Shuls Find That It’s Easy Being Green

To honor the fact that the 36th annual Earth Day falls on Saturday this year, Jewish organizations around the country are encouraging the observance of an environmental Shabbat.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Teva Environmental Learning Center and Jewish Vegetarians of North America, along with a number of other groups, have teamed up to encourage rabbis to engage their congregants on April 22 in environmental issues, utilizing environmentally related sermons, lectures, discussions, debates or nature walks.

Locally, Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley has planned to have Mike Weilbacher, director of the Lower Merion Conservancy, deliver a guest sermon on that Saturday morning about his four major concerns – global warming, water scarcity, overpopulation and species loss – and how they relate to Judaism.

"The parashah for the week talks about the strange fire that consumes Aaron's sons. The fire is symbolic of the increased temperature we experience because of global warming," explained Weilbacher. "So many of the prayers of Judaism revolve around the celebration of creation, but with species loss, we're losing creation right before our eyes."

Other local synagogues believe that environmental themes are weaved into Shabbat prayers almost all the time, and therefore aren't really treating the day any differently.

"If you look at our Siddur, our brachot stress environmental awareness," said Rabbi Marcia Prager of P'nai Or Religious Fellowship of Philadelphia. "We pause at that juncture in our davening to reinforce the lesson. As a community, while it is lovely to have a unique and special environmental Shabbat, we want every Shabbat to be a peaceful, just and environmentally aware experience."



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