Congregation Shalom seeks a better Earth | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Congregation Shalom seeks a better Earth

At Congregation Shalom, efforts to reduce our carbon footprint are happening at a local level. Aiming to reduce plastic consumption and encourage composting, members of the congregation say they are embracing tikkun olam through conservation efforts. 

As an active member of the Fox Point synagogue, David Wolfson has been instrumental in forming Shalom Dayenu Circle, a chapter of the national Dayenu organization. With a double meaning name — “we have had enough,” and “we also have enough” — Dayenu is a Jewish movement that confronts climate change “with spiritual audacity and bold political action,” according to the national website. 

Formed in 2021, the Shalom Dayenu Circle focuses mainly on educating about the harms of single-use plastic consumption and encouraging fellow congregants to compost in their households. Wolfson said the group of around a dozen dedicated members aims to lead by example. 

“We take these small actions that cumulatively begin to mount up,” said Wolfson. “So that’s how I think we’ve been the most effective, just educating people and helping them take steps towards living a little more gently.” 

Dayenu has hosted speakers at Shalom, including Meenal Atre, the co-founder of Plastic-Free MKE, at the May 19 tikkun olam Shabbat. Plastic-Free MKE is an organization with a mission to “reduce the harms that unnecessary plastics have on environmental health, public health, and social justice,” according to the group’s website. Starting April 2022, Wolfson said the congregation halted the usage of polystyrene plastic due to a Dayenu proposal. “We don’t have to be perfect about this,” Wolfson said. “You don’t need a few perfect households, but you need millions of households to imperfectly participate and do what we can do.” 

Others are looking into ways to make day-to-day practices at Shalom more eco-friendly. Jennifer Gilbert said a sermon from Rabbi Noah Chertkoff during Rosh Hashanah last year inspired her to start a composting campaign at the congregation.  

“[Rabbi Chertkoff] reminded us that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. And it calls us to remember that this is our Jewish Earth Day,” Gilbert said. “He focused on the creation story in Genesis and the fact that we’ve been given this beautiful garden, our home planet Earth, but we’ve been very poor gardeners, and are falling short on our responsibilities to take care of the Earth.” 

That is why last year, Gilbert connected Compost Crusader, a service that provides compostable bags and receptacles to deposit food scraps, with Congregation Shalom. This is an effort not only to reduce food waste at Shalom, but also to expose members to the practice so they are inspired to compost at home. 

Looking towards the next year, Shalom plans to host another Shabbat featuring an expert speaker on environmental issues and incorporating artwork made from recycled materials from children at the Religious and Hebrew School to raise awareness about environmental considerations. 

Nina Edelman, a member of Dayenu who is helping to organize the Shabbat, believes Jewish values lend themselves well to climate justice, especially the concept of tikkun olam. “If we don’t take care of the butterflies and the bees, we’re not going to have a world fit for people,” she said. 

“Shalom means peace and wholeness and harmony in our creation, not just between people, but between what we’ve been given from God,” Gilbert said. “That’s our world, the planet Earth that we live on.” 

The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle focused on climate change for the season of the world’s birthday, Rosh Hashanah. This article is part of that series for 2023/5784.