The Challenge of becoming Stewards of the Land, Shomrei Ha’aretz
In November 2007 FJMC lay and professional leadership agreed that the Conservative Movement needed to identify environmental issues as one of its basic platforms for being a Conservative Jew in the 21st century. After eight months of deliberations a platform was created and unanimously endorsed by the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism on March 13, 2008. The Leadership Council is composed of the lay and professional leaders of every branch of the International Conservative/Masorti Movement. At that meeting the LCCJ voted unanimously to endorse this project for the Movement. Public relations personal from the Jewish Theological Seminary, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Rabbinical Assembly are coordinating this Movement-wide effort.
Stage 1 - Creating a symbol: the Solar Ner Tamid
The platform began with the creation of a symbol around which congregations and educational institutions can rally. The symbol coincides with the celebration of a little know solar festival that takes place once every twenty-eight years. This festival, among other things, celebrates the wonder of the sun as a miracle of God’s creation. Unfortunately nearly 30% of the electric power needed to light the symbol of God’s eternal presence in our sanctuaries (eternal light) is derived from Middle Eastern sources. In order to transform the ner tamid, the symbol of God’s eternal presence into something that is truly or nearly eternal, the FJMC has created a solar ner tamid kit.
This kit was first piloted in the summer of 2007 at Camp Ramah in Palmer, MA. Since then it has been refined and installed at Congregation Beth Shalom, in Northbrook, Illinois and is being evaluated by several other congregations. The installation of a solar ner tamid creates an opportunity to inform the community that the being a steward of the environment is a Jewish issue.
Stage 2 - Instituting biodegradable materials into our institutions
Survey of institutions of higher learning, synagogues, Solomon Schechter Schools and Ramah Camps indicated that nearly all of them were not utilizing bio-degradable cups, plates and flatware. FJMC leadership has forged special arrangements with the developers and distributors of these materials to enable institutions to purchase these items in bulk at less cost or comprable costs of similar non-bio-degradable items. The availability of regional distribution center also waste of energy in transportation.
Stage 3 - Increasing community involvement through the JNF carbon offset program
The FJMC has partnered with the Jewish National Fund’s carbon offset initiative adding a slight twist. The FJMC program which will be available to all Conservative institutions will provide a 20% quarterly rebate to the participating institution to be used for environmental purposes in their own community. Ideally this effort will result in groups of volunteers building bridges within their local secular communities to establish local opportunities to plant trees, lean out streams and lakes and perform other necessary environmental activities. In addition alternate options for communities to reduce their carbon footprints are being investigated in order to lighten the grid in North America.
Stage 4 - Bringing environmental awareness into every home
In order for the symbol of the solar ner tamid to touch the lives of every person who enters Conservative/Masorti institutions and move them towards environmental activism a symbol needed to be created that could be utilized in every household. Today Shabbat candles are paraffin (oil) based and release carcinogens. Working with soy producers in the Midwest, the FJMC created a soy based Shabbat candle that remains lit for the required halakhic period of time. Initially it will be a premium cost product. The future balance of the costs of imported petroleum product versus American grown soy beans could bring the prices more into alignment. Plans are currently underway to market these candles through synagogue gift shops.
At the March 10th meeting of the LCCJ, the LCCJ voted unanimously to endorse this project for the Movement. Public relations personal from the Jewish Theological Seminary, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Rabbinical Assembly will meet under guidance of the FJMC and develop a Movement-wide plan. Koach, Ramah, SSDS, USY and the JEA are coordianting in the development of educational materials. NAASE is cooperating with the joint purchasing agreements.
For additional information, please contact
Rabbi Charles E. Simon
Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 832
New York, NY 10115
T: (212) 749-8100
F: (212) 316-4271