Greening Our Communities

Collecting tons of electronic waste, creating environmental fairs, and initiating energy audits, all under the guidance of Jewish values and teachings, are just part of a day’s work for Jewish Greening Fellows.

Children enjoying Green Day at Central Queens Y day camp. Children enjoying Green Day at Central Queens Y day camp. Photo courtesy of Central Queens Y.

Supported by UJA-Federation and a project of Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, the fellowship program provides each fellow with 18 months of critical training and ongoing mentoring. Nineteen Greening Fellows started in 2009 and another 19 fellows started training in 2011. Greening fellows act as catalysts for change throughout our network of beneficiary agencies, in their communities, and at several synagogues and day schools.

At Central Queens YM & YWHA, Peggy Kurtz, librarian and Greening Fellow, organized with other community groups an environmental fair for 650 people this past spring. The fair helped raise environmental awareness with displays by green vendors and eco-crafts for children.

Through Kurtz’s efforts, Central Queens Y, a beneficiary agency, also sponsored a day to collect hard-to-recycle items. Three tons of electronic waste, including TV sets and fax machines, were collected and then recycled responsibly through an organization dedicated to that cause. Kurtz also received a $45,000 grant from federal stimulus funding through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to upgrade the Central Queens Y lighting system.

A highlight of her work this summer was a workshop Kurtz organized, How to Green Your House of Worship, and the response of a local synagogue.

"Nothing I’ve done as a fellow has given me more satisfaction than when the synagogue next door let me know they did an energy audit as a result of our workshop," she said.

Connecting through Community Service

Fellows focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact in an agency’s building; educating people about environmental issues; and working with other groups in the community.

"Jewish teachings and values underpin the passion Greening Fellows bring to their work," notes Rachel Jacoby Rosenfeld, director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship at Isabella Freedman, also a beneficiary agency. "Collectively, fellows in the first cohort in 2009 have seeded nearly 100 new environmental programs and raised $1.3 million in funding toward energy audits, energy efficiency upgrades, and renewable energy."

Kurtz also found an added benefit.

"One of the fun and rewarding parts of community service is reconnecting with people in the neighborhood in a new way," she says, "and connecting with people who share your passion for environmental issues."