What would Noah do?


On a ferociously cold evening in November 1978, Rabbi Everett Gendler climbed atop the icy roof of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., and installed solar panels to fuel the synagogue’s ner tamid (eternal light).

“We plugged it almost directly into the sun,” said Gendler, who rejoiced that the ner tamid was no longer dependent on the finite and politically questionable energy resources of the Middle East.

Gendler’s conversion of that eternal light marks the first known action to green a synagogue, making it more spiritually and ecologically sustainable, and Gendler himself, now Temple Emanuel’s rabbi emeritus, has been hailed as the father of Jewish environmentalism.

Since 1978, and especially after the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development — known as the Earth Summit — the responsibility to go green has taken root in the behaviors of a large number of American Jews and holds a prominent place on the social action agendas of many American synagogues.

This consciousness gave rise in 1993 to the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), which continues to provide a Jewish response to mounting environmental crises. And it has motivated synagogues and Jewish organizations nationwide to mobilize efforts to educate their members and take action on such issues as energy conservation, climate change, biological diversity and pollution.

But now, since the May 2006 release of former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and its warning that we have only 10 years to avert cataclysmic planetary destruction brought on by global warming, the mandate to go green has reached fever-pitch, catapulting environmentalism to the top of the Jewish agenda and, for many, equating its threat with that posed by international terrorism.

“This is not just about planting trees anymore,” said Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. “This is a life change, and this is an earth change. This is what we must do to save ourselves.”

In Southern California’s Jewish community, the reaction to Gore’s potentially apocalyptic vision has resulted in a perfect storm of environmental awareness and activism. It has also created a new common vocabulary that includes such concepts as carbon footprint and carbon offset.

At the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, social action committee co-chairs Levine Grater and Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple, both galvanized by Gore’s documentary, have created a Green Congregations Best Practices Initiative in conjunction with the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California (CoejlSC). Their goal is to educate, motivate and serve as a central resource for the many new and re-energized disparate greening activities under way in Southern California’s synagogues.

The first Green Congregations Summit took place at Stephen S. Wise Temple last Oct. 2, with 45 rabbis and lay leaders representing 30 Reform, Conservative and Recontructionist synagogues from as far away as Riverside and Irvine. It was an opportunity to share environmental ideas, programming and success stories for both neophyte and experienced Green Teams.

But its goals are even grander.

“We want to cast our net as wide as we can and reach out beyond the scope of the congregation,” Stern told the group, expressing the hope that synagogue members will carry these ideas and behavior changes to their homes and workplaces. The next Summit is scheduled for Feb. 5.

At Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, lay leader Richard Siegel, husband of Senior Rabbi Laura Geller, has mounted an ambitious Greening the Synagogue campaign. He was initially inspired by Gore’s film and was later invited to attend a three-day training session in January 2007 at The Climate Project in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned about how to communicate awareness of the climate crisis.

Siegel and his Greening the Synagogue Committee aim to reduce the carbon footprint of the synagogue itself and of all 850-member households by 20 percent. To accomplish this, the committee is asking each household to sign a Green Pledge and to calculate their carbon footprint, meaning the amount of carbon dioxide family members release into the atmosphere by engaging in such energy-dependent activities as driving a car or turning on a light.

Using an online calculator provided by such organizations as the Empowerment Institute or the Jewish National Fund (JNF), family members input information that includes their automobiles’ make and model, number of miles driven annually, monthly electric bill and gallons of garbage tossed out weekly.

The computer program then analyzes the information — for example, the average American car produces one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile driven — and computes the footprint. For an average American household, that translates to about 55,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted annually.

It is that excessive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from human activities that many scientists claim is responsible for global warming.

In her Rosh Hashanah sermon kicking off the Greening the Synagogue campaign, Geller stressed that the environment is not a political or partisan cause. “It is a religious issue, a moral issue, a Jewish issue, and that’s why we need to focus on it,” she said.

Siegel, however, describes the congregation’s reaction as “bifurcated.”

“On the one hand, everyone is incredibly supportive. On the other, only 100 pledges have been signed,” he said. While he had hoped to have all the pledges and carbon footprint totals submitted by Chanukah, he has extended the deadline, planning to announce the results on Earth Day, April 22.

Siegel said he didn’t anticipate such a disconnect between people’s consciousness and their actions. To CoejlSC’s board president, Lee Wallach, it’s the actions that count.

“People need to make a real commitment that leads to some discomfort in order to make a difference,” said Wallach, who co-founded CoejlSC, an independent affiliate of the national organization, in 1999. He differentiates between what he calls “eco-chic” and what is real, definable, measurable action.

CoejlSC began its own Green Sanctuaries program in 2001, with 16 participating synagogues. It expanded in 2005 to include the 65 synagogues that are part of the Pacific Southwest Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Hands-on Tikkun Olam


More than 220 Jewish environmental activists gathered in Malibu last weekend for this year’s Mark and Sharon Bloome Jewish Environmental Leadership Institute, sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). Professionals from Jewish educational, environmental and outreach institutions came from as far as Canada, Europe and Israel.

Composed of 12 affiliates all over North America, with another half-dozen branches in development, COEJL organizes proactive environmental programs for Jewish institutions and individuals. When the conference took place in Ojai, CA, in 1998, there were just three affiliates. This year, 30 regional leaders from 17 communities gathered for a weekend of education, training and coordination.

The conference blanketed a wide range of issues, including “Ten Fundraising Tips for Grassroots Groups,” “Operation Noah: Protecting Endangered Species,” “Building a Jewish Nature Trail,” “Creating a COEJL Affiliate from the Ground Up,” and “Using the Media to Convey Your Message” were among the seminars offered. Urban ecology, environmental health, climate change and food supply were discussed in both secular and Jewish community contexts. “Right to Know,” a ballot initiative calling for labeling of genetically engineered food that will become big news come November, was another hot button topic.

Ian Murray, associate director of Shalom Institute Camp and Conference, where the event was held, believes that this year’s conference accomplished what it had set out to do.

“It was really wonderful,” Murray reports. “My favorite part of the whole experience was that they had every denomination of Jewish faith … all respecting each other. Friday night they all prayed together.”

Shabbat was observed over the course of the three-day conference, which also included prayer, singing, meditation and hiking. The weekend’s meals accommodated kosher, vegetarian and vegan dietary concerns.

Said Murray, “There was such joy and a love of the environment and Judaism.”<

Community


“Who knew?” If the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hasits way, that simple question will become as well-known a shorthandfor the Federation as “Got milk?” is for the California milk industryand “Just do it” is for Nike. The phrase will be the centerpiece ofthe organization’s new corporate ad campaign, which launches thismonth in this newspaper, on billboards and at corner bus shelters. Inthis case, the product is not milk or shoes; it is the Federationitself, as well as its United Jewish Fund (UJF).

The problem that the Los Angeles Federation and federations aroundthe country face, explained Brandy French, creative director in theFederation’s marketing and communications department, is that “nomatter how much we advertise, people have no idea what the Federationis and does.” In fact, when they’re asked, people often say, “Theyhelp Israel,” she explained. They also tend to get confused about thedifference between the Federation and the UJF; the UJF is theFederation’s fund-raising arm, helping to support 17 localbeneficiaries, two international agencies and six Federationdepartments.

In response to this challenge, the marketing and communicationsstaff, under the guidance of Director Joyce Sand and with the inputof a year-old committee chaired by Robert Gach, decided to launch acorporate ad campaign — with the Jewish-sounding (it helps to add alittle Yiddish inflection and a shrug) “Who knew?” as the answer to ahost of questions that explain the good works the Federationsupports.

“We’re saving the bubbies. 70,000 elderly Russian Jews. Who knew?”says one ad that pictures an elderly woman leaning on a cane. “Lastyear, our family violence program received 4,600 calls for help. Whoknew?” reads another that shows a young woman with a big bruise onone arm, clutching a teddy bear, her face buried on her knees.

Other ads will talk about services provided by SOVA, Bet TzedekLegal Services, Jewish Vocational Service, the Bureau of JewishEducation, Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services, and many more. Fewpeople know that these concerns receive financial help from theFederation. In fact, they are usually unaware that about 60 percentof donor dollars are spent locally, Gach said during a round-tablediscussion last week. “That’s the biggest ‘Who knew?'” French said.

The campaign is a distinct departure from past ones, partlybecause Los Angeles is “a different marketplace,” Gach said. Youngergivers — the ones the Federation most wants to reach — are lessmoved to donate to Jewish causes by Holocaust images or worries aboutIsrael’s survival. Instead, many want facts and figures about how themoney they give helps solve human problems.

The hope is that the new campaign will become a landmark for fundraising and run for years to come, Sand said. The marketing staffdoesn’t even mind if “Who knew?” becomes the punch line to jokes onlate-night talk shows — just as long as people remember it. With asmall budget (five figures), they’ll need all the help they can get.

 

 

 



Professionals of all ages and walks of life mingle at JewishFederation Networking Night at the Hollywood Palladium.

Federation ’98: 2

Networking Night

 

Challa-Palooza. Shmooz-a-Palooza. And, now, Biz-a-Palooza,otherwise known as Jewish Federation Networking Night. It will takeplace for the third time, at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday, Jan.20. As many as 800 people, mostly Jewish professionals of all agesand walks of life, are expected to attend the event and to do someschmoozing with potential business contacts. That’s twice the numberthat showed up for the first Networking Night in late 1996.

Co-founders and co-chairs Alan Shuman and Fred Denitz areecstatic. The growth demonstrates the need for this type of eventwithin the Jewish community, said Denitz, a vice president and salesofficer with Bank of America and longtime friend of businessman andPalladium owner/ president Shuman. “We both saw the need for thedifferent divisions, regions, groups, agencies within the Federationto come together and network in a fun and not fund-raisingenvironment,” Denitz said.

 

Said Shuman: “There are so many Jewish people in Los Angeles thatdon’t know other Jewish businesspeople. I felt this would give themthe opportunity to meet people throughout every industry and to beable to do business with them.”

Networking Night brings together people from about 18 divisions ofthe Federation, including CPA’s and bankers, attorneys and fashiondesigners. They’re single, married, older, younger, Orthodox, Reformand everything in between. Non-Jews are also welcome, Denitz said.

The evening includes casino games and entertainment, includingmagicians and caricaturists. It will begin with cocktails at 6 p.m.,followed by a buffet dinner (under strict rabbinic supervision) at 7p.m., and raffle prizes at 10 p.m.

Guests will have opportunities to swap business cards and storiesin smaller groups of up to 30 people with assigned moderators.

Sponsors include Alder, Green & Hasson; Bank of America; SanliPastore and Hill Valuators; and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter &Hampton. Support is also being provided by Beshert and U.S. Kosher.

The Hollywood Palladium is located at 6215 Sunset Blvd. inHollywood. Secure parking is available for a $5 fee. Reservations aresuggested. To make them, call (213) 761-8210. The cost of the eveningevent is $50 per person, $60 at the door, if available. RuthStroud, Staff Writer


Federation Matters

The Day We All Came Together

By John R. Fishel

What do you get when you combine 3,000 Jews, 1,500 chairs, 500active volunteers, a 60-piece orchestra, a 30-voice choir and amenorah on Christmas Day? The answer? An extraordinarily successfulopening to the Los Angeles celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary.

Dawn came early on Dec. 25. By the time I arrived at the WestsidePavilion in West Los Angeles, scores of young adults in jeans andT-shirts were schlepping boxes of bagels, cartons of toys, and urnsof coffee. Tikkun L.A. had arrived again.

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC)and Access, the Jewish Federation’s young-adult program, the fourthannual Tikkun L.A. attracted 500 enthusiastic volunteers. (Organizershad to turn away another 300 would-be volunteers in the week before;by design, there were limited slots.)

Among the 27 locations citywide served by the volunteers was YouthFair Chance, a city-sponsored social-service program located in alow-rise downtown. The joy that filled the large multipurpose roomwas palpable, as small children engaged in craft activities, ateholiday cookies, and sang along to the boom box someone broughtalong. Volunteers helped the youngsters color pictures and make smallart pieces out of Popsicle sticks. One volunteer donned a costume inimitation of Lambchop, the children’s puppet, and walked around,creating smiles.

Such hands-on volunteerism that attracts twenty- andthirtysomethings is what will help create the leadership fortomorrow’s Jewish community. Obviously, a single program does not aleader make. Yet combine it with a year-round program of education,lectures and a healthy dose of social and social-action activities,and we are on the way.

If our community believes in tomorrow, then the support by thisFederation of Access or Hillel are the best investment we can make.It only takes financial resources to complement the human energy thatis out there.

While the Access volunteers were sharing their much-needed humanenergy throughout the city, another major Federation activity wasabout to get underway. More than 1,000 chairs were set up, a pianowas tuned, a riser and microphones were put in place at the WestsidePavilion, as preparations for the opening of the official “LosAngeles Celebrates Israel’s 50th Anniversary” began to take shape.Notwithstanding a few unforeseen crises, in
cluding the delivery ofthousands of still-frozen Chanukah latkes and a sudden overflowcrowd, there was anticipation in the air. By 2 p.m., a full hourbefore the event’s scheduled start, every seat was taken.

No doubt, the droves were lured by the powerful combination of theLos Angeles Jewish Symphony, the Valley Beth Shalom Choir and thepremière of an original orchestral piece based on the life ofthe late Yitzhak Rabin. Together with volunteerism and the commitmentto tikkun olam, another attribute of our marvelous Los Angeles Jewishcommunity was on display — its great basin of talented Jewishartists.

The large audience certainly reflected the diverse and complex LosAngeles Jewish community. Words of Hebrew, Farsi, Yiddish and Russianwere heard in the predominately American-born crowd. An elderly womanargued with a security guard over why she couldn’t sit in a”reserved” seat and rubbed shoulders with a 27-year-old Accessvolunteer returning from the Youth Fair Chance visit. A small IranianJewish child almost got her hand smashed when the timpani playerstruck a note on his drum while the little one rocked to the melodyof the music. With nary a chair in sight, people pushed and shoved,but manifested their joy of celebrating Chanukah together in recitingthe prayers while the lights of the menorah were kindled.

When the voices of more than 3,000 joined in singing the”Hatikvah,” it was easy to forget the communal disunity that we haveexperienced, and perhaps easier to forget that we often complainabout Los Angeles Jewry being overly assimilated, underaffiliated anddisconnected

Certainly, this Dec. 25, none of these communal generalizationswas apparent. Each of us could feel genuinely good about the Jewishpeople. On Dec. 25, the Jewish people joyously lived, our youngadults did their good works, we commemorated the triumph of ourpeople thousands of years ago, and we celebrated our bond to Israel.The Jewish Federation was, thanks to you, there to help tie it alltogether.


John R. Fishel is the executive vice president of the JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles.