Greening Your Congregation as One Way to Make It Holy

Inside Leadership

Greening Your Congregation as One Way to Make It Holy

trees and leaves in sunshine

When a group of us – congregants from University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA – attended the Consultation on Conscience a few years ago, we learned about the GreenFaith Energy Shield, a program that encourages faith communities to reduce their carbon footprint. We returned home ready to put our faith into action.

With help from our then-rabbinic intern, the synagogue’s plant manager, and a team of lay leaders we installed energy efficient light bulbs and a solar powered eternal light; initiated a recycling program and recycled materials used in our building’s construction; began using zoned temperature controls within the building; planted an organic garden and began composting organic waste. Thanks to these energy improvements – which contribute to environmentally sound maintenance of our facility and our world – University Synagogue received a GreenFaith Shield, the first Reform synagogue to earn this honor.

The Shield not only recognizes our accomplishment, but also stands as a challenge, reminding us of what we must continue to do to change our collective culture and ensure our certificate does not merely hang on a wall. Rather, it must be inscribed on our hearts, prompting us to act – as we are commanded – to care for God’s creation. University Synagogue observes this commandment every day through our continued care of and consideration for the environment.

Here are eight things that helped our congregation – and can help yours, too – earn a GreenFaith Shield, making our community a holy place that does not destroy God's earth:

  1. We turn off our engines in the carpool lane to decrease the release of emissions into the atmosphere.
  2. The last person out of a room turns off the lights following a class, meeting, or program.
  3. We use mugs or water bottles instead of disposable cups at all synagogue activities.
  4. We recycle, recycle, recycle. 
  5. We run a temperature controlled facility, and bring sweaters to synagogue activities and events.
  6. We compost our organic waste.
  7. We reduce our energy use by holding meetings and activities on designated days and going “dark” on other days.
  8. We encourage people to turn off the water while washing their hands, turning it back on to rinse the soap.

Our GreenFaith Energy Shield reminds us of our pledge to continue to commit ourselves – as a holy community – to protecting our environment. Likewise, it’s a great way to engage your congregation in environmentalism and greening.

For more information, about the GreenFaith Energy Shield initiative, visit the RAC’s website or contact Liz Mitlak.

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Julie Bank, an active Reform Jewish leader, is a member of University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA, and its board of trustees. She serves on the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the Union for Reform Judaism’s North American Board, and co-chairs the RAC’s Civic Engagement Campaign. Julie is the founding board chair of Jewish Center for Justice. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Steve and four kids.

Julie Bank

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