Going Green Jewishly

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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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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