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Rabbi Marc Soloway and the greening of Bonai Shalom

Rabbi Marc SolowayFOR the past eight years, Rabbi Marc Soloway has called Boulder home. “There’s so much about the Bonai Shalom community and the Jewish community in Boulder, it’s inspiring.” And in turn, Rabbi Soloway has helped inspire others around the globe.

For the last several years, Bonai Shalom — and Rabbi Marc — have secured a national reputation as a green synagogue.

“We’re the first synagogue that has become zero waste,” says Soloway. “We evolved into the community that has taken environmental issues pretty seriously.”

So seriously, that Rabbi Soloway has been selected to serve on the board of Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental group.

It all started four years ago, when Soloway and members of Bonai learned about CSAs, “community supported agriculture,” as a way to help local farms avoid going into massive debt at the beginning of each year during planting season, and then reap the benefits of the harvest in later months.

Soloway helped create the first Jewish CSA in Boulder, involving three or four Jewish organizations. He now serves on the board of Hazon, coordinating rabbis across the country and helping them find ways to engage their communities as stewards of the earth.

“In the famous midrash Kohelet Rabbah, the story takes Adam and Eve out of Eden and shows them every animal, every piece of grass and says, ‘Pay attention to all I’ve created and take care of it because if you don’t, no one else will,’” he says.

“And later in the Torah, there’s an injunction against cutting down fruit bearing trees when at war. But it became, in the rabbinic mind, more than cutting down trees. It’s about needless waste and a sense of bal taschit, a principle of protecting the environment, protecting resources.”

NOT only is Rabbi Soloway a steward of the earth, he’s a steward of history. A couple years ago, he was asked to narrate an upcoming documentary film about the life and legacy of the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer), the founder the chasidic movement, who died in 1760.

The project fits nicely into Rabbi Soloway’s prior life as an actor.

“It’s been a creative fusion of the past and my love of chasidic storytelling as well as the place that Chasidism holds for me,” he says. Bringing his creativity into this film project, he says, “has been a really significant piece of my rabbinic life.”

Soloway says he was selected to narrate the project because of his background as a rabbi and a former actor whose work emphasized chasidic storytelling. But he’s not just narrator, he helped shape the content of the film.

“We went all around the world interviewing rabbis and scholars of all denominations asking who was the Baal Shem Tov and getting different people’s takes of who he was.”

Rabbi Soloway is not in the film per se, but the interviews were interspersed with segments of his trip to the Ukraine to retrace the steps of the Baal Shem Tov.

“So the film is about, on one level, my journey as a modern rabbi tracing the steps of the Baal Shem Tov and his effect on me personally, and on another level how he is viewed by the other rabbis in the film.”

The film debuts Thursday, July 26, 7 p.m. in the Boulder Public Library Canyon Theater, 1000 Canyon Blvd. in Boulder.

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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