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Greeting the Greening of Chanukah
According to local Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Judah and the Maccabees were some of the earliest conservationists: "They made one day's oil suffice for eight days' needs," he explained.
Waskow, who directs the Shalom Center here in Philadelphia, wants modern-day Jews to continue in the vein of this ancient Chanukah standard.
That's why the organization has instituted a new "Green Menorah" campaign.
The initiative -- aimed primarily at Jewish communities along the Boston to Washington, D.C., corridor -- asks synagogues and their congregants to adopt a covenant of environmentally sound measures.
The pact includes a commitment to reducing transportation and energy waste. Waskow said that carpooling and driving hybrid cars can help with the former, and that the latter can be accomplished by undergoing an energy audit, and by insulating one's home and/or congregation.
The agreement also involves a component of public activism.
Waskow said that he's urging synagogues to lobby on behalf of a bill called the "Global Climate Protection Act," which aims to substantially reduce CO2 emissions.
Finally, the rabbi said that "Green Menorah" synagogues should use lifecycle events to connect congregants to environmental tenets. For example, he described specific lines from the Torah that Bar and Bat Mitzvah students could read regarding global stewardship.
Waskow noted that five synagogues have signed on to the campaign so far -- with a few more in the hopper -- and that the most progressive one each year will receive a "Green Menorah Award," which will include grant money and a tree-shaped menorah.
This year, the honor went to Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the gay and lesbian synagogue in New York City.
In addition to generating a whopping 100 percent of its building energy from green power, Waskow noted that synagogue members have shown impressive conservation efforts on an individual basis as well.
"They seemed really to have been ahead of any other congregation in New York City," he said, adding that Beth Simchat Torah will use its $900 grant -- presented during Shabbat services earlier this month -- for youth programming on environmental issues.
Waskow acknowledged that going green isn't easy. Nor is it cheap.
But, he remarked, "eating kosher costs more, too, and people do it because they view it as a Jewish commitment."
Waskow said that mitigating contemporary "society's addiction to oil" should be a priority for all human beings since "it's truly a global crisis."
Plus, he affirmed, Jews have a special mandate to participate in the "rehabilitation process."
"In clear, profound ways, the Jewish tradition teaches us about the protection of the Earth," he said. "There is a sense of the atmosphere as an aspect of God's ruach," or spirit.