recycling hanukka 248.
(photo credit: )
It was a whole new Hanukka in Ramat Lehi this week. Local children took a break from gifts and sufganiyot to band together with National Service volunteers from Sherut Leumi for a clean-up campaign on the largely Ethiopian and Russian communities in this Beit Shemesh neighborhood. By the light of newly lit Hanukka candles on a "recycled" hanukkia, the group read a Jewish environmental teaching in Hebrew, Russian and Ethiopian in an effort to combine the Jewish holiday of light with making this world a greener place.
And for this endeavor, the Ramat Lehi community has Facebook to thank. That's because the event was run by Eco Lights, a subdivision of Sviva Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental literacy education, which is using social media as a means to inspire real world action during Hanukka.
Eco Lights is actually a worldwide online Facebook event that asks participants to pledge to pick up pieces of trash corresponding to the numbered day of Hanukka. For example, on the first day, there would be one piece of litter to clean up, on the second night, two; on the third night, three; and so on.
Which, by the numbers, means that one person could pick up 36 pieces of litter alone during Hanukka. Multiply that by the 2500 people who participated in Eco Lights last year and you have green, global phenomenon. Or, rather, a green, global, Jewish phenomenon. In exchange for doing their part, Eco Lights members receive daily newsletters with Jewish environmental teachings written by influential environmental and Jewish leaders.
ECO LIGHTS is the brainchild of Tamar Wisemon, wife of Carmi Wisemon, an environmental activist who started Sviva Israel in the hopes of educating Jewish youths, families, educators, and leaders on environmental awareness. Tamar, a former journalist and technical writer, used her tech prowess to aid her husband in his work from a web standpoint.
"Eco Lights is something Sviva Israel started in 2007. I had just started really getting into Facebook and the goal of Sviva Israel was to connect Israel and the rest of the world through environmental learning, and Facebook seemed to be a great platform to do that," Wisemon, the director of media and technology at Sviva explained. "Hanukka came, and it was actually my idea to run a campaign that wasn't just a random Facebook group feeling Jewish, but rather a way to inspire people to do something in the world."
"We decided to combine Hanukka with social action," she continued. "Thousands of people picking up garbage around the world would really make an impact."
It was a idea good in and of itself, but Wisemon wasn't prepared to stop at just picking up garbage to inspire her masses. "That alone isn't very inspiring," she concedes. "It's very social action, but not very Hanukka, so we decided to combine it with receiving Jewish environmental teachings every day written by regular people who are involved in the environment or Judaism from all over the place."
This year's teachings were kicked off with a short piece written by Richard Pearlstone, chair of the board of directors for the Jewish Agency. Other contributors for the week include Carmi Wisemon (the only person allowed to write more than once), representatives from OTZMA, Jewish bloggers, politicians and other environmental leaders. And due to universal interest in the program, this year's teachings will also be a multi-lingual distribution, translated into English, Hebrew, Chinese, Dutch, Russian, and French.
"We have a nice combination of really powerful leaders in the Jewish community who are looking at Hanukka from an environmental perspective. People are very generous with their time to write for us and they're usually very personal and entirely voluntary. This is a project where no one gets anything out of it except interesting teachings that do make difference," Wisemon said.
What started with just over 100 people in the first year grew one year later by over 800%, to 2500 participants from 10 countries, five continents and three languages. Now in its third year, Wisemon hopes to reach at least 3,000 people through Facebook responders, and now Twitter, which was added to the campaign this year.
"Eco Lights started small and grew way beyond what we ever expected, and it's nice to know you're making a difference," Wisemon said. "The first year was only on Facebook but we kept getting emails from people who didn't have [a Facebook account] but still wanted to sign up, so then we set up the newsletter through our website. And this year I added Twitter. Ideally, next year we'll have Youtube, and wherever social media is, Eco Lights will be there too."
Relying on something like a figurative Facebook event for worldwide change does pose an issue of ethics and validity. The pledge to participate is wholly unregulated and lies entirely within the honor system.
"If people want to know hard facts on what we actually did, we have to assume that people actually do pick up the thousands of pieces of trash that they pledge to," she conceded. "But you know what? Even if they didn't, they still signed up and got teachings and didn't unsubscribe, and would have learned something from it."
"Hanukka and Judaism isn't about having to be 100 percent the whole time, it's about trying to do the best you can do," Wisemon continued. "And it's just doing what you should be doing anyway. If you walk down the street and see something lying on the floor, you should pick it up. It's our world, our street, our neighborhood and campus, and our responsibility."
Thanks to projects like Eco Lights, Sviva Israel was recently awarded a research and development grant from Microsoft to develop a new Israeli environmental website, something Wisemon hopes will one day segue into a permanent home for the Eco Lights Hanukka teachings.
"My mini dream is to put together a website
which archives all the different lessons which,
after three years now, is really quite a lot. We get lessons from such a variety of people from all over the world, so I'd really like to put that together."
Until then, Wisemon is staying focused on the task at hand. The simple act of picking up a piece of litter and putting it in the trash can.
"There's no excuse not to do it. You don't need a special amount of time to pick up a piece of garbage around you, and you'll have something extra to think about when you light the candles."