Going Green Jewishly

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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Out of the ark and into the garden: The story of Noah in the Sabbatical year

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 7:00am

Rabbi David Seidenberg for Jewcology.org

There are three places in the Torah which talk about human beings and the animals – including wild animals – sharing one food supply. In Eden, in the ark during the flood, and in the Sabbatical year or Shmita. There’s a lot more to these stories, but you don’t really need to know much more to understand the basic message of the Torah.

We lived with the wild animals once, rather than carving out separate spaces for us and our domesticated fellow travelers. According to the Torah, that is the real truth, and all the owning and property and buying and selling is an illusion. We can return to that truth during Shmita, when we get to root ourselves in a real way in the land – not by owning it by being with it. Not by fencing it but by taking down fences. Not by hoarding but by sharing everything, with all the creatures.

Here are the relevant verses about eating:

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A Tree Evangelist Who Connects Heaven and Earth

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 7:00am
By Beth Schwartzapfel for The Jewish Daily Forward

During a Sabbath evening service one Friday in February, Seth Goldstein and his 9-year-old son, Ozi, sat with their eyes closed in the synagogue in Olympia, Wash., where Goldstein is the rabbi. From the bimah, Nalini Nadkarni asked congregants to imagine a tree that was important to them. She described the maple trees that had lined the driveway of her childhood home. Amid the confusion of growing up, they had been a refuge. She would climb their limbs with a book and a snack, and spend entire afternoons up in the air.

Getting Rooted: Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist and professor, speaks at synagogues, church- es and Buddhist temples about science, spirituality and a special love of trees.

Getting Rooted: Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist and professor, speaks at synagogues, church- es and Buddhist temples about science, spirituality and a special love of trees.

Nadkarni isn’t a rabbi. She isn’t a member of this congregation, Temple Beth Hatfiloh. She doesn’t practice any religion at all, actually. She is a forest ecologist and professor at the nearby Evergreen State College.

But Nadkarni loves trees with an almost religious zeal, and after more than three decades of meticulous scientific research, she told the congregation, she has come to realize that science is not enough to safeguard trees.

“I care deeply about trees with my heart,” she said. “More and more, I am interested in protecting them, perhaps because I remember their protection of me as a child. So I initiate discussions about trees whenever and wherever I can. I find places of worship help me learn and teach about [them].”

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This Week in Jewish Farming: Season of abundance

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:00am
By Ben Harris for Telegraph

Apparently, I jumped the gun.

Last week, I was waxing poetic about how safe and sound I feel with the winter squash tucked away in the greenhouse. That was then the greenhouse looked like this:


Now, it looks like this:

Tis the season of abundance. The fall crops are in – in our case thousands of pounds of winter squash, hundreds of pounds of potatoes and a modest haul of onions. The fading summer crops briefly overlap with fall ones, producing a goldmine of culinary possibility. Most Americans don’t regard the availability of butternut squash and juicy tomatoes at the same time as much of an achievement. But for the seasonal eater, this is really a special moment.

Like all good things, this one won’t last. Before the month is out, the last of those summer crops will be spent and we’ll be in full-on fall mode, with cold hardy plants and storage crops all that we have to draw on. Of course, this fills me with all kinds of anxiety, a condition exacerbated last week when I went to water in some seeds only to find the well had run dry.

I’m told this has been an unusually dry summer in Connecticut. I wouldn’t know, because before this season I never paid much attention to such things. But I do know our beds are so parched right now it’s impossible even to till them without watering them first – let alone seed radish or arugula that need to be kept consistently wet for days until germination. Problem is, there just isn’t any water.

Our well is shallow, just 17 feet deep, and as predicted by the well specialist I consulted in the spring, it has run out. So we’re left with the house well — a much larger reservoir but one we are allowed to use only about an hour a day. We now have hoses run across 400 feet of pasture and use a spray nozzle to water. It’s not a very sophisticated operation, and it hardly feels abundant, but right now it’s all that stands between me and multiple crop failures.

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A shmita year: Why we need to ‘give it a rest’ in 5775

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 7:00am
by dan pine, j. staff

Berman-ShmitaAdam Berman is about to give his Berkeley farmland a break.

Rye and other cover crops that have been planted at Urban Adamah, the nonprofit Jewish educational farm he directs, will draw nitrogen out of the atmosphere over the winter and return it to the soil, rejuvenating it.

The timing is not coincidental. Shmita — a Torah commandment that requires croplands in Israel to lie fallow every seventh year (shmita means “release” in Hebrew) — begins on Rosh Hashanah, at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

coverSept19_2014Besides resting the land, Jews may not eat anything sown or grown in Israel during the shmita year. They may eat only from perennial plants or wild edibles — though anyone may take crops growing untended on private lands. Also, personal debts must be forgiven if the debtor so requests.

This is how shmita has been observed for centuries by observant Jews in the Holy Land. When it comes to agriculture, property and social inequality, shmita provides the ultimate clean slate.

“Shmita is the most economically, environmentally and socially radical idea in the Torah, hands down,” Berman said.

This year, there is a concerted effort in some circles to extend the principles of shmita beyond the letter of the law. Metaphorically, Jews are finding new ways to embrace the idea of lying fallow.
“Shmita is a comment on what society should look like,” Berman said. “If we took it literally and applied it in a meaningful way to the nonagrarian society we now inhabit, it would have profound impact.”

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In the California Desert, Wilderness Torah Takes Judaism Back to Nature

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 7:00am
Founder Zelig Golden, an environmental lawyer turned rabbi-in-training, tries ‘to reconnect the Jewish people’ to the earth
By Merissa Nathan Gerson for Tablet Magazine

Zelig GoldenShortly after he finished law school in 2007, Zelig Golden went on a “vision quest” in California’s White Mountains with Rites of Passage. Although it was “a religiously universal program,” Golden said, he had “what turned out to be a very powerful Jewish experience.”

It began as a 10-day group trip in the wilderness, at an altitude of 10,000 feet in the high desert, but the focus was on preparing for three days and nights Golden would spend alone afterward. “I was guided to go spend three days and three nights fasting and praying,” he recalled. He intended to reevaluate his “work in the world” because he’d decided that being an environmental lawyer wasn’t satisfying enough. “I came back with a very simple vision,” he said. “I wanted to connect my people to the earth.”

By “my people,” Golden meant the Jews. Two and a half months later, he turned his vision into reality, organizing the first “Sukkot on the Farm” in Dixon, Calif. “It was a little festival,” he said, “not so organized but well-intentioned.” A small, informal group of Bay Area Jews camped out at the edge of a vegetable field, where they prayed, built a sukkah, learned Torah, and toured the farm. Out of this festival, Wilderness Torah was eventually born—a Berkeley-based group Golden calls “a manifestation of this vision to reconnect the Jewish people to this thing we were once deeply connected to.”

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Check out Jvillage’s High Holiday+    page.  While you're at it, check out our High Holidays Holiday Spotlight Kit for ideas, crafts, recipes, etc.. 

Green Your Yom Kippur, and Make It Last

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 7:00am
by Rachel Cemansky for HowStuffWorks

Green Your Yom KippurCelebrating Yom Kippur means a day of not eating or drinking, using electricity, running water, or driving. The Day of Atonement is a green-as-you-can-get kind of holiday, but to go the extra mile, here are a few (if obvious) ways to make the holiday even greener, and make the green lifestyle lessons last.

Tips for green ways to break fast:

1. Make it a vegetarian or vegan meal.

2. Which means skipping the lox, but if you just can't, make sure it's harvested as sustainably as possible.

3. Buy locally-made bread and if you're doing cream cheese, buy organic dairy.

4. Use petroleum-free candles, or make your own.

5. Make your own honey cake, and by all means use local honey—the bees need your help.

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Check out Jvillage’s High Holiday+    page.

While you're at it, check out our High Holidays Holiday Spotlight Kit for ideas, crafts, recipes, etc.

A Very Green Rosh Hashanah

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 7:00am
Lisa Borden/The Blog, Huffington Post Canada

RHTableSettingOn Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the New Year and give thanks for the creation of our world. We dedicate time to family and friends and we reflect on our past year and celebrate the start of the new year. It's the perfect time to make new goals for the year ahead and try to do better for yourself, your family, and our world.

Shopping for the holidays
Be eco-"logical" about planning your family gatherings right from the get-go. Shopping locally for an organic Rosh Hashanah meal, apples and honey will not only help support your neighbours and community, but you will also serve kind, chemical and pesticide-free food. And don't forget, shopping tools can be as important as the food itself. What a shame it is to carry home glorious food in a toxic throwaway.

Tote the right thing
Plastic bags are a thing of the past, but if you're toting a 99 cent reusable, you could be doing more harm than good. Non-woven polypropylene reusable bags are made from the same stuff as disposable plastic bags -- petroleum (ick!) and have been found to have high levels of lead. It's time to carry on (literally!). Arm yourself with a bag that will last you all of your shopping to come. Try a fair-trade bag that is lab-tested, lead-free and is washable.

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Check out Jvillage’s High Holiday+    page.  While you're at it, check out our High Holidays Holiday Kit; all kinds of great ideas for the whole family.

Hebrew Union College Going Green

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 7:00am
Hannah Dreyfus The Jewish Week

 Hebrew Union College Going GreenLiz Piper-Goldberg, fifth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has been passionate about the environment since grade school. As a teenager, she encouraged members of her community to stop using incandescent light bulbs. For Piper-Goldberg, it was like a light bulb went off — a compact fluorescent light bulb, that is.

“I realized how a simple change at the most basic level of our lives can translate into big savings for us, and for the environment,” said Piper-Goldberg, 27.

Today, she’s bringing simple, significant changes to the HUC-JIR’s New York campus. Thanks to a grant from the Gendler Grapevine Project, Piper-Goldberg helped spearhead the Greening Initiative, a project to revamp the campus’ food system in order to minimize waste. The project will launch this fall.

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Mon, 09/08/2014 - 7:00am
From SolarEnergy.com

Solar Panels Cleaned by robotsIt stands to reason that solar panels are far more effective when they’re clear of dirt and dust that can block the sun’s energy-giving rays. But just how does one clean all those hundreds, even thousands of panels that make up the world’s largest solar power plants? After all, that’s a lot of time, manpower and cost.

Fortunately, some Israeli engineers have come up with a novel idea. Well, perhaps not so novel. After all, the Jetsons did have Rosie way back in 1962. Perhaps inspired by the Hanna-Barbera-created housemaid, engineers with Israel-based Ecoppia have created a small army of solar panel cleaning robots that provide daily, water-free, energy independent cleaning to the Ketura Sun Solar Park, making it the world’s first completely autonomously-cleaned solar energy park.

The video above shows a few of the 100 centrally controlled automatons in action, cleaning the Ketura park’s massive solar panels. Set to work at nighttime, the robots move up and down aluminum frames and use microfiber pads and controlled air flows to push dirt from the surface of the panels. During the day, they’re charged using solar energy generated by the plant. Previously, the panels, which cover a 20-acre site, were cleaned just nine times a year because it was such a laborious and expensive ordeal. Meanwhile, all that dirt and dust covering the panels between cleanings made for sub-optimal efficiency at the plant.

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How Israel’s Leading Ebola Expert Could Eradicate The Virus

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 7:00am
And why the US military is investing in him
By: Dyana So and Maya Yarowski, NoCamels
Ebola Expert Could Eradicate The VirusAfrica is currently facing its worst Ebola outbreak in history, with over 1,600 officially reported cases of infection, a death toll of 880 and rising, and a startling mortality rate of up to 90 percent.

One of the reasons that the Ebola virus is so deadly is that there is still no proven vaccine or treatment, and only a handful of researchers around the world are currently working on a cure. But while the World Health Organization (WHO) is busy raising $100 million for an emergency response plan, increasing numbers of people in West Africa are prone to or have already become infected with one of the most deadly and dangerous diseases.

So what’s really being done about a cure? Dr. Leslie Lobel, an Israeli researcher at Ben Gurion University and one the world’s few experts on the Ebola virus, is currently ahead of many of his international colleagues when it comes to discovering a vaccine that would make humans immune to the virus. But besides toting his own vaccine as the cure all and end all of the Ebola epidemic, Lobel has some interesting insight to impart on why this is the most serious outbreak in history.

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