Growing up I was constantly reminded of the importance of protecting the environment in which we live. As an elementary school student my friends knew about this and sometimes even mocked me and my family for this zealousness. Now I think they feel like fools for making fun of us.
I am the youngest of three children. My older siblings were constantly talking about important issues at the dinner table, and as their younger sibling I wanted to impress them. Consequently, when an issue was important to them, the issue became important to me as well. Not only did I want to show them that the issues were importantto me, but I wanted to show my older siblings that I could even teach them something about the environment.
When I was in fourth grade I became a vegetarian. I told my peers exactly what I had heard at home. I explained that the amount of animal consumption nowadays is beyond a rate which is natural. Consequently, animals are bred specifically to ensure that people will be able to eat as much meat and dairy products as they wish. I explained that the status quo presents a serious problem to the environment and that it is not sustainable. As a fourth grader I did not really understand what I was talking about, however, and I matured I began to understand and believe what I was preaching.
Additionally, my siblings taught me about the importance of recycling. Recycling in the conventional way was taken for granted in my home. In other words, every piece of plastic and paper went into the special orange recycling bins provided by our city. However, in my home that was not enough. My sister invested her babysitting money in buying a new printer that could print double sided. After paper was used on both sides, we would put it in a special bin in our kitchen to jot down notes around the margins. Likewise, I was in charge of cutting up old cereal boxes so that we could use the cardboard as a notepad. In addition to these few things, there are a myriad of other examples of ways in which my family was careful to protect the environment. While all of these efforts were important, none of them are particularly striking. However, when I was in seventh grade my family became known for our compost heap.
When my brother was a senior in high school he learned about the compost heap in his earth science class. He came home convinced that our family needed to make a compost heap in our back yard. He explained to my parents that all we needed to do was dig a hole in the backyard, add some fertilizer and then it would be ready (the truth is that the process is slightly more complicated, but not much more than that). Then, instead of bringing your food scraps (besides meat and fish) to the dumpster and creating more problems with excessive waste, you just dump the biodegradable waste in the compost.
My mother was still not so keen on the idea. She was afraid that the compost would smell and that it would attract animals. My brother was absolutely adamant. He told her that he had learned that the compost heap does not smell, and that it actually helps fertilize the surrounding soil. Additionally, he proposed that composting was a Jewish value because instead of wasting food scraps we would be using them to help nurture the soil. After a long discussion my mother agreed that if my brother (and I) built the compost she would be willing to keep a separate bin in the home for all food scraps. My brother was elated.
Ten years later, my family still has a compost in our backyard. My brother was right, it does not smell and has actually done wonders for my parent’s garden. Not only is our compost thriving, but my brother has helped thirty-five families from our local synagogue start composting in their backyard.
Learning about the environment was fun growing up. We were always trying new things and it felt like an adventure. However, most importantly, I have learned that taking care of the earth is not so challenging and is very rewarding. I am forever thankful to my siblings for deeply instilling into my heart this Torah value — of taking care of our planet. I hope I am doing a good job at raising my children’s awareness as well.
Revital Belz is from Elad, Israel and studied public relations at Bar Ilan University, while working as copywriter for aJudaica.com. As a mother of five boys, she also enjoys creating stylish items for men, including personalized Kippahs and T-shirts