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Making Jewish Baltimore Sustainable

(reprinted from the Baltimore Jewish Times Insider, March 9, 2012)

Green fairs. Composting. Community gardens. Choice parking spots for hybrid cars. It feels like the homepage of globalissues.org. It is the newest reality in Jewish Baltimore. THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is spearheading the effort.

It started almost a decade ago, when a group of top ASSOCIATED lay leaders and professionals got together to see how they could reduce our environmental impact and make more efficient and sustainable the internal operations of THE ASSOCIATED itself, explains Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, head of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network (BJEN), who was one of the earliest greening pioneers in the Baltimore Jewish community. Those first steps focused on upgrading lighting in THE ASSOCIATED’s downtown Krieger Building to more energy-efficient products, establishing a recycling program, purchasing Energy Smart-compliant computers that use up to 40 percent less energy than other systems and cutting down on paper use. Those first steps won THE ASSOCIATED The Green Nonprofit of the Year award by The Baltimore Business Journal in 2008.

Today, says Cardin, "the program has blossomed to make sustainability a part of the mission and culture of THE ASSOCIATED."

No longer is the question, "should we?" but "how can we" reduce our carbon footprint. Today, nearly every ASSOCIATED and agency building – from the Jewish Community Centers to the Jewish Museum of Maryland – offers single-stream recycling. Last year, THE ASSOCIATED celebrated the establishment of its first LEED-certified building with the opening of the new Comprehensive Housing and Assistance, Inc. (CHAI) building on Park Heights Avenue. The addition to the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center last summer was completed using sustainable design and construction practices. All buildings have gone through lighting upgrades and waste reduction programs are in place.

Earlier this year, THE ASSOCIATED officially launched a Sustainability Committee and hired a full-time professional, Aleeza Oshry (geologist by degree and former coordinator of the Going Green Campaign), to oversee the initiative under the auspices of THE ASSOCIATED’s Community Planning and Allocations Department.

"This movement has been years in the making," says Lee M. Hendler, a trustee of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Fund that gave one of the first grants to support Jewish Baltimore’s sustainability effort. "Movements, however, take years to develop momentum. … The Meyerhoff family has been invested in this issue and believed that seeding – every pun intended – a grant to jumpstart the process would perhaps enable the agenda to have a more prominent place." Hendler says she is excited to see the community embracing this priority.

Oshry’s new role, explains Cardin, is the necessary next step to making Jewish Baltimore a greener place. She says living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle and creating a sustainable operating style in business is not intuitive and it is not easy to educate one’s self, find the most suitable resources and make changes in the most efficient manner.

"Even if one has the desire, it takes time. With everything else that the members of our Jewish communal staff and lay leaders have to do, they don’t have time to learn this brand new discipline and field. This is where Aleeza comes in," says Cardin.

Oshry is focusing on creating more awareness of the benefits of sustainability and on building more resources around sustainability for our community. This includes working in conjunction with pre-existing ASSOCIATED programs – like Kayam Farm – and likewise pulling together key leaders and community stakeholders to respond to sustainability topics and move them forward. For example, under her guidance and that of Sustainability Committee chairs Cardin and Benjamin Greenwald, local synagogues and agencies are crafting their own sustainability goals and THE ASSOCIATED is assisting in their implementation. Through the committee, work groups have been established to focus on education, waste management and funding. There are plans for a sustainability web platform in the fall, which will enable individuals, non-profits and businesses to track their sustainability progress.

"We passionately believe that Baltimore can serve as a model for the Federation system and other Jewish communities," says Cardin.

Everyone can get involved. Everyone plays a role in the sustainability of our community. Oshry keeps a webpage, www.associated.org/sustainability, with a listing of select upcoming green-focused events in Jewish Baltimore. The page also houses "quick links," to help interested parties connect with local and relevant resources to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

"It is literally stated in the beginning of our Narrative – in the creation story in Genesis 2:15: "‘And G-d placed the human in the Garden of Eden to work it and protect it,’" says Hendler. Today, according to Rafi Rone, Director of Jewish and Israel Initiatives for the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds and a member of THE ASSOCIATED’s new Sustainability Committee, that ancient precept has become a Baltimore reality – a permanent part of our community’s focus.

Says Rachel Siegal, Assistant Director of the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center: "Due to the strength, wisdom and planning power of THE ASSOCIATED, Baltimore is uniquely positioned … to move an entire community forward on the sustainability agenda."

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