Over the past 6 months being a part of the Jewish Greening Fellowship has been a game changer for Kane Street Synagogue and for my work here. Many people at the synagogue were already passionate about the environment and sustainability, but we lacked direction. We felt like our concerns were peripheral to the educational and spiritual pursuits that are central to our congregational life.
However, involvement in the Jewish Greening Fellowship has changed all of that. We no longer feel marginal. The values of sustainability have largely been embraced by lay-leaders and staff, students and worshippers. The imprimatur Hazon/Isabella Freedman’s expertise, track record and UJA financial backing helped give us the confidence and authority to rally together. The education that Mirele Goldsmith and Matt Dorter have imparted to me and to our terrific synagogue board fellow, Ariel Krasnow, guided us to make a lot of changes with many more in the works. Learning from outstanding professionals in the field with the group of fellows has been very motivating and highly informational.
One of the early lessons I learned as a Jewish Greening Fellow was that there are several categories of greening: SWET – Solid waste, Water, Energy and Toxins. Using these classifications can help bring clarity to our goals and focus us on what is most important, I learned. I loved the simplicity of this rubric, and I brought it to our first Green Team meeting, but I also added an F for Food. In my years of involvement with Hazon, I have come to appreciate more than ever the importance of our food choices in being sustainable (or not). So I changed the acronym to SWEFT.
At the first meeting at the presentation and discussion of these categories, our youngest Green Team member who is a 5th grader had a suggestion. Esme suggested we change the F for Food to E for EATING. That way we get the acronym SWEET, and as we work to decrease our carbon footprint, life will be sweeter for humanity and all creatures on the planet. I think her suggestion was genius. She continues to supply excellent ideas and the excitement of youth to our meetings.
As a group we decided to start our work on the S of SWEET, trying to decrease our solid waste from Kiddush, Hebrew School snack, Shabbat dinners and office work. We have a terrific member of our Green Team, Chava Ortner who was the Greening Fellow at the JCC of Manhattan when she worked there. Her fantastic idea was to frame the idea of decreasing our Kiddush waste as “Sanctifying the Kiddush.” How can we really be holding Kiddush (which literally means ‘sanctification’) if we are desecrating the earth with an excess of plastic and other avoidable waste? Another of our Green Team members, Jacob Susman, who is a professional greener in the field of wind power, has been urging for quite a while to reduce our unnecessary waste.
We launched the new Sanctified Kiddush after planning with our Facilities Director, Robert Allen, to make great leaps in our recycling, in purchasing less plastic, and collecting organic waste for compost. One of our very passionate Green Team members, Marion Stein, went out and bought re-usable pitchers for water so we could provide water as an alternative to soda and thus decrease use of plastic bottles. I also spoke at the end of Musaf Services about our Jewish values of Bal Tashkit. The reception by congregants was much more positive than I anticipated. Even though people sometimes throw plastic in the paper or garbage bin, their hearts are with our efforts. We are working to improve our signage almost weekly to encourage people to be aware of where they discard their Kiddush waste. We have reduced our waste going to the landfill and increased our waste which will be recycled and for the first time are sending organic waste to compost.
The enthusiasm and persistence of the lay-leaders has been inspiring. Without all of them, we would still be just spinning our wheels. Because congregants are seeing visible changes and because we are working to get everyone on board –the office staff, the facilities staff, caterers, children and adults – we are seeing a shift in interest and support towards our passionate lay leaders, rabbis, senior staff and all the members of our Green Team who are leading the way. We look forward to gaining momentum over the next year and continuing to decrease our carbon footprint and raise our SWEETness in years to come.
Rabbi Val Lieber has been Director of Education & Family Programs at Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn for five years. Prior to that she was rabbi of Temple Israel of Jamaica, Queens. Val attended Swarthmore College, graduating with honors in English Literature. Val has been an environmentalist since high school and has ridden on 3 Hazon New York Bike Rides, co-chairing the steering committee for the 2012 ride. She is currently training and fundraising for her 4th ride. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her partner of 20 years, Leah Kopperman.