Tu Bishevat. Doing Something About It.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I write about the earth, think about the earth, care about the earth. I wrote my rabbinical thesis partly on Judaism and the environment, and I helped found en environmental advocacy committee in my synagogue. I believe that rethinking our relationship to the earth is THE great challenge and THE most important task of our generation.

So I was sorely disappointed in myself recently when I realized that I’m not actually doing much for the environment. Sure, my favorite pastime is walking around the house turning off lights that the kids have left on, but that’s mostly a money-saving activity. I drive a gas car (albeit a pretty small one); I use the A/C and heat a little more than I probably should; I don’t compost; I’m usually too lazy to unplug appliances at night; and I am a terrible gardener.

I don’t want to be an environmentalist only in name. So this summer, we are doing something about it. We are joining a CSA – a Community Supported Agriculture program. It’s a small step, but it’s something. I am proud to say that Temple Beth El will be sponsoring this program for the first time this year, and that it will allow local Charlotteans to eat local Charlottean produce for 16 weeks of the summer. The pickup is at Shalom Park, so it’s convenient. (Charlotteans, let me know if you’re interested and I’ll get you details. It’s filling up quickly!)

I’m excited about this for two reasons. First, because it’s a tangible effort to do something green. Second, because it will – I hope – increase the variety of produce that our family eats, and force us to be creative with our cooking in a way that is in concert with the earth’s natural cycles. I like the idea of eating local, seasonal vegetables – not only because of the carbon footprint issue, but because I like the idea of being a little more aware of where my food comes from, and of my relationship to the earth.

This Shabbat is Tu Bishevat, the Jewish “New Year of the Trees.” Although it is often celebrated as a Kabbalistic festival, it is also a powerful reminder that Judaism is – at its core- an agricultural way of life. Our ancestors were farmers, and all of our holidays are agricultural in their origins. (Before Pesach celebrated the Exodus from Egypt, it was the beginning of the Spring harvest season.) In our ancient agrarian society, Tu Bishevat was the day in which you began to count the new year for purposes of tithing of fruits; that’s why the trees need a New Year.

Nowadays most of us don’t grow anything, and we don’t really even know where our food comes from. That’s a tragedy. I’m as guilty as the next guy, and this CSA isn’t really going to change that very much. But maybe it will push me in the right direction.

Now I just have to get myself to turn off those darned appliances …

What are you doing for the earth?

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[This post was featured as a guest blog by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, as part of its Green Table. Just Table Initiative. Thanks for noticing! -MS]

7 thoughts on “Tu Bishevat. Doing Something About It.

  1. I applaud this post for it’s spirit! Most of us, I am sure, are like the author(mstreiffer). We do what we can and think we could do more.
    And this is good! This is wonderful!
    Help me out here, but, isn’t proper management of natural resources and respecting what God has provided us with(creatures, tress, the atmosphere) our obligation?
    It can be hard to change perspectives. And this is really all that need be done to involve more people in caring for our world. So what are some things that prevent people from going “greener” or what have you?
    I currently use a club car to get around. It reduces the amount of unnecessary driving I do. This solution is not available everywhere. What are some common problems that prevent people from being more environmentally responsible?

  2. That’s great that you’re joining a CSA. We’re planning on doing the same, just trying to pick which one. Buying local is key to so many issues. First, it drastically reduces the carbon footprint. And yes, we can now know where our food comes from. And from that, most importantly, we’re contributing to our local community. Employing people and interacting. Strengthening our local ties as we become Global. One way to make us more recession proof and create a more robust community is to consume locally, from people we can interact with.

    Yasher Koach.

  3. i planted two trees today and i recycle lots

    plus i try to hug at least one tree a week 😉 spread the love to mother earth

  4. Micah, first off, congrats for having this post published in the RAC’s (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) RSS feed. I was so excited to see my favorite rabbi’s thoughts blasted out to socially-conscious Jews all across the country.

    Second, as Ben mentioned above, we too are planning on joining a CSA this summer. We’ve made a real effort over the last few months to eat as locally as we can in order to curb carbon emissions, support our local economy, and be more aware of where our nourishment comes from. Unfortunately we have been unable to go all-local because we’re unable to find enough local produce in our grocery stores to sustain us throughout the winter. We were starting to eat less and less fruit and vegetable to maintain our efforts to eat locally, until the point we were concerned about our diets. Plus, you can only eat so much squash, potatoes, cabbage, and apples until you can’t take it anymore. Now, we’re trying to eat as local as we can–local milk and cheese and produce from as close as we can get (no California and certainly no imports from other countries. We also eat meat very, very infrequently because of the huge negative impact raising livestock has on the environment.

    Another problem we face is that most, if not all, of our non-produce groceries are processed foods that are shipped in from all over the country – cereal, granola bars, pastas, olive oil, etc. It’s almost impossible to find these kinds of foods produced locally. We do try to reduce our non-local processed foods (eat less chips/pretzels/crackers, make our own granola, eat bulk oameal instead of cereal, etc), but we still need to purchase these kinds of foods for our diets.

    mikesereca, maybe that helps point out some of the reasons why people have trouble “going green.” That’s not to say that we shouldn’t all be making an effort, but with the way our society and economy have developed, it’s sometimes difficult or impossible to change your lifestyle. But, kudos to everyone for being aware of the environment, thinking about our earth from a Jewish perspective, and making as much effort to respect the planet as we can.

  5. Ellie Streiffer ‘maybe that helps point out some of the reasons why people have trouble “going green.”’
    Thank you for that. I hope I haven’t come across as being more successful in my own endeavors. This was the kind of response I was looking for. I live in between Philly and NYC. I usually take mass transit to work. Having lived in the mountains of Colorado, I know that mass transit and car-pooling are not options for everyone. Also, what if you are a contractor, a builder? When I work in Manhattan we do a big load in at the beginning of a renovation and a big load out at the end to reduce vehicle usage. In addition, most of the guys take the subway to/from work everyday. I try to ride my bike once I’m in town(weather permitting). I’ll be looking into buying local produce, so thanks for that as well! What are other sticking points that we have?

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