Jewish institutions in county pressing the sustainability issue as tikkun olam.
Going green has gone mainstream for many Jewish organizations in Westchester. No longer considered a fringe practice, being environmentally conscious is now seen as both an economic and moral imperative.
“We’re concerned with reducing our carbon footprint,” said Cantor Melanie Cooperman of the Community Synagogue of Rye. “We want to be an example for our members. The motto for our green team is from Kohelet: ‘One generation goes, another generation comes. The earth remains forever.’ It’s a huge tikkun olam piece. We want to give people the tools to partner with God in healing the world by taking care of the earth.”
To help encourage sustainable practices, UJA-Federation of New York launched its Network Greening Initiative in 2009. Originally targeting JCCs and summer camps, since 2011 the initiative has expanded to synagogues, schools and other community institutions, like social services agencies. In Westchester, these include the Rosenthal JCC of Northern Westchester in Pleasantville; the JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown; Temple Israel Center in White Plains, Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners; Solomon Schechter of Westchester; Community Synagogue of Rye; Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry and Jewish Home Lifecare.
Through Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellows Program, designated staff members at beneficiary agencies, like Cantor Cooperman at the Community Synagogue of Rye, take leadership roles in moving their organizations to more sustainable initiatives. The awards average between $7,000-$15,000, depending on the scope of the project.
Sustainability “is one of the greatest moral crises of our time,” said Mirele Goldsmith, director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship. “We’re helping local Jewish community organizations take meaningful action.” There are four areas that the program targets: Jewish environmental education, energy efficiency audits, sustainable operations and integrating sustainability as part of the mission of the organization. By connecting the organizations to resources that already exist, like the funds available from utilities and New York State, the economic efficiencies work well.
“More than 60 diverse Jewish organizations, their lay and professional leadership, and their members have been touched by JGF’s environmental work,” said Melanie Schneider, senior planning executive at UJA-Federation of New York’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (CoJIR), in an email. “This has been done through energy usage audits, savings, leveraging New York State incentives and funding of green capital improvements, shifting to environmentally friendly practices, launching green markets and CSA (community supported agriculture/farm shares), and raising awareness of the intersection of Jewish values and greener living.”
As Howard Chumsky, chairman of the House committee at the Community Synagogue of Rye, said, “UJA has helped us in evaluating a contractor. There’s zero out-of-pocket cost to the synagogue. We buy the power the solar panels produce. The solar company owns the panel. It’s the whole tikkun olam idea, of giving back to the planet, with the additional benefit of seeing the monetary benefit immediately.” The synagogue is building a nature trail on its ground, where students can go outside to pray, and is in discussions about building an outdoor classroom for its early childhood center.
Another environmental leader is Greenburgh Hebrew Center, which is a poster child for going green. This Conservative congregation in Dobbs Ferry turned on its solar panels the week before Chanukah, reflecting not only a commitment to saving money but more significantly, to doing its share in saving the earth.
“Our rabbi is passionate about this,” said past president Deborah Jagoda. “It fits into our core values. It’s about engaging with a changing world, and providing for our future. As our rabbi says, it’s about our religious stewardship of the earth.”
There have already been significant savings. The solar energy company owns the panels that are on the synagogue roof; the congregation buys energy from the company at an agreed upon rate. “It’s 20 percent lower than Con Edison,” said Michael Feinkind, the congregation’s vice president of management who had originally approached the board of trustees with the solar panel project. “This was a very easy, transparent process.” On the synagogue’s website congregants can track how much energy the solar panels have generated, and how much money the synagogue is saving.
GHC has been ambitious in its approach during the past few years. Some of its activities include an energy audit, changing light bulbs to energy efficient ones, using environmentally gentle cleaning products, changing from a black roof to a white one, turning on the meat refrigerator only when needed, having the religious school students plant a butterfly garden, participating in a CSA last year, keeping the thermostat at a lower temperature when the building isn’t in use and eliminating the carpool line, even solar lamps in the sukkah. There’s also a “green team” of almost 20 synagogue members, to continue to identify ways to put these goals in practice and to encourage members of the community to adopt more sustainable practices,
At the Rosenthal JCC in Pleasantville, Sandy Haft, the associate executive director, said the organization is about to embark upon a solar panel installation. The JCC has already switched to energy efficient lighting and is teaching nursery school students about the environment by planting a garden.
“There’s a wonderful educational aspect to the program,” said Haft. “It’s meeting the Jewish mission of the organization. We can provide leadership. It’s important to do as a Jewish community center.”
That’s the idea, said Goldsmith. “We want our organization to be role models, and to share resources. We think this could be a model for the whole Jewish community.”
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