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.”

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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.

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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.”

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TEMPLE SHAREY TEFILO-ISRAEL RECOGNIZED AS FIRST REFORM SYNAGOGUE IN THE NATION TO ACHIEVE GREENFAITH CERTIFICATION

TEMPLE SHAREY TEFILO-ISRAEL RECOGNIZED AS FIRST REFORM SYNAGOGUE IN THE NATION TO ACHIEVE GREENFAITH CERTIFICATION
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

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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

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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.