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White House lauds Rabbi Soloway for green activism

Rabbi Marc Soloway

By Lisa Marcum

THE WHITE House honored 12 people of faith, each one as a “Champion of Change,” for their achievements in protecting the environment and communities from the hazards of climate change, on Monday, July 20.

One of these “Champions of Change” is Rabbi Marc Soloway of Boulder’s Congregation Bonai Shalom.

Thanks to Rabbi Soloway, Bonai Shalom was the first zero waste synagogue in the country. The congregation’s Ner Tamid is powered through a solar panel, showing sustainability through spirituality.

Rabbi Soloway’s synagogue also supports local food initiatives with a goal to produce a majority of the food its serves.

“I have a vision that by 2018, 50% of the food that we serve in this building we will be producing ourselves,” said Rabbi Soloway.

While climate change and helping the environment is a hot topic today, Rabbi Soloway’s interest goes all the way back to when he was in rabbinical school. In his final year, Soloway was required to write a paper that poses a question and has a legally derived answer.

At the time, the only way to take food out of the dining room at the American Jewish University, where Rabbi Soloway attended rabbinical school, was with Styrofoam cups and plates.

“It was during Sukkot, and people wanted to go get food from the dining hall and then eat it in the sukkah downstairs and to me, there are many green aspects to Sukkot. I thought, ‘this is crazy, why are we doing this?’”

He  chose to write about the damaging effects of Styrofoam on the environment.

“I think it’s huge,” said Rabbi Soloway when connecting his environmental activism to Judaism. The paper he wrote was not the only time his Judaism played an important role with his views on the environment. “It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how they were the guardians of Creation.”

While a lot of Rabbi Soloway’s inspiration has come from mentors in the rabbinic world, more recently he has been thinking a lot about the Pope and his recent encyclical.

“What the Pope pointed out so beautifully is that you can’t separate climate change from global poverty because it is the homeless who are most affected by climate change.”

Even though many people are not in favor of the Pope’s recent thoughts on climate change, Rabbi Soloway finds them a great inspiration.

IT WAS in 2007 when Rabbi Soloway decided to make his synagogue more environmentally friendly.

“A big changing point for me, was July 4 in 2007, the summer when Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out,” said Rabbi Soloway.

“The film really shocked me, moved me and inspired me.”

It was the following Rosh Hashanah when he gave a sermon at Bonai Shalom about the importance of protecting the environment.

The congregation was nearly fully supportive of Rabbi Soloway and his green initiation for their synagogue. From then on anyone planning an event, such as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, could chose to make it a zero-waste event. Almost every family chose to do so.

For Rabbi Soloway, Judaism provides with the sense that it is his responsibility to enact not only environmental justice, but social justice.

He and his congregation deeply care about the environment, but that is not their only priority.

“It doesn’t mean we neglect our concerns about Israel, it doesn’t mean we neglect the Black Lives Matter Movement, or local homelessness. There are so many other things.”

This award has given Rabbi Soloway and Bonai Shalom the motivation to continue their activism; there is more that needs to be done.

“There is nothing to feel complacent about. The last thing I have felt coming back from the White House is complacent,” said Soloway.

“I feel that this is a charge to us, this is where it really begins, because there is a lot more we could be doing. Now, let’s live up to what we are claiming to be.”

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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