just 1 degree saves an average of 3% on your utility bill — and on your greenhouse emissions.
Plant native species around your building, which provide much-needed habitat for local birds and other creatures while also needing less water, and no chemicals.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle in the office: print fewer copies than needed and let people share them; keep a pile of clean-on-one-side paper for use in printers & copy machines; recycle used paper; and purchase paper with high post-consumer recycled content.
With your social action committee or other group within the synagogue, plan events that are social, educational, and tikkuning-the-olam all at once – like Torah-nature hikes while picking up trash, or pulling non-native weeds from nearby woods.
Implement at least one of the many great curricula that teach our young people about nature and Judaism together – kids are ripe for it, and the materials are out there.
Teach a timely topic that conveys Creation care together with Torah teachings — such as the shiurim (text studies) on Jewish responses to global climate change and biodiversity.
For rabbis, take advantage of the sermon-starters and notes on integrating environmental concern into life-cycle events found here. For non-rabbis, feel free to do the same – and to tell your rabbi about these resources!