How I found my way to connect more deeply with Temple Sholom through Eco Chavurah

Temple Sholom always held a special place in my heart from the first days our family joined and my son Cole Spanierman (now 15) went to Gan Shalom. But it took another decade and an “aha” moment for me to get involved in a more meaningful way.

My son was volunteering regularly at the Monday Meal as his social action project in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah in the fall of 2011. As part of that effort, I joined him one Sunday a few weeks before his big day where we and other Temple members harvested leftover vegetables from community gardens on the South Side to use as ingredients for the next day’s Monday Meal.

That Monday, Cole and I delivered the fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, giant kale, zucchinis and more to Temple Sholom for the minestrone soup and salad that would be part of that evening’s Monday Meal. I stayed to help cook. I remember opening a large can of tomato sauce for another course and looked around for a recycling bin. One of the regulars told me, “Just  toss it in the trash.” A staffer will pick out the recyclables later and place them in a separate bin, he promised. My first thought was, “Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen!” My second thought was, “We need to fix this!”

As a family, we decided to make our donation to the Temple for Cole’s Bar Mitzvah as something to help the Monday Meal become a little friendlier to the planet. We heard better recycling was in the works, so we thought of purchasing re-usable dishes to serve the dinner instead of using hundreds of styrofoam plates each week for the multiple courses served. Styrofoam is one of the worst things you can send to a landfill because it takes about 100 years for it to break down.

Rabbi Shoshanah Conover appreciated our gesture, but suggested we wait. She said there was a bubbling up of interest to transform our Temple, its programs and hopefully our members into becoming better stewards of the environment in accordance with Jewish values. There was talk of forming a new green committee. I told her I was eager to be part of that core group.

Fast forward a year later. In the fall of 2012 I was among a small group gathered around the kitchen table at Karen Lewis’ house. That was one of the first meetings of the newly-formed green committee — Eco Chavura. In the last few months, the group has grown and we’ve launched some major eco-minded improvements.

Some of our eventual goals for the Monday Meal include: having a full-blown recycling program in the kitchen and dining areas; serving food on re-usable plates; composting all food scraps and compostable items; and sourcing more food from local growers.

I finally found my path to be more deeply connected to Temple Sholom in a way that reflects some of my own core values of what it means to be a Jew and a good citizen of our planet. Maybe this could be your way to get more engaged as well.

Please join us at one of our next meetings or send us your ideas of how you’d like to see your Temple leave a softer footprint on the Earth.

Judith Nemes is a Temple member and freelance journalist who specializes in writing about green issues and urban/corporate sustainability. Her work has appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune, Edible Chicago, USA Today’s Green Living Magazine, and GreenBiz.com (http://www.judithnemes.com/). She also teaches a class in Environmental Reporting at Columbia College Chicago. Her family just moved to a smaller, energy-efficient living space to shrink their carbon footprint.