How To Make Home Interior More Sustainable

In order to build a healthy future for us and our homes, we need to rely on the sustainable approach and keep the environment safe. However, it can be challenging to come up with ways of reducing waste production and the amount of pollution human’s cause. Our energy sources have become greener, our management of food resources more responsible, and technology has certainly been a great ally in these processes. Be that as it may, the new era demands we give our contribution on the micro level too – by designing our households with the respect to nature’s resources. Despite what you may think, these sustainable solutions don’t come at the expense of aesthetics – on the contrary.

Be Smarter When Choosing Paint Color


People might not realize how big of an environmental footprint they leave behind simply because they don’t instantly feel the consequences of their actions. For instance, have you ever thought about how something simple like your choice of wall paint can affect the environment? In the guidelines for indoor air quality, the World Health Organization has underlined the bad effects of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in many paints and explained just how damaging they can be for our respiratory pathways and the environment. Ask around and turn to eco-friendly solutions that contain little or no VOCs. If you’re in the mood for some experimentation, you can even do a research and try making your own organic paint to cover dry walls, wallpapers, or wood surfaces.

Use Reclaimed Wood and Embrace DIY


Reclaimed wood is popular not only because of its sustainability, but also for its wonderful appearance, strength, and durability. It can create a lovely rustic ambiance, whether it’s used for specific decorative details (e.g. ceilings or door frames) or flooring and wall covering. When it comes to furniture – pine timber, chestnut, and poplar are the most popular choices, and if you love the mixture of luxury and nature, you can find solid oak furniture offerings that are manufactured from sustainable sources. In addition, try embracing the DIY approach to make unique creations. Repurpose old panels to create headboards or coffee tables, or even wholesome porch sets. Get creative: use sandpaper to create a retro look and enhance the natural structure of the wooden material you’re using.

Make Your Windows Energy-efficient


If you have blinds or curtains, replace them with greener options, i.e. with windows equipped with coatings that give insulation, preventing heat loss in the winter and solar heat gains during the summer months. Windows play an important role in the thermoregulation of your home and can help you save up on energy bills. In case you don’t feel like investing in new ones, you can weatherproof the ones you have. According to the Harvard University, doing so isn’t expensive and it can save you money in the long run while reducing the emission of carbon dioxide harmful for the environment.

Opt for LED Decorative Lighting


Did you know LED light bulbs can cut energy consumption up to 80% compared to the classic lighting? LEDs are well known for better light distribution, longer lifespan, and lower carbon emissions, and they are completely free of toxic elements. Also, by switching to LED, you are helping to protect the environment from future toxic waste as compliant disposal is much easier and cheaper. LEDs can be used in every room of the house and the fact they come in different colors (from deep blues and violets to warm reds and greens), makes it even easier to fit them into the overall style of your room. Just imagine having an ultraviolet LED discreetly shining your kitchen’s island unit along the floor surface? Eco-friendly, but also very modern and chic.

Having a sustainable home interior requires a change of habits, too. Be more rational about the way you spend the energy within your household and become more mindful when shopping. Choose environment-friendly materials, such as bio-glass or veneer cork and reduce the amount of waste you produce.


Amid drought, Jewish groups push conservation agenda

Devorah Brous’ San Fernando Valley home is shaded by green trees, studded with 19 fruit trees and patrolled by a pair of affable chickens that strut around the backyard. But at the moment, she is eager to show a visitor her dying lawn.

Comparing the withering grass to a thriving orange tree a few feet away, Brous, the founding executive director of the Jewish environmental organization Netiya, says, “It’s survival of the fittest.”

For Netiya — Hebrew for “planting” — and other Jewish environmental groups, California’s debilitating drought has tied together a number of issues that have been gaining prominence in the Jewish activist community: sustainability, social justice, and ethically and environmentally responsible food production. Their efforts range in size and scope.

In San Diego, the local branch of Hazon is having children paint rain barrels that will capture rainwater for irrigation as part of the environmental group’s Sukkot festivities.

Meanwhile, in Pescadero, south of San Francisco, the environmental education group Wilderness Torah is hosting a panel discussion on water usage as part of its annual Sukkot on the Farm festival. After the panel, there will be a ceremony based on an ancient Temple rite in which the high priest would draw water from the spring and offer it at the altar in hopes of bringing seasonal rains.

Participants circling around a fountain “will bless the waters of the world and call in the rain,” said Suzannah Sosman, festivals manager for Wilderness Torah.

Last year’s Sukkot festival came amid a downpour; organizers are hoping for a similar result this year.

But the main thrust of the work of Jewish groups working on drought relief is water conservation, capture and reuse.

“I don’t think people are necessarily aware of how to save water other than turning off their faucets when they’re brushing their teeth,” Sosman said.

Netiya, which organizes religious communities to create sustainable gardens on underused institutional lands, has installed gardens at 11 congregations around Los Angeles, including at Ikar, where Brous’ sister, Sharon, is the founding rabbi. All the gardens include drip irrigation, a technique invented in Israel to conserve water during the irrigation process.

This summer, Netiya conducted a series of five workshops focused on water conservation and gardening. At a recent workshop, volunteers helped install a water-capture system that will disperse rainwater on the grounds of a Los Angeles church.

At another Netiya event, attendees helped put in place a greywater irrigation system at the home of Devorah Brous that recycles used water from her washing machine and funnels it to her herb garden.

“Every time I turn on the faucet, I’m thinking about all the water that’s not going back into my landscape,” Ashley Sullivan, who is Jewish and who attended the greywater installation, told JTA. “We use so much perfectly good water once, just rinsing our hands.”

For other organizations, water conservation is not simply a response to the drought but a perennial concern.

Urban Adamah, an urban farm and educational center in Berkeley, not only uses drip irrigation but also began roughly a year ago to grow some of its plants using aquaponics, a system that utilizes 80 percent less water than conventional agriculture.

“Even though we’re in a drought now, we’re sort of in a perpetual state of drought in California,” said Adam Berman, the executive director of Urban Adamah. “Our mission is to teach sustainable agricultural practice, of which water conservation is a key part, even in good years.”

Brous, in turn, hopes to spark a broader conversation in the Jewish world about the relationship between food and the environment. In the process, she plans to reach out to Stewart and Lynda Resnick, billionaire residents of Beverly Hills, in a bid to bring them into a conversation about food and resources.

The Resnicks are among the largest landowners in California’s Central Valley, as well as among the largest growers of water-intensive crops such as almonds, pistachios and pomegranates. (A JTA request for comment placed with the Resnick-owned Roll Global Corp. was not returned.)

“Are these boutique perennial crops things that we should be growing in California, or should we grow something else?” Brous asks rhetorically. “There are questions we should be asking.”

Judaism originally grew out of the life of a desert people, and though much of Jewish life has long since moved into towns and cities, its foundational texts still speak of ethical principles for caring for land and water. Brous begins her workshops with relevant readings from the Torah, as well as the Koran and the Christian Bible, and she hopes that they can serve as the basis for a renewed Jewish conversation about water, food and environment.

“It’s still in the text,” she said. “It’s extraordinary spiritual soil to grow from.”


Our Jewish obligation to make an impact on climate change

When the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit convenes this Tuesday in New York City, the international community will have an opportunity to build a more sustainable and just future by making a meaningful impact in the global effort to address climate change. Advocates and policymakers have a rare chance, under the world’s scrutiny, to advance a collective response to what is not only an environmental, economic, security and health challenge, but a moral imperative as well.

As Reform Jews, we have for decades proudly and forcefully lifted our collective voice on the dangers of neglecting our climate. We have advocated for greater investment in renewable energy, sought the protection of endangered species, and prioritized measures in support of cleaner air, land and water. Across North America, many of our synagogues are engaged in creative and impactful greening initiatives and our congregants do the same in their homes.  We do all this striving to heed God’s call (Genesis 2:15) to be diligent stewards of the earth, “to till and to tend” as Adam and Eve were instructed to do in the Garden of Eden.

At the same time, we must tend to more than just the earth that sustains us through its provision of shelter and food. We must also tend to the well being of humanity and in particular those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. After all, the Book of Proverbs (31:9) instructs us in the clearest of terms to “champion the poor and the needy.” Working towards viable environmental measures that will shield marginalized peoples disproportionately affected by climate change including children, the economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, the sick and others, fulfills both of these fundamentally Jewish obligations.

Environmental measures that curb the future impacts of climate change without simultaneously addressing the very real effects poor and vulnerable populations are already experiencing – from droughts to wild fires to flooding to the spread of disease – are simply insufficient. That is why it is heartening to know that among the “Action Areas” where the Summit will focus on substantive changes to be made is “Resilience,” which involves creating a plan to reinforce disaster risk areas by increasing the allocation of funds, creating incentives for investment, keeping those populations informed, and ensuring their structural safety. This is a vital pillar in the effort to address climate change and its impact.

It is particularly timely that the UN Summit comes this week as Jews worldwide prepare for the start of the New Year 5775. The High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of God’s creation of the world. Though God created the earth, it is the responsibility of each of us to sustain for the next generation.  Our sages teach us: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah).

The time for a concerted and impactful international response to the crisis of climate change is past due. Climate change is a reality we already live with, as all those who have suffered at home and worldwide from extreme weather events can attest. Yet we know that it can and likely will get worse thanks to rising sea levels, loss of crops, and increased spread of disease. That is why this week’s UN Summit must lead to a coordinated global commitment to addressing what is truly a life or death matter for our earth and its inhabitants. Together, we can ensure that our earth begins to heal and that children, the poor, disenfranchised, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and all who are vulnerable are lifted up as we work to address and adapt to the perils of climate change.

Barbara Weinstein is Director of the Commission on Social Action, and Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the Reform Jewish voice for social justice in Washington, D.C.

On the third night, the seder went green

Passover is also called the “Holiday of Spring,” a time when green symbolizes new life. The color also represents all things eco-friendly, which serves as the inspiration for this year’s Workmen’s Circle community seder.

Each year the Pico-Robertson community center, which embodies progressive Jewish values, features a “third” seder with a theme, such as immigration or labor. This year’s event, “The Sustainable Seder,” will be held on April 27 and will be catered by Meg Dickler-Taylor, owner of Large Marge Sustainables, whose motto is “Fresh. Local. Organic. Don’t Panic.”

“Passover is a celebration of a lot of things, primarily the freedom of the Jews [from] enslavement of Egypt. Every year, if we are to create a dynamic civilization, we have to reapply that concept of freedom to what we’re experiencing in our environment right now,” she said.

Dickler-Taylor said she feels enslaved to relying on sources far from home for her food.

“If we can find a way to eat locally, in the coming years, we will feel more secure,” she said.

Dickler-Taylor spoke at the Workmen’s Circle on April 3 about how to create a sustainable, organic seder.

Shop With Recyclable Bags
“Bring your own bags to the supermarket,” Dickler-Taylor said. You can purchase canvas totes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or buy flour sacks for transporting groceries.

Use Durable Table Settings
Why not use your grandmother’s old dishes? If your seder is too big and you must use disposable settings, make sure they’re compostable and “make sure you compost them. Either start own home compost, or take them to an L.A. composting facility.”

Buy Organic and Local
“To guarantee you’re getting California produce, I think farmers markets are the best way to go,” Dickler-Taylor said.

Wine would also be better local, such as Herzog from Oxnard or Hagafen from Northern California.

For the seder plate, eggs should be organic, and maror can be bought organic, too, at many farmers markets. You can also buy organic romaine lettuce or bitter root. Charoset should be made with the few apples that are still in season, or, better yet, make a Sephardic charoset with dates, figs, pistachios, prunes and cinnamon. For vegetarians, the shankbone (which is not eaten in any case) can be a roasted beet.

While Dickler-Taylor says she buys her matzah from New Jersey-based Manischewitz, Chabad often offers a Model Matzah Factory for kids to learn to make their own. For more information, visit

Cook Cruelty-Free
Vegetarians can still have their soup and eat it, with vegan stock “chicken soup” made from roasted vegetables, tomato paste and wine. It may not look the same, but it still has the matzah balls.

Make Smart Gefilte Choices
Between contaminants in fish and concerns over farmed fish, gefilte fish can be problematic these days. To check which fish are “kosher” visit or

Let Your Meat Go Free-Range
Meat and Chicken should be free-range and organic, although pastured meat might need to be braised and slow-cooked.

Don’t Forget to Buy Seasonal
Just because you can buy blueberries now doesn’t mean you should, the Silver Lake-based caterer advises. Take what is in season right now and try and work that into seder meals, she says. She recommends a strawberry and asparagus salad, artichokes, fresh cherries, fresh fava beans (for those who eat legumes) avocado, leeks, ramps and radishes.

Strawberry Asparagus Salad With Walnut on Endive
This salad takes advantage of California’s spring season. Every ingredient, except the cassis vinegar, can be purchased at a local farmers market. It can be presented as a tossed salad with no endive or lettuce, or as bite-sized assembled appetizers.

1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup verjus
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch fat asparagus
1 basket strawberries, preferably Gaviotas or other sweet, lower acidity variety, halved
1 to 2 heads endive (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 or 2 teaspoons cassis vinegar (apple cider vinegar can be substituted)
goat cheese (optional)

Marinate the sliced shallots in the verjus and salt for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 F oven for seven to 10 minutes or until you smell them.

Bite into a stalk of the asparagus at the woody end. If it’s too tough to chew, hold each spear at either end and bend — the asparagus will break where the stalk turns soft. Steam the asparagus for three to four minutes until crisp-tender, then immediately plunge in bath of ice water for a few minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Add the walnut oil, the cassis vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper to the shallot mixture and beat with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. The dressing should be fairly acidic; if not, add a little more cassis vinegar. Toss the asparagus with a healthy amount of dressing, reserving some dressing to drizzle on top of the endive bites.

Separate the individual endive leaves and arrange in a flower pattern on a serving platter. If the asparagus spears are longer than the endive leaves, cut them in half.

If you aren’t using the endives, toss all of the asparagus, all but a few slices of strawberries, all but a few of the walnuts and all but a few pinches of the goat cheese (if using) together to coat, and plate, or mound in salad bowl.

Garnish with remaining strawberry slices, walnuts and goat cheese, and serve.

Lay a spear of asparagus, a strawberry slice, a whole walnut or two, and a pinch of goat cheese (if using) inside each endive spear. Drizzle each spear with the remaining dressing and serve.

Makes 10 or more servings.

Upcoming Greening events

See the documentary, “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World”
Sponsored by the Jewish Vegetarian Society of Los Angeles
Sunday, Jan. 6, 2 p.m., at Valley Beth Shalom, 15730 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
For more information, call (818) 342-5555, or e-mail

Plant trees for Tu B’Shvat in a local Encino park
Join TreePeople, L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and CoejlSC.
Sunday, Jan. 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For information or to register contact Lisa Sotelo at (818) 623-4879 or

Learn about Sinai Temple’s Tuv Ha’Aretz (community supported agriculture) Program
Greening Committee meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.
Hall of Builders, Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Open to everyone, but reservations required. Call (310) 481-3243.

Hear Cambria Gordon, co-author of “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming”
University Synagogue’s Family Shabbat Service
Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m., 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood
For more information, call (310) 472-1255.

Participate in the Board of Rabbis Green Congregations Best Practices Summit
Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles
For more information, call (323) 761-8600 or

Ecohustle Blooms in Community Garden

“Whether politicizing nature is altogether wise is something we shall learn.”

— W.H. Auden

I first saw Joan Baez sitting on the floor of a farmhouse living room near my high school, and she was playing guitar and singing like an angel. Her black hair, “like a raven’s wing,” hung to her waist. There was something superhumanly beautiful about the song, the girl, that time, the place — that I have never lost.

I’ve never again seen her in person. But in the media over the years, I saw her everywhere: in civil rights demonstrations, protesting the Vietnam War. Wherever there was injustice, she was there. A grown woman now, shorn, but still an angel.

Last week, I saw her on the front of The Times in a tree near the Alameda Corridor, and the spell was finally broken.

Joan, on this one, you’re wasting yourself.

The matter at issue is a community farm in South Central Los Angeles that has sprung up on 14.3 acres that do not belong to the farmers. The land belongs to Ralph Horowitz, who says he wishes to build a warehouse or to sell the land at something close to its market value.

Horowitz, it turns out, is no match for the South Central Farmers’ PR firestorm, which has struck again and again. First, musician Zack de la Rocha, then tree-sitters Julia Butterfly Hill and John Quigley, plus actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Daryl Hannah and now Joan — who was as beautiful as ever in that old walnut tree.

I’m not sure I want to blame Joan for this, but she’s symbolic of a circus that had been, a couple of years ago, a sincere cause. It’s now a media show, an ecohustle: In the one corner, an “evil Beverly Hills landlord.” In the other, various celebrities and now a folk icon standing tall on the loam tended by hundreds of pairs of humble hands.

The climax was set to go down last week, when a civil court judge signed off on an eviction order. There ensued high-pitched press conferences, vigil invitations and e-mail blasts proclaiming doom. But at this writing, authorities have not taken action.

What didn’t seem to get mentioned was that these farmers have no more legal right to be on the 14.3 acres belonging to Horowitz than they would on your land — if they suddenly decided to occupy your front lawn and set up farming there.

I didn’t mean to be that blunt. I was one of the first to report on the garden. It is beautiful, so are the gardeners. But their cause has somehow become a rigid ideal, resistant to compromise and particularly to reality. I mean, what does Hannah really have to do with growing nopales near Avalon Boulevard?

Or what does this garden have to do with the fall of the great Maya and Aztec civilizations that never reached, let’s face it, Ensenada, let alone South Central? I don’t know, but they’re being evoked to justify the gardeners working Horowitz’s land, as is the gardening families’ allegedly desperate need for healthy nutrition — as though scurvy were endemic in South Los Angeles.

Also invoked is the issue of “ecological sustainability and community self-reliance,” as Green Party chief Michael Feinstein put it. But then, most of the farmers aren’t from the local community and the “self-reliance” involves refusing to get off someone else’s property.

Not that this sort of occupation doesn’t have a role in modern society. In Buenos Aires, former employees now run the huge Bauen Hotel, which they took over as a derelict abandoned by the original proprietors in Argentina’s turn-of-the-century economic meltdown. A little earlier, in the 1990s, in Erfurt, Germany, squatters took over the bankrupt Topf & Sohne iron works, which built the Auschwitz crematoria, putting up displays elucidating the ghastly history that had been ignored by both the East and West German governments. The difference here is, and it’s a big one, this land is not abandoned. It belongs to someone whose right to his property is valid — whether we like him or not.

Just like the rest us, developers can be run over by buses, catch double pneumonia or have their property taken at rock-bottom prices by eminent domain. This is what happened to Horowitz 20 years ago.

Horowitz (like the self-proclaimed garden spokesman who calls himself Tezozomoc) didn’t return my e-mails. So I don’t know how crucial this acreage is to his investment portfolio or his kids’ college education. But regardless, he’s been treated unfairly. The city of L.A. played three-card-monte with the property for 14 years after failing to use the land for the stated “public need,” a trash-to-energy incinerator.

Horowitz finally had to bring suit to get it back at the price he was paid for it. Now he finds his land requisitioned by busy agriculturists said to be nicer than he is. Does one have to be a fellow property owner to feel for someone who landed on the wrong side of the visionary hedge? Had Wal-Mart grabbed this land instead of the gardeners, all these ecohustlers might be out there holding vigils for Horowitz.

But it’s the city that is really responsible for this mess. It’s not clear to what extent Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fluffed a transaction that would have had the city pay half of an $11 million purchase of the land in partnership with a private foundation. What’s clear is that the city’s showed poor leadership all the way here by not seeking the best solution for everyone involved: This deal would and should include a fair price for Horowitz and offer those who actually live near the gardens their own share of this precious green space — as parkland and ball fields and perhaps low-cost housing.

In other words, the gardeners should expect that they’ll have smaller personal gardens if they really want public money to be part of their rescue.

Mayor Villaraigosa has advanced the lame argument that Horowitz, after being a victim of city shenanigans for years, should, in effect, donate his valuable land for nothing more than the price it was worth two decades ago.

The mayor could better spend his verbiage forging a more reasonable arrangement. If he can’t — and the gardeners won’t — compromise, the city might as well save its money and let Horowitz build his warehouse.

Marc B. Haefele is news editor of the Los Angeles Alternative Press and comments on local government for KPCC-FM.