Our EcoSynagogue Talks
On Shabbat 8th February after Ben Blume’s Auf Ruf there was a very special Eco-on-the-Hill. This was an appropriate time to reflect on how we are stewarding our environment from a Jewish perspective as Monday 9th February was Tu b’Shevat, the New Year for trees. It was also the second anniversary of EcoSynagogue, which we joined last year to guide us to improve our environmental practices. Rabbi David introduced the occasion by putting it into a Jewish context – that looking after our planet is a fundamental Jewish responsibility. I gave an update on what we have been doing at MHS. Then Micah Swimer spoke movingly about his concerns and wide-ranging independent, school and family actions as a younger member of the community. Finally, we were honoured and appreciative that Ben Blume shared his Auf Ruf celebrations with his hugely relevant talk – sharing issues from a global, collective, personal and professional perspective.
JUDITH DEVONS – OUR ECOSYNAGOGUE LEADER
Hello. I’m Judith Devons, organiser of this morning’s Eco-on-the-Hill.
We have all now heard of Extinction Rebellion, the global environmental movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to pressure governments to take action to avert irreversible climate change, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse. Established less than two years ago, it now has a huge following of people of all ages – including Jews who have formed Rebellion Jews (XRJews).
A climate emergency has been declared by well over half of all local councils in the UK, including 220 out of 408 in Haringey. Nevertheless, the emergency is largely still an abstract concept. We are cushioned and protected – for now. We don’t have to worry about our food supplies – often flown from afar and appearing ready packaged on the shelves of our local supermarkets. We don’t have to come face to face with the decimation of rain forests as we continue to protect and enjoy our closest natural environments such as Coldfall and Highgate Woods.
But the climate emergency is a reality for people who live according to the rhythms of nature, in symbiosis with their environment – like our biblical forefathers. There are 370 million indigenous peoples whose lives have been ruined by exploitation of the land – detailed in publications such as Extinction Rebellions’s handbook This is not a Drill.
Why bring up these huge worldwide issues now? In synagogue. And what can we do?
Let’s make it personal. We can all make a difference!
The first time I spoke to the community on eco issues was Shabbat 8 Dec. 2018 – 14 months ago.
It was Chanukah – and a highly appropriate occasion for a talk on eco awareness as the festival celebrates oil adequate for a single day lasting eight whole days – a model of great conservation!
That occasion was called “Green-on-the-Hill” – when we started the conversation on how to reduce our environmental impact – aiming to make our synagogue a model of good practice.
MHS had just joined Eco Synagogue, a cross-denominational group with members from many synagogues with the aim of guiding and supporting us in more ecologically aware practices.
For those who don’t yet know, Eco Synagogue was inspired by Eco-Church, adapted for the Jewish community, and pioneered by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg of New North London. It is supported by Chief Rabbi Mirvis and the Board of Deputies.
After joining Eco Synagogue, we filled in their online survey to assess and improve our level of environmental responsibility in our buildings, land, food consumed, amount recycled, in shared conversations in sermons and cheder, and in social action initiatives in the wider community.
We used the survey to distinguish between our perception of what we do and the actual reality. The aim is to raise awareness and change personal and collective habits one step at a time so we can play our full role in rebalancing our relationship with the natural world.
Tomorrow – Sunday 9th Feb. – is the 2nd anniversary of EcoSynagogue and an occasion to give awards for best practice – celebrating small steps that can lead to a large impact.
This Monday 10th Feb. is Tu b’Shvat, New Year for Trees and as Jews it is an obvious time to consider how we are stewarding our environment. –
So what has our community has done so far, and what we can do in the future?
And what questions and suggestions do you have.
What we have done so far at MHS
As mentioned, we had a Green Kiddush and Shabbat on the Hill on Dec.8th 2019
Posters around the synagogue highlighting problems and solutions
Since then, issues aired in many of Rabbi David’s sermons
We have been plastic-free since Sept. 2019 = return to washing up, aided hugely by the support of our caretakers.
We have factored ecological guidelines into our building plans – eg. getting a rapid steam dishwasher. Amazingly, commercial ones can wash up to 500 plates an hour with 60-90 second cycles! Also bike racks.
We are buying more fresh food in season – locally grown as much as possible
To minimise food waste -we have issued some updated guidelines for kiddushim quantities
Give extra food to needy – within health and safety guidelines
Colour-coded recycling bins around the shul
Weekly eco tips in our online newsletter, Ethos
Next year the Arba Minim Centre has agreed to supply us with reusable zip holder cases for our lulav. Just one of the small steps that have a cumulative effect
What MHS can do in the future
Maybe solar panels and composting on site?
What do you suggest?
I’m Micah and I’m in year 7 at Alexandra Park School. I think the reason Josh and Judith asked me to talk today is because they know that I feel passionately about the environment and protecting our planet. And what better time to talk about this than Tu b’shevat. So thank you for asking me to speak today.
In about yr 5, I started asking questions about the environment. My Abba told me Greenpeace was probably an organisation I’d be interested in. I looked them up and immediately joined. They sent me petitions about the amount of plastics in our ocean and about how little Sainsburys do to reduce the amount of plastic they use and how there are sea turtles that are dying and other endangered animals. I was really concerned about these issues and wondered what I could do to help. I began sending the petitions to people and whilst most people probably didn’t even read them, my Grandma Vivien became the most committed person in the world to signing them and also started cutting down on her use of plastics. She stopped buying cling-film and bought reusable food covers instead. I sent Sainsburys emails telling them about how they’ve really got to cut down on the amount of plastics they use and to encourage them to do more to stop plastic waste in the oceans.
Some of the main issues as I see at the moment are climate change and air pollution. The three main parts of climate change are global warming, rapid deforestation and species becoming endangered. A result of climate change can be seen in Australia now. As most of you probably know, there are big bush fires which although happen regularly have been particularly disastrous recently, as many firefighters and other people have lost their lives and homes and way too many trees have burned down and all the Australian wildlife have been affected. It’s estimated that a billion wild animals in Australia have died and that it would take at least a century to recover. On a more global level, I recently did a school project about endangered wildlife and ecosystems and a fact you may not know is that over 99.9% of all species that ever lived are now extinct. Why do we need to know this? Well, the main cause of the extinctions is the destruction of natural habitats by human activities, such as cutting down forests and converting land into fields for farming.
I think we all need to be doing something to look after our planet. We can’t assume other people will look after it for us because that’s definitely not happening. And as someone young, we can’t rely on older people making good decisions for our future. So what do I do about it? Well, I’ve donated money to organisations like Greenpeace and WaterAid, as well as other animal welfare charities. More importantly, my behaviour has changed. I don’t really buy things in shops that much because I don’t really need more than what I already have. When I do buy things, I’m always aware of excess packaging and plastic. And when I go out I’d always prefer to go on the bus or tube and I’d encourage whoever I’m going out with that this is the better option – especially as we’ve got such an amazing public transport service in London so we should not go in cars when possible. Or cycle, run, walk anything but letting out carbon dioxide emissions that are killing the environment. We have to be aware of greenhouse gases which are when the sun’s heat is getting trapped and any other chemicals and gases that we put into the environment are going to make it hotter.
In school I do this thing called Sustainability Club. There 8 pupils and 5 teachers involved from across the school. At the moment my school is trying to become a green flag school which is quite difficult, you need to help the environment by doing three different things. We’ve already chosen one, which is a pen recycling system in the science classes. And we’ve recently carried out surveys of staff and students on how people get to school. And if we find out that there is actually a large amount of people who are driving to school when they could be taking public transport, or walking or cycling then we may do a program like ‘walk to school Wednesday’. I feel really optimistic that there are other teachers and students equally as passionate as me.
As a family, some of the things that we do are: We have a compost bin, where we put all food waste and the council takes it away for composting. We’re lucky we live in Haringey where they offer this. More importantly, we try not to over-consume and only buy the food that we need. Ima does most of the cooking and she uses the vegetables in the fridge as a guide to prepare our meals. If hypothetically, you have lots of sweet potatoes you could look online or ask friends for recipes so that you use them all up.
Another thing we try to do is to shop locally and sustainably. We buy fruit and vegetables in season; I recently told Ima that we shouldn’t buy bananas or avocadoes anymore because they are grown very far away and have to travel miles to get here which causes lots of pollution. We get an organic box delivered weekly which has little packaging. We have started going to the Zero Waste market at Myddleton Road and take containers to refill things like shampoo and conditioner. Another great shop is called Harmless where you can take your own bags and containers and fill them up with all kinds of food and household products. Something else that me and my brothers have enjoyed doing over the years are Jumble Sales selling all our old toys and books and donating the money to charity. It’s a great way of rehoming old things without throwing them away.
We can all do our bit to help our planet, however small. As my favourite singer from Australia Paul Kelly sings in his protest song “From little things Big things grow”.
“What can I be a part of doing?” by Ben Blume, on my Aufruf on 8 February 2020
We live in a time of big and complex global issues; political unrest, terrorism, migration, nuclear weapons, deadly viruses. These things have always been the present, we see them on TV and social media, they have impacted us, our friends, our families.
In the background there has always been talk of climate change, but to me at least, this has always seemed distant and abstract. I remember clearly as a child struggling to imagine what it meant that there was a hole in the ozone layer above Australia, for example. Even for those of us who never questioned the science, it has always been easy to dismiss this as a future problem, and to believe that a solution would be found before it ever became something that imacted us.
As we enter the 2020s though, across the world we see towns ablaze and farmland flooded, wildlife destroyed and cities in drought. And not only in the developing world, but in many developed counties too, which bring the problem much closer to home. In the 2020s, the climate crisis has arrived.
I’m in shul today to celebrate my aufruf, and in two weeks time I will be getting married and taking the first step on the journey to having a family of my own. It’s an incredibly exciting and positive time in my life, but as I start to imagine this family, it brings into clear focus the need to ensure that a safe and habitable world exists for future generations to grow up in.
I’ve spent time in my student and professional career working with organisations and projects which looked to quantify and reduce the environmental impact of the institutions with which i’ve been associated. This work and research has helped me to develop a sense of the magnitude of the problem, and the impact different initiatives have on improving the situation.
And so I often ask myself, as I am sure many of you do, “what can I do as an individual that really make a difference to the climate crisis”. The answer, unfortunately, is that the impact that any one of us can have acting alone is minimal, the problem is too great. We need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 29 Gigatons by 2030. Each of us uses about 10 tons in a year, so any reduction we make is a drop in the ocean.
So does that mean we need to give up, that things are already gone too far to save? No. The way to solve a problem of this magnitude is for us to come together in groups, in communities, in companies, in NGOs and governments. Together we have more power and together we can have more impact.
These groups can be grassroots initiatives like the high profile “school strike for climate” that has awoken the masses to the issues; or companies like the high tech “startups” I work with in my professional career who are looking at engineering advancements that could play a part in the solution; or community action programmes like the eco-synagogue programme which it is fantastic that we are supporting here in Muswell Hill, which mobilises a large number of people across a country to think about and make change.
The climate crisis is the global issue of the 2020s, and solutions can only come by mobilising the support, resource and influence of engaged and motivated groups. And so as I get married and think about creating the world I want for my own family, I need to change the question I ask myself. It’s not “what can I do”, but “what can I be a part of doing”. And if everyone does the same, hopefully together we can make a real impact.