A sustainable synagogue

A Jerusalem congregation plans to pray in a new, eco-friendly building, as part of a campaign to raise awareness about environmental issues in the Jewish community.

green synagogue 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
green synagogue 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem’s first architecturally “green” synagogue is in the offing.
Shir Hadash, founded by Rabbi Ian Pear in 2000 and located in Katamon, is planning a new, eco-friendly building as part of a greater campaign to raise awareness about environmental issues in the Jewish community. The $6 million project, which will be located in Talbiyeh near Rehov Dor Dor V’dorshav, has the support of private funders and the Jerusalem municipality.
“Most of the world lives in cities, and we have to somehow create sustainable institutions within our urban areas,” explains Pear. “It’s one thing for individuals to create gardens or take fewer showers, but public institutions should be taking the lead in that regard. Certainly if it’s a synagogue committed to spreading God’s message, expressing a love of Eretz Yisrael – if we believe the land is holy, we have to learn how to treat it in a more sustainable way.”
This idea is in line with the philosophy of Shir Hadash as expressed by Pear, which is to emphasize the positive aspects of Judaism – the shir (song) – and the excitement of rebuilding Israel. It’s a philosophy that attracts visiting groups to the synagogue, including clergy of other faiths, even in its current humble location in a rented gym.
Pear’s goal is therefore to educate visitors – local and international – by example.
“We don’t want to just build a green building. We want to show that Judaism and environment are really connected to each other as a form of education.”
This might mean implementing some green techniques that are more showy than practical, such as a dance floor that activates the air conditioning as people dance. Water will not only be drawn from rain collectors and recycled but will also be visibly channeled throughout the building so that people, especially children, can see the process.
In keeping with his spiritual approach to environmentalism, Pear sees an underlying ethical value to recycling. “That everything can be reused and redeemed is reflective of our value of people,” he explains. “We’re not looking for one type of person to come to this shul; we’re looking for the contribution that each individual person can make.”
Photovoltaic cells will be installed in the windows to provide solar-powered electricity.
The landscaping of the surrounding garden will be designed with an environmental sensibility by placing trees where they will provide shade for the building in the summer so that less air conditioning is needed. And, of course, the garden itself will be sustained with recycled water.
Pear is honest about the challenge of promoting environment as a value in the Orthodox Jewish community, though he also maintains that his own community has been supportive. Obstacles in the Orthodox Jewish community include the association of environmental causes with left-wing politics and the symbiotic relationship between meat and Orthodox Jewish celebrations.
“Meat taxes the environment more than most things, and the value within Orthodoxy is that simha means meat,” explains Pear. “That is going to become a tension.”
But Pear is optimistic, seeing an inherent harmony between environment and Judaism that simply needs to be brought to the fore through educational initiatives.
He concludes, “We believe in Israel’s role of being a light unto the nations. We just want to make sure that it’s a sustainable light unto the nations.”
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