Category Archives: Greening

In the News: Synagogue’s nature space joins honor roll

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.42.04 PMSynagogue’s nature space joins honor roll

NJJN Staff Writer

February 6, 2013

Even for kids accustomed to playing in their suburban backyards, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s “WonderSpace” is a mind-opener. The outdoor classroom and more offers preschoolers a chance to interact with nature though play, projects, and gardening.

“The WonderSpace does just what is promised,” said Rabbi Ellie Miller. “It activates the senses, rejuvenates the children’s brains, and allows them to enjoy the intrinsic benefits of being outside.”

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.41.43 PM

And now, a national conservation and education organization agrees. The Arbor Day Foundation, in collaboration with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, has certified the WonderSpace a “Nature Explore Classroom.” The certification recognizes programs that demonstrate a commitment to outdoor learning through a well-designed outdoor space, staff development, and family involvement.

The South Orange synagogue’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education officially opened the WonderSpace in September. The $20,000 cost was covered by an anonymous donor and with funds raised by parents.

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.41.30 PM

Carol Paster, the center’s director, came up with the idea. She had seen an outdoor classroom in Dallas and was determined that Sharey Tefilo-Israel should have one, too.

In the space, kids can make art inspired by the nature around them, painting with water on granite slabs, or with regular art materials on easels suspended from a fence. The space includes a little bridge crossing a “stream” of pebbles; there is a jungle gym and other natural and manmade features.

There are places to dig, plant, climb, play music, or simply to have lessons outside in the fresh air, sitting on tree stumps.

“Anything you do inside, you can do outside,” Miller explained. In the cold weather, parents are advised to send their children to school with warm gear, so the space gets used year round.

Sabina Soloway, the nature educator hired by the preschool to facilitate learning, has been planting herbs with the children. Two large wooden barrels stand at the entrance of the space. Every time a class enters the playground, they carefully run their fingers through the herbs and then inhale the tangy citrus scent.

Soloway gathered comments from the children for NJ Jewish News. Jack loves the space because, he said, “I get to plant things and watch them grow.” Ayla said she loves being outside to draw and she likes hearing the wind chimes every time the breeze blows.

Jesse, a student in the Explorers Pre-K Program, looks for the shiny rocks, because “they are filled with magic and everyone wants them.”

Miller said the teachers using the space report fewer conflicts and less need to step in to “correct” behavior.

The playground, she said, is a place where children can counteract “nature deficit disorder by balancing screen time and green time.”


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.

URJ on Hurricane Sandy Relief

Donate Now

Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, doing billions of dollars in damage, causing dozens of deaths, and leaving more than 7.5 million people without power. As the storm was downgraded to a low pressure system, it continued to wreak havoc as far west as Cleveland, Ohio, and as far north as Toronto, Ontario.

Even as we work to determine the specific impact to URJ congregations and families, and to our larger communities, it is already clear – too clear – that this storm will require a long-term, coordinated recovery effort. The URJ is in the process of reaching out to all our congregations on the east coast and throughout the Midwest to determine what the most immediate needs are in impacted communities.

With your support the URJ will provide relief to congregations, families and communities, just as we have done for victims of natural disasters around the world. Together we can provide hope and help to those in need.U.S. Donations can be made online to the URJ Hurricane Relief Fund or by mail:

Hurricane Relief Fund
Union for Reform Judaism
633 Third Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Travel Justly

The work of tikkun olam does not just happen at home. When we travel, we can help build a more just, more sustainable world, rather than make travel choices that tread heavily on our environment and our fellow human beings.

Learn more about the impact travel has on others and the world around us and help us all make more just travel choices.

Next time you travel, we hope you will find ways to travel justly, as we are commanded: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. You can start today by taking action to support carbon reductionand offsetting in your own community and in Israel by contributing to a clean future fueled by green jobs and sustainable products and practices.

TSTI in Action: Michael Brick leads the call for us to switch off the lights


This year, Earth Hour, will be observed on Saturday, March 31 between 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Hundreds of millions of people in thousands of cities and towns around the world are expected to turn off their lights in observation of the largest environmental event in history. More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide participated in 2011, sending a powerful message for action on climate change.

Co-chair of the West Orange Energy Commission Michael Brick led the call for state residents to switch their lights off on March 31.

“The inventive genius of individuals like Thomas Edison pushes the frontiers of science with breakthroughs like the incandescent bulb that enhance our quality of life. We call upon the same inventive genius in each of us to fight climate change,” Brick said. “Participating in Earth Hour is a powerful symbol of our commitment to help heal the planet and an important step in making that a reality.”

The Township of West Orange is a participating member in Earth Hour. The town’s mayor, Robert Parisi called for greater participation by residents and commended the Commission for its initiative in raising awareness of the global event.

“Thomas Edison was one of the most influential figures of the millennium because he provided light and power to the masses,” said Parisi. “Turning out the lights at Edison’s West Orange laboratories is a monumental symbol that shows the world West Orange is committed to fighting climate change and the future health of our planet.”

“This one symbolic act, of switching off one’s light for only 60 minutes, connects millions of people from around the world,” said Councilwoman Susan McCartney who also serves as the Energy Commission’s liaison to the Township.

Earth Day – April 22, 2012

Participate to Mobilize the Earth

 This excerpt is from a great website:

For Earth Day 2012 we are mobilizing the planet simply to say one thing: the Earth won’t wait. It seems that environmental issues have been put on the back burner as we are in the midst of a global recession. Yet, the problems that the Earth faces will not subside simply because we choose to ignore them. We continue to constantly pump CO2 into the atmosphere as climate change advances unabated. Our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans remain polluted along with our air. Nowadays, it seems all too often that we hear of another oil spill or pipeline break or another mountain leveled to mine for dirty coal. 

It is time for us to Mobilize the Earth™ and speak with one voice, one message. We are tired of the lip service paid to the concerns of everyday people. It’s time our leaders put us on the path to sustainability and address our economic future by taking the green economy seriously.

Join us on Earth Day, April 22, 2012, as we Mobilize the Earth™ and demand action from the world’s governments to embrace renewable energy, invest in energy efficiency, end dirty fuel subsidies, and make energy accessible to all.  Together we will marshal A Billion Acts of Green®, gather petitions, register voters and build the support necessary to enact change. 

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June, 2012, we will demand that our world leaders stop delaying and begin protecting our planet now.  We cannot wait to act; our Earth’s future is at stake.

Bal Tashchit: The Torah Prohibition Against Wasteful Consumption

 In Judaism, the halakhah (Jewish law) prohibits wasteful consumption. When we waste resources, we are violating the mitzvah (commandment) of Bal Tashchit (“Do not destroy”). It is based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”

This law was expanded in later Jewish legal sources to include the prohibition of the wanton destruction of household goods, clothes, buildings, springs, food or the wasteful consumption of anything (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10; Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 279-80). The underlying idea of this law is the recognition that everything we own belongs to God. When we consume in a wasteful manner, we damage Creation and violate our mandate to use Creation only for our legitimate benefit. Modesty in consumption is a value that Jews have held for centuries. For example, one is not supposed to be excessive in eating and drinking or in the kind of clothes that one wears (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Discernment, chapter 5). Jews are obligated to consider carefully our real needs whenever we purchase anything. We are obligated when we have a simchah (a celebration) to consider whether we need to have elaborate meals and wasteful decorations. We are obligated to consider our energy use and the sources from which it comes.

 Author: Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Director, Fellowship Program, GreenFaith

Jewish Environmental Justice : The Common Good

An obvious implication of the concept of Tzedek is that a Jewish environmental justice ethic is concerned with the common good. The common good is often defined as “the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of individuals,” which could include all sentient beings. The common good in environmental terms means that our individual relationship with Creation cannot be divided from our relationship to all life. Therefore each of our actions has moral impacts on the totality of Creation. This is best expressed in the following midrash:

Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: “Why are you doing this?!” He said to them: “What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?!” They replied: “Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!” (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 4:6)

There is also the Talmudic legal principle of “geirey diley” [Aramaic: “his arrows”]. In this principle, it is forbidden for a person to stand in his own property and to shoot arrows randomly while claiming that there was no intent to cause damage (Talmud Bava Batra 22b). Thus in rabbinic sources, people are forbidden to establish polluting workshops in courtyards where other people are living. This principle can also be applied to sustainability, in that we cannot claim that our unsustainable consumption is morally neutral. We know that it causes harm to other human beings to extract resources, produce the things we consume, and dispose of waste.  Judaism promotes the principle of collective responsibility even where there is no intention of damage. Striving for tzedek demands that we see we are all in the same boat.

 Author: Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Director, Fellowship Program, GreenFaith