Archive for : Environment

Taking Climate Change to Task on Tu Bishvat

The official word is in – it’s hot out there! Scientists recently proclaimed 2012 to be the hottest year ever recorded, and in Australia, temps have skyrocketed so much, they had to redraw the weather map to accommodate the rising heat.

In addition to the literal warming of the globe, which increases drought, wildfires and dangerously hot summers, climate change is linked to the increase of drastic and damaging weather events – floods, hurricanes, tornadoes – that we have witnessed in recent years, most recently with Hurricane Sandy.

The Jewish holiday of Tu Bisvhat begins this Friday night, January 25th. Originally an ancient agricultural tax holiday in Israel, Tu Bishvat has evolved into the Jewish calendar’s answer to Earth Day – a day to reconnect to nature, celebrate its gifts, and evaluate how we can help safeguard the planet for future generations. With climate change making more and more headlines (and not for positive reasons), the time to act is now. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • COEJL: Be a clean-energy advocate! Join the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life’s Jewish Energy Network to gain the skills you need to make a difference in your community. You can also sign up for COEJL’s community organizing training in Washington DC, Mar 13-14.
  • Jewish Farm School: Check out this awesome organization’s (and Repair the World partner) Feast Forward video series, which covers all sorts of important environmental and agricultural topics, including an inspiring interview with 350.org’s co-founder, Bill McKibben.
  • Hazon: Learn about the connections between Jewish tradition and teaching and climate change (there are more than you might think!) on Hazon’s blog.
  • 350.org: Join in 350’s growing movement to encourage colleges and universities to divest financial support for fossil fuels. Whether you’re a current student, or an alum, there are plenty of ways to make a difference at your alma matter.
  • Sierra Club: Take part in the Sierra Club’s campaign to move America “beyond oil – they give you all the tools you need to influence your congressperson, support green fleets, and more.

Jewish tradition reminds us about the importance of taking care of the earth. With that inspiration in mind, how will you help make a difference? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld, or in the comments below.

Thanksgiving Harvest: Three Great Jewish Farming Organizations

With Thanksgiving coming up tomorrow, our collective thoughts are on family, friends and, most importantly, food! That means it is the perfect time to celebrate the world-changing work of three (yes three!) Repair the World partner organizations that put food justice, sustainable food production and the intersection of food and Jewish life at the center of their agendas.

We’ve written about these organizations before. But as turkey day (or tofurkey day, as the case may be) draws near and we break out bubbe’s pecan pie recipe, we thought we’d check back in with them to see what great, on-the-ground (and in-the-field) work they’re up to!

Adamah A pioneer in the field of Jews and farming (the program launched back in 2003), Adamah is known for it’s 3-month fellowships that combine communal living, Jewish life and learning, and sustainable farming. They are also a working CSA, providing farm-fresh vegetables to families in Connecticut, and make uber-tasty kosher, lacto-fermented pickles and cheese (more info on where to buy here).

Jewish Farm School was founded to teach participants about “contemporary food and environmental issues through innovative trainings and skill-based Jewish agricultural education.” They lead all sorts of great, hands-on, in-the-dirt programs (including running the farm at Eden Village, a Jewish environmental summer camp). Their new FeastForward initiative uses visual media (like short films) to raise awareness about food and environmental issues.

Urban Adamah Founded as a West Coast, urban version of Adamah, program participants live, farm, learn, teach, and celebrate together in Berkeley, California. Their innovative take on Jewish life and urban farming has gained widespread attention, including articles by Grist and San Francisco Chronicle. The farm also runs a variety of programs for the public, including an upcoming “earth skills” event on Nov. 29 (register here). Apply to be a fellow in 2013 here.

Are you working to transform the food system here or abroad? Tell us your story @RepairtheWorld!

Spotlight On: Eden Village Camp (aka The Green Jewish Summer Camp)

Every so often, an idea comes along that feels like it should have existed forever. That’s kind of what Eden Village Camp is like. The Jewish environmental overnight camp combines two already wonderful things – summer camp and sustainability – into one package.

Now in it’s third summer, Eden Village Camp empowers campers to experience a sustainable and spiritual Jewish community geared towards them. At camp campers can be fully themselves, learn outdoor and environmental skills via hands-on projects like organic farming, cooking, and ecology hikes (and more), and become leaders in their communities once camp is over. The camp also runs several Family Camps each season to give camper parents and siblings a taste of camp-life, as well as year-round environmental programming.

There is still time to register for Eden Village’s August session or August Family Camp. Know a camper who might be interested? Find out more here. Want a closer look? Check out this great slideshow of photos, and watch the in-depth Eden Village Camp video here.

Helping Colorado (And Elsewhere) Recover From the Fires and Heat

Earlier this summer, Colorado was on fire. Not the whole state of course, but a shocking amount of it was damaged by drought-induced wildfires. Tens of thousands of acres blazed, thousands of people were evacuated and hundreds lost their homes.

Does this story sound familiar? Increasingly it is. As an op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times writes: “Summer is barely two weeks old and two-thirds of the country is in the grip of a severe drought. More crops will die. More forests will burn.”

In other words, as scientists have predicted for decades, the impacts of climate change are beginning to rear their ugly heads. And as that happens, the risk of weather-related disasters increases.

Become a key part of the global movement to curb climate change. Check out climate-focused organizations like 350.org and The Environmental Defense Fund, and plug into the solution. In the meantime, find out how you can help Colorado recover from the most recent fire on the website HelpColoradoNow.org. The Jewish Federation of Colorado and The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) are also collecting funds to assist those affected.

See The World This Summer With Sustainable Travel

Summer time = travel time! July 4th may have come and gone, but nearly a whole season of opportunities to explore new people and places still lies ahead. But all those airplanes and miniature bottles of shampoo come with a social and environmental impact. So wherever your next summer jaunt takes you, make sure to keep ethics and sustainability at the forefront of your travel plans. Here are some ideas to get you moving:

  • Don’t fly. Air travel is super pricey right now – that’s reason enough to stay on the ground. But the carbon footprint associated with flying is also huge. So if you can, bike, bus, train, or carpool to your vacation destination.
  • Offset your footprint. Sometimes you have to fly. You can’t exactly drive to Rome or India, after all. If you do, make sure you offset your environmental impact by donating to The Carbon Neutral Company or JNF’s GoNeutral campaign.
  • Stay at a fair wage hotel. Do a bit of research to find out if the hotel you’re staying at pays its workers a living wage (like the Dan Hotel chain in Israel.) Meanwhile, check out GreenHotels.com for a list of vetted, eco-friendly establishments.
  • Support the local economy. When you’re traveling domestically or abroad, aim to support independent restaurants, hotels, and businesses. Your tourist dollars go further supporting them than the big super-chains.
  • Travel with an (empty) water bottle. You can’t bring water through airport security these days, but you can bring an empty reusable bottle everywhere. Fill it up as you go – just make sure the drinking water is stomach-friendly wherever you’re staying.

Where are you headed this summer, and how will you travel sustainably? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Repair Interview: Robert Beiser Talks Teen Feed and JConnect in Seattle

Seattle, in a word, rules. That’s partly because the city is home to Teen Feed, a groundbreaking organization that engages volunteers in offering meals, support and services to homeless youth and teens. It’s also because of JConnect Seattle and Hillel UW, two organizations (and Repair the World partners) that engage college-aged and young adult Jews in all kinds of amazing, Jewishly-rooted service work – including volunteering with Teen Feed!

Robert Beiser, who is the Campus/JConnect Repair the World Director at Hillel UW, took the time to speak to us about how Teen Feed serves Seattle’s homeless and street-connected youth, why JConnect decided to host a weekly Teen Feed site, and what it’s like being Seattle’s largest default kosher education organization.

Tell me a bit more about Teen Feed.
It’s an incredible program that’s been around for 25 years. They work with volunteers to serve meals to homeless and street-connected youth – the meal serves as a platform for case workers and long term volunteer workers to create and build relationships with them. Over time, they have become an incredible resource for teens in Seattle and a model for other organizations nationally.

How many teens usually show up for meals?
On any given night there’s usually 30-70 youth who come in for a meal. While they’re eating, advocates go and sit with them. It’s a great way for youth to connect with services that they can’t access so easily through the government. For example, if a 15-year old needs some kind of service and they talk to someone in government they’ll likely be told, “you’re under 18, we’re going to place you in foster care.” They might also be deterred from going to social services in the first place – somewhere where they’ll be in an office with adults they don’t know. They could feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and decide it’s not worth it, when really they need services.

Teen Feed says, we’ll give you a hot meal and there will be people there who think you’re valuable and who believe in you and your future. Through the meals they develop relationships before they’re ever asked anything, like if they want more stable housing, or to go back to school, get a job, or get help with substance abuse. It’s been a really successful program. There are lots of cases where former guests now have jobs and families, and are even on the board of Teen Feed.

How have Jconnect and Hillel UW been involved with Teen Feed?
Teen Feed is held in a different church or community center each night of the week – Hillel hosts it on Sundays, and Jconnect members volunteer to cook and serve. We’d volunteered for a while, but wanted to take the opportunity to provide a real service to our community. We wanted to integrate the program into JConnect and make it a hallmark of what we do. So we talked to Teen Feed about being a host site. These days, for the first time in 25 years, Teen Feed can offer meals 7 days a week, and every night of the year. We also regularly send groups to help make food on days like Christmas and Easter Sunday, because our volunteers will be free.

What do Jconnect participants do when volunteering at Teen Feed?
We have an average of 10-12 volunteers a week, and we’ve had about 90 different volunteers over the course of the year. The meal team volunteers provide the food, and then both cook and serve it on a buffet line. We use real dishes and have a compost for all the stuff people don’t eat. We’ve actually helped other Teen Feed hosts set up composting at their sites too. Our team works out of the Hillel kitchen, which is strictly kosher. So in a way, we’re also the largest kosher education organization around by necessity!

What type of impact have you seen from JConnect’s work with Teen Feed?
While we’re volunteering, we occasionally get into really deep conversations about the role of Jewish communities in doing service and social justice work, and about individual versus collective responsibility. 9 times out of 10, I’m not the person leading the discussion – this type of work really gets people talking and gives them a chance to grow.

Another thing that is really remarkable to me is the Teen Feed staff. They’re mostly young people in their 20s, and they go week in and week out and hear some of the most heartbreaking stories from people who look just like them. They take that on with so much dignity and compassion, and keep the focus constantly on what they can do to best serve and be the best organization they can. Teen Feed is constantly improving itself to become smarter and more compassionate in its work, and to respond to feedback, trends and changes. It’s an honor to be involved.

Learn more about Teen Feed’s work here, about JConnect here, and about Hillel UW’s work here.

World Food Prize Goes to Israeli Water and Farming Innovator

Ed’s note: Somehow we missed last week’s inspiring article on The Jew & The Carrot blog about an 81-year old Israeli-American innovator who just won the World Food Prize for pioneering drip-irrigation and other water-saving farming techniques. But now that the story is on our radar screen, we want to share it with you! Here’s an excerpt:

“If there is such a thing as rock star status in the world of soil physics, then Daniel Hillel has attained it,” Eric Herschthal wrote in a 2010 article titled “The Man Who Made The Deserts Bloom” in The Jewish Week.

Now, two years later, Hillel, an 81-year-old American-born Israeli scientist has won this year’s World Food Prize for his water-saving agricultural methods used first in Israel, and then around the world. These methods, known as micro-irrigation and drip-irrigation have increased crop production on arid lands in 30 countries.

It was a fortuitous encounter with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, that set Hillel on his remarkable path. According to Herschthal’s article, Ben-Gurion met Hillel when he and his wife Paula came to visit Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negevwith the mission of settling the desert that Hillel had helped establish in 1952.

Ben-Gurion, by then in his 60’s, became a member of the kibbutz and pitched in with the work. Hillel, then in his 20’s was assigned to supervise Ben-Gurion. “It’s funny but true — I was Ben-Gurion’s boss,” the scientist said. The prime minister, impressed with Hillel’s revolutionary irrigation methods, sent him on his first trip — to Burma in 1956 — to teach this technology to developing countries. Many such trips to countries all over the globe ensued.

Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, said he was most impressed by the ability Hillel has to bring different peoples and countries together and to promote peace through his work. He has participated in missions to teach and promote water-use efficiency across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America under the auspices of organizations such as the World Bank, UN Food and Agriculture Organization and U.S. Agency for International Development.

“His nomination for the World Food Prize included seconding letters from Arab scientists and experts living and working in Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He is a remarkable example of what one person can achieve by taking a leap and crossing cultural borders for the sake of the greater good,” wrote Quinn.

Read the rest of Hillel’s story on The Jew & The Carrot blog.