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Mira Sucharov


Children climbing on a tree in Israel
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


A park in a kibbutz in Northern Israel where a tree was planted for the birth of each child.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

 
Kachol v’Lavan v’Yarok: Greening our Jewish Community

By Mira Sucharov, posted January 19, 2011

 

 

Today is Tu B’shvat – the Jewish holiday of the trees. It’s a bit hard to think about rebirth and regeneration in the midst of a frozen Prairie winter, but the timing is perhaps fortuitous. Contemplating black earth, warm sunshine and tiny seedlings provides a pleasant backdrop for considering the hard questions surrounding environmental sustainability.

 Much is made in the Jewish community about Jewish giving. “Live generously” is the  slogan of the United Jewish Federations, and tzedakah is a hallowed value within Jewish teachings. Come Tu B’shvat, I wonder when and how we can encourage this spirit of giving to ensure a healthy future for our planet, where the gains are often invisible, and where there sometimes seems to be a desire  to let future generations handle the ecological fallout we are creating.

 

Certainly, the ethical and material importance of saving the environment and slowing climate change is obvious to most. But as social scientists have long observed, the incentive to “free-ride” is enormous.  How do we encourage individuals to endure the necessary short-term costs to achieve a collective, long-term gain that everyone would basically enjoy anyway – or at least believe that they would -- through the efforts of others?

 

 Socially-minded Jewish activists have begun to work towards overcoming the difficulty of taking collective action. Groups such as Teva (and Teva Quebec), Hazon, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life use the Judaic concepts of tikkun olam (repair of the world) and tuv ha’aretz (for the good of the land) to give a Jewish flavour to their environmental advocacy. (As an aside, Teva Quebec is led by Rabbi Schachar Orenstein, a former Winnipegger who graduated from Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate in 1990.)   

 Some Jewish Federations have recently made major strides towards “greening” their premises, with the aim of extending these eco-friendly practices to their entire Jewish community campus.

 What are some practices that we can introduce and improve in our own community? We could attempt to eliminate, or at least reduce, the use of styrofoam at our synagogues, schools and daycares, as well as at Jewish communal events. If disposable dishes are necessary, there are now more ecologically friendly products on the market, including biodegradable plates and utensils.

 Agency offices could ensure that their supplies are as “green” as possible, and that they are moving toward more electronic correspondence. Recycling should be made mandatory in Jewish institutions. Agency buildings could begin to use biodegradable cleaning supplies, install compact fluorescent bulbs, and should consider switching to green energy. (Energy audits can be done to help building managers reduce their energy usage first.) Kosher food-service facilities could start composting. Indoor, worm-based composting could be introduced to Jewish schools. Jewish organizations could partner with community-supported-agriculture initiatives. Kosher supervision could consider the imperatives of eco-kashrut, marrying sustainability to halakha.

 At the more participatory level, we could consider inaugurating an annual, community-wide Tu B’shvat seder where we attempt to spiritually connect with the natural world by helping revive the wonderful seder tradition. An accompanying Tu B’shvat colloquium could help us take stock of our communal “greening” efforts and point to areas where we can strive to do more.

 There is a powerful spiritual component to being aware of nature and our evolving relationship to it. But our organized spirituality typically takes place in large, climate-controlled buildings, far removed from the idea of an ecological imperative. Weather permitting, we ought to consider using venues that take advantage of nature’s offerings.

 With Jewish communal activities, it becomes easier – though of course not impossible -- to mentally divorce the idea of ethnic and religious affiliation from global identity, including our responsibility to the earth. Yet it is only with a far-reaching vision that we can ensure a place for future generations to be Jewish – or anything at all, for that matter.

Former Winnipeger, Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, and is a regular contributor to the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin and Ottawa Citizen.

 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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