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Preserving Our Planet
Mar. 10, 2011
Effort to enhance the spiritual/religious connection to the environment, encourage environmentally-conscious behaviors and advocate for environmental policies.

Community Contact Information:
Congregation Beth HaTephila
Asheville, NC
www.bethhatephila.org

Goals:

  • Learn about local, national and international issues of earth stewardship.
  • Engage in individual and collective behaviors at home, in the workplace and in synagogue activities that reduce harm to the environment and fulfill our religious and moral responsibilities to create a sustainable environment and ensure the survival of the planet.
  • Advocate for local, state and national policies that preserve our planet.

Overview:
Preserving Our Planet works to (1) enhance the synagogue’s spiritual/religious connection to the environment, (2) define and encourage the practice of environmentally-conscious behaviors for congregants at home, in the workplace and in the synagogue and (3) advocate for policies within the larger community that “preserve our planet.”

Preparation:
Four subcommittees were formed, each with an action and advocacy plan: 1) Energy, 2) Recycling, 3) Transportation and 4) Agriculture. Each subcommittee reached out to relevant local and national organzations. For example, the Agriculture subcommittee partnered with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project to work toward the congregation’s goal of establishing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.

Project Implementation: 
The two-year Preserving Our Planet (POP) project was unveiled at the congregation’s 2008 Passover Seder, which focused on the theme of worshipping the earth.

The Energy subcommittee:

  • Encouraged use of fluorescent light bulbs in homes and at the synagogue
  • Held Lunch and Learn sessions on climate change
  • Conducted an energy audit of the synagogue
  • Worked with architects to install energy efficient and “green” building materials in the new synagogue building
  • Created a POP focus on the new congregational website with information about energy savings, climate change, reducing carbon footprints, and Jewish ethics on the environment.
  • Researched particular legislative proposals around climate change and shared with the congregation
  • Partnered with North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light in sharing and disseminating information about advocacy issues and local events
  • Advocated for energy efficiency and a cleaner environment with the Religious Action Center, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light.

The Recycling subcommittee:

  • Started composting synagogue kitchen waste
  • Eliminated synagogue use of Styrofoam cups
  • Reduced synagogue use of plastics/paper in favor of washable dishes
  • Expanded synagogue  use of recycled paper and other recycled items
  • Encouraged “Meatless Mondays”
  • Partnered with Asheville GreenWorks in adopting a local street for clean-ups
  • Partnered with a local Catholic church to engage the religious school students in composting their snacks

The Agriculture subcommittee:

  • Started an interfaith CSA farm
  • Encouraged the use of local products for Oneg food.
  • Persuaded the syngagogue board to adopt a policy to serve organic juice in the religious school
  • Sponsored a Lunch and Learn with a university researcher on growing organic foods
  • Organized a field trip to an apple orchard
  • Started using fair-trade products, such as coffee, at the synagogue
  • Worked with interfaith communities on gleaning crops

The Transportation subcommittee:

  • Created an online map of synagogue members so people could share rides, get to know their neighbors and host local Havdalah services
  • Created a “Strive Not to Drive” Shabbat to encourage alternate modes of transportation and ride-sharing
  • Met with local city planner and transportation director about ways in which the congregation can support public transportation, the creation of more sidewalks and a decrease in gas emissions

Results:
The Preserving Our Planet initiative has raised awareness and changed many congregants’ individual practices as well as the syngagogue’s practices and operation. For example, congregants are eating healthier foods and buying more local and fair-trade products. The project also prompted the development of ongoing working relationships with other faith communities that have led to collaboration on other social justice issues, including homelessness and immigration.

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