Connecting the Dots



By Risa Barisch and Jason Paddock

It was downright arctic on a recent Shabbat morning as Alex Cicelsky spoke to dozens of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple members in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Snow had begun to fall outside, adding inches more to cold, icy peaks already on the ground, but Alex had transported us to a land of lush vegetation, hot sun, date trees, and aquifers.

Alex helped to create Kibbutz Lotan in the early 1980s in the Arava Desert in southern Israel. Each year, thousands of people visit the kibbutz to explore creative ecology and study environmental science and radical building techniques that are revolutionizing green architecture and construction.

Dynamic and engaging, Alex spent the morning speaking about the people who live and study at Kibbutz Lotan, and how the environmentally conscious methods they’re showcasing are working to change the world. Ambitious, yes, but he also offered a lot of good common sense. You just have to connect the dots.

Is the idea that we should be building our homes using straw and bale construction, as they teach at Kibbutz Lotan? Not exactly. Should we convert all of our plumbing to compost toilets? Not the point. Rather, Alex’s notion of connecting the dots can easily be done though the idea of Jewish mindfulness.

How can we connect the dots of what’s happening in the Arava Desert to our lives in the heart of New Jersey?

Act with intent. How we live is a direct statement of our beliefs. Everything we do, what we eat and all that we consume, expresses to the world who we are. We can be mindful of our relationship with the earth, and proclaim our Jewish values through every interaction with it.

Anshe Emeth has been certified a Green Faith synagogue: through a multiyear process and a lot of hard work, the building that is the center of communal Jewish life in New Brunswick has been greened through the integration of environmental themes into our worship, religious education, and building maintenance. The certification required an examination of and changes in our interaction with our environment.

We’re very proud of our efforts, but Alex helped us to realize that more can always be done, and that teachable moments in conservation abound. His suggestions for our synagogue—including an “electric mezuzah” (doorpost meters showing how much energy is being consumed and conserved at any given moment) and placing photographs near the windows in our religious school overlooking our garden to show our children what the plants look like in each of the seasons—are simple but powerful ways to connect the dots. By making our green initiatives part of our image, people will see that it’s important to our community.

“You learn what really sticks to your soul,” Alex said of the inspiring work carried out at Kibbutz Lotan. If we can pinpoint what sticks to our Jewish souls through mindful acts, we can continue to improve our environment and ourselves—and our future.

Risa Barisch Paddock and Jason Paddock are members of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ. Risa is an editorial and media specialist for the Mason Gross School of the Arts and Jason is the marketing and PR coordinator for the State Theatre, both in New Brunswick.

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ARZA Guest Blogger

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Posts by ARZA Staff and leaders in the Reform Movement in the US and Israel.

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