Temple Completes Two-Year Process to Achieve Certification in Environmental Leadership from National Environmental Coalition

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., April 24, 2012 – Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) had a special reason to celebrate Earth Day and more this year. TSTI recently became the first reform synagogue in the U.S. to attain certification for environmental leadership from GreenFaith, a nationally recognized interfaith environmental coalition. The temple, located at 432 Scotland Rd. in South Orange, N.J., was named a GreenFaith Sanctuary after completing a comprehensive program of education, action and advocacy.

Two years ago, temple members Phil and Sue Hoch listened to TSTI’s Rabbi Daniel Cohen give a high holy day sermon on Jewish environmentalism, which inspired the Elizabeth, N.J., couple to spearhead the certification process. Over the course of their two-year journey, the Hochs’ efforts and enthusiasm motivated the entire community of temple members and convinced even the most skeptic congregants to get involved. GreenFaith will recognize the congregation for their achievements at a graduation ceremony on May 16.

TSTI’s clergy and congregation have participated in eco-themed worship services, religious education classes on the environment, and interfaith and intergenerational activities. They worked together to “green” their own facility, implementing changes in waste reduction, product choices, and energy conservation that resulted in 20% energy savings. In addition, they learned about environmental justice issues and participated in environmental advocacy initiatives. A member of The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), TSTI was part of a URJ pilot program to help synagogues initiate and achieve certification.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us that ‘the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof,’” said Rabbi Cohen. “Working to attain GreenFaith certification meant that as a community, we accepted our responsibility to preserve and repair God’s world. The program seemed daunting at first, but with commitment and support, the congregation embraced the changes that were required.”

Among the environmental initiatives launched by TSTI is the planning of an outdoor classroom site with the preschool at the temple’s Iris Family Center. “Our children will be planting flowers and vegetables in planters and raised beds in this special landscape, starting this spring,” explained Carol Paster, Preschool Director. “They will learn how to take care of the earth as they create a sustainable garden for all of us to enjoy.”

“We are proud to have been certified a GreenFaith Sanctuary,” said Phil Hoch. “Environmental awareness is now woven into all of our programs and activities. We will continue to expand our environmental efforts as a result of the education and guidance that GreenFaith provided.” Those continued efforts include environmental field trips for both the preschool and religious school, and “green”-themed Adult Education programs.

GreenFaith was founded in 1992 to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. As part of its certification program, faith communities across the nation, including Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu groups, are making changes to their worship, education, facilities and social outreach efforts. These involve taking a number of specific steps in the program’s action areas of Justice, Stewardship and Spirit, with an emphasis on interfaith and intergenerational initiatives.

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