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Program Bank: Environmental Activities for Shavuot

Participate in or Organize a Trail, River or Beach Clean-Up Day                    

On (or near) Lag BaOmer, go out into the forests, fields, beach or other natural area. Every person should carry a bag to hold any trash that they find. Individuals can go with family, friends or join wi`th a larger organization or congregation. Sometime during the event (perhaps at a resting point along the walk or around a campfire after you are finished walking), gather to share snacks, sing songs and learn about the Jewish connection to the environment.                    

Sponsor a Lag BaOmer Environmental Bike Ride                        

  • NFTY, brotherhood, sisterhood or the confirmation class can organize a bike ride to raise awareness about environmental concerns. The bike ride can also be a fundraiser for environmental organizations.

  • Hazon is a sponsor of Jewish environmental bike rides. According to Hazon’s website, “Jewish environmental bike rides use Jewish tradition in an inventive way to raise environmental awareness in the Jewish community, to raise money for Jewish environmental projects and to deepen people’s understanding of Jewish tradition.” For more information about Jewish environmental bike rides or to participate in a Hazon ride, go to www.hazon.org.

Audit of reusable materials in congregationanl events                             

  • Avoid Disposables at community celebrations and events.
  • At synagogue and at home, use re-usable tablecloths, napkins and serving-ware at simchahs and events.   
  • If you are using disposable products, look into recycled paper napkins, towels and plates. Also, use recycled paper in creating invitations, fliers and place cards.
  • Instead of throwing the balloons and flower arrangements into the trash, consider attractive, re-usable decorations. For instance, use bonsai trees or potted plants as centerpieces. These can then be donated to nursing homes.                                    
  • The synagogue can purchase re-usable decorations, which are then made available for other synagogue functions and simchahs. These re-usable decorations both reduce waste and build community. A confirmation class could donate (or make) these decorations as their class gift.

Decorate Your Home or Synagogue with Greenery

Bring the environmental connection home as you participate in this traditional Shavuot custom. In preparation for Shavuot, decorate your home, the bimah or synagogue classrooms with greenery (or better yet, potted plants). Go outside with your children or religious school class to gather flowers and leaves to decorate the home or classroom. Talk with young children about the importance of nature                    

Eliminate Pesticide, Fertilizer and Weed Killers in Home and Synagogue Gardens    

Shavuot reminds us of the need to be good stewards of the land. Pesticides, fertilizer and weed killers poison the land, and even those marketed for home use are not guaranteed to be safe. It is possible to eliminate fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides and still have healthy and beautiful lawns and gardens.

COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, suggests investigating environmentally friendly ways to garden, leaving grass trimmings on the lawn and composting to provide fertilizer, and considering native plant gardens that would require less intensive chemical treatment. For more information, visit www.coejl.org.

Ethical Eating

On Shavuot, it is traditional to eat dairy foods. According to one legend, our ancestors learned about keeping kosher during revelation. But they did not have the resources to immediately change to a kosher lifestyle, in particular, to switch to kosher slaughter. So they started by eating only dairy meals.

Many Jews keep kosher (or aspects of kashrut) in order to sanctify the act of eating, to remember the connection between God, food and the earth. The growing movement of eco-kashrut has pointed out that to fulfill this goal of sanctification, we should be mindful of a broad range of concerns, both traditional and modern. Eco-kashrut asks, how can the food choices we make be healthy for us and for the world?

Eco-kashrut encourages us to look at the entire cost of the food we eat. Do our food choices contribute to pollution or contain unhealthy additives? Are the farm workers who grow and harvest our food fairly compensated? Are the environmental practices we employ ecologically sustainable? What is the environmental impact of transporting our food long distances?

By examining such questions, we can ensure that we retain the holy connection to God and the earth as we break our daily bread.

Buy Locally Grown Organic Produce

The Israelites offered the seven species at the Temple, which reminded them of their connection to the land. When we purchase locally grown organic produce, we also remember our connection to the land. Such produce supports environmentally sustainable farming techniques. Moreover, locally grown produce avoids the hidden costs of produce that needs to be transported long distances: the cost of fuel used for transport and refrigeration and the cost of the added pollution from these trucks, trains and planes.      

Demonstrate Eco-Kashrut Recipes at Your Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Create a cooking session at your Tikkun Leil Shavuot to teach about eco-kashrut. Choose organic, locally grown or pesticide-free produce and dairy products. Make healthy, fun recipes as part of the learning experience.

Incorporate Healthy, Organic Food into Festive Meals, Onegs and Receptions

The food we eat impacts not only our health, but also the health of the earth. Choose foods that are grown in an environmentally sustainable manner and that protect the rights of farm workers. If you are serving coffee, tea, chocolate or tropical fruits like bananas, mangos and pineapple, look for the Fair Trade label.