Adat Shalom and Eco-Justice
From its founding in the late 1980"s through today, Adat Shalom has emphasized both social and environmental responsibility, in word and in deed. As our founding Statement of Principles states, "The Mitzvah of Tikkun Olam obliges us to work toward the prevention of hunger, homelessness, disease, ignorance, abuse, and political oppression among all people, as well as to work toward preserving the health of the global ecosystem upon which all life depends." This commitment began under founding Rabbi Sid Schwarz (whose other concurrent effort, PANIM, emphasized ecology and justice as key "Jewish civics" issues), and was redoubled when Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb (whose focus had long been on green Judaism) joined the shul in 1997.
Social and environmental concerns were conjoined over three-years of designing and building our own home (completed 2001). We committed to paying a (higher than minimum) "living wage" to every worker who labors on or in our building, including day laborers, janitors, and other lower-wage workers. And low ecological impact, one of four key values guiding the design process, led to recycled carpet and renewable cork flooring; zoned HVAC systems to minimize energy use; passive solar siting; a PV solar-powered Eternal Light; maximizing reclaimed or certified sustainable wood; energy-efficient lighting and appliances; and much more--all since emulated by other communities.
These green and just features began with education about the social impacts of environmental degradation -- from pollution"s huge impact on people of color and on low-income communities, to the human face of climate change. Specifically, early in the design process, we brought documentary filmmaker Judith Helfand to screen and discuss her Blue Vinyl, after which we minimized the amount of poly-vinyl-chloride in any part of our building (and many members did the same at home). For these efforts we became known as a "green synagogue"; Adat Shalom was only the second Jewish community ever to receive the US EPA"s "Energy Star" Award for Congregations.
Environmental programs continued over the years: a pre-Presach-cleaning-time "trade in your toxic mercury thermometer" collection; a sale of compact fluorescent lightbulbs at Hannukah (letting the light last with less fossil fuel); nature hikes, cleanups, and more. These efforts took an energetic turn in 2009 with a Legacy Heritage Innovation Project grant, which helped us roll out "Honoring Our Holidays, Caring for Creation", an initiative with many eco-justice components: looking at skewed access to clean water (at Sukkot); uniting our environmental professionals (over 60 of them among our 490 households, many working at the intersection of social and ecological concerns) before a "Green Tikkun Leil Shavuot"; and most enduringly, our Anacostia efforts and our Mishnah Garden.
Before Pesach, 2010, a hundred Adat Shalomers joined with advocates for and residents of Anacostia (a lower-income neighborhood in SouthEast DC) for a cruise up the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, considering modern "plagues" in light of the ancient ones--since both are environmental punishments connected to social injustices. A year later, before Pesach 2011, another huge delegation went further upriver on the Anacostia to study Torah, plant trees, and pull invasive species in Bladensburg park before kayaking, canoeing, and pontooning on the water.
Our 800 square-foot organic garden is right outside our social hall; here we educate about the benefits of local non-chemical agriculture and its religious connection, and raise and donate hundreds of pounds of fresh organic produce to low-income communities nearby who suffer from limited access to fresh vegetables. The Mishnah Garden has become a real focal point for community building (both internally and externally) -- and is growing even more verdantly in 2011.
And, in spring 2011 we became the first area Jewish institution to sprout a photovoltaic array: 200 domestic union-made solar panels generating some 43 kilowatts of on-site carbon-free power (with a carefully-researched "third-party financing" approach has already become a model for other local houses of worship). We did this partly via Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (of which Rabbi Fred happens to be the chair); we"ve been featured by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (on whose board Fred has long served). And our eco-justice efforts have only begun....
Social Action Opportunities