Local Congregation Embraces Green Philosophy

Shmita_Banner[1]— by Gari J. Weilbacher

Since biblical times, the Jewish people have taken every seventh year in the land of Israel as a Shmita, “sabbatical,” for the land and for forgiving debts.

At Mishkan Shalom of Philadelphia, Rabbi Shawn Zevit, with the partnership of Rabbi Yael Levy, staff, President David Piver and the many lay leaders and teachers, will lead the congregation through a year where each aspect of congregational life will embrace the Shmita philosopy.

“Our strategic plan has been aligned with Shmita in all facets of life, including adult education, religious school, spiritual practice, social action and sustainability,” Zevit said.

If we can eat more locally grown food; get our students to recycle more; have our religious school families carpool more; use recyclable products for our meals and onegs, “joys,” then as a congregation and as a Jewish community we will be able to reduce our footprint on the earth.

In addition to adopting Shmita principles and practices for the year 5775, the congregation is joining the Jewish Environmental Network to explore ways to embrace the fundamentals of Shmita in everyday life and living, not just during a Shmita year, but for the foreseeable future.

247954_365651916850399_757209207_nMore information about Mishkan Shalom’s Shmita initiatives, and a complete schedule of services for adults, teens and children, can be found at the congregation’s website.

To learn more about Shmita, read Hazon’s Shmita Sourcebook, written and compiled by former Shmita Project Manager Yigal Deutscher, with the support of Anna Hanau and Nigel Savage.

The Shmita Sourcebook is designed to encourage participants to think critically about the Shmita Cycle – its values, challenges, and opportunities – and how this tradition might be applied in a modern context to support building healthier and more sustainable Jewish communities today. The Shmita Sourcebook is a 120-page sourcebook that draws on a range of texts from within Jewish tradition and time, tracing the development and evolution of Shmita from biblical, historical, rabbinic, and contemporary perspectives.

The Shmita Sourcebook is designed to be accessible to people with little Jewish background, as well as rigorous and challenging for someone with more extensive Jewish learning. Our intention for the sourcebook is to offer an educational background so we can collectively be exploring the possibilities of Shmita together. We do hope this will serve in establishing a shared, common ground. From this place, we can continue the work, expanding upon our own curiosities and understanding of Shmita, and creatively apply the values of this tradition to our own lives in all the diverse ways that are possible. We hope you enjoy the sourcebook, and it finds good use in your hands, and in your community.

Congregation Beth Israel Joins GreenFaith Environmental Program


Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, N.J., another participant of the program, working with young members of the congregation to plant seeds in the community garden.

Congregation Beth Israel, a Reconstructionist Jewish community based in Media, Pennsylvania, has announced its participation in the GreenFaith interfaith program for environmental leadership. Beth Israel is the first Reconstructionist congregation to join the GreenFaith certification program, joining more than 65 other houses of worship.

The GreenFaith program follows a two-year certification process that includes programs for spiritual practices, physical stewardship, and environmental justice. Beth Israel has already completed several audits of its energy usage, waste handling, and grounds maintenance.  

The synagogue recently completed an overhaul of its heating systems which included conversion of the heating plant from oil to gas, replacement of old inefficient equipment and upgrade of the building’s controls and zoning capabilities. The results:

  • a better heat delivery;
  • a projected 30% reduction in fuel usage and related emissions; and
  • an expected reduction of more than three-quarters in heating costs.

All of this will save more than $10,000 per year.

More after the jump.
Other efforts have included installation of more efficient lighting systems, more extensive recycling, and educational programs for religious school students and the general congregation.

Future activities within the certification process will include:

  • spiritual and educational programs within the Beth Israel community and with other communities;
  • further improvements in sustainability and environmental impact of Beth Israel facilities and its members’ homes; and
  • programs to address the environmental burdens on disadvantaged communities.  

Beth Israel’s teen community has already begun Walking the Walk, a nine-month interfaith dialogue and service project that involves teens from local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian congregations and will include urban gardening with Urban Tree Connections.

“As Jews we know that we are both a part of the whole and responsible for the whole. We are global citizens with a Jewish mandate right here, right now, to protect the earth,” Beth Israel Rabbi Linda Potemken said. “The GreenFaith process offers Beth Israel a creative, practical and spiritual approach to fulfilling our responsibilities in a concrete, structured fashion.”

“I’m delighted that the Beth Israel community has chosen to undertake the rigorous GreenFaith certification process,” Beth Israel President Jennifer Lenway said.  

Beth Israel has always been an engaged, diverse community whose values include building a better world as well creating a community for our members, practicing the traditions of our heritage, and providing education for our children and adult members. The spiritual, stewardship, and justice components of GreenFaith will support all these missions.

Jewish Groups Praise New Environmental Protection Agency Rules


The new rule sets separate standards for emissions from coal plants and natural gas plants. Coal plant in Rochester, Minn.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) applauded yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency’s release on Friday, of a revised standard limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are the leading cause of climate change, which is one of the great moral challenges of our time,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This proposal takes an important step towards addressing the effects that our electricity generation can have on the Earth and human health.”

COEJL and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism collected hundreds of signatures from the Jewish community in favor of the original rule proposed last year. The new rule responds to concerns raised in public comments to the prior proposal, by setting separate standards for emissions from coal plants and natural gas plants, and providing flexibility for industry while achieving similar outcomes.  

More after the jump.
“We hope that these revised regulations will be made final after the comment period and implemented without delay,” said Gutow.

“These rules were released during the holiday of Sukkot,” noted Sybil Sanchez, director of COEJL.

Ecclesiastes Rabbah (1:4) reminds us that
One generation goes, another comes, but the Earth remains the same forever.

Eating and sleeping outdoors in our sukkot makes us appreciate some of the many gifts we receive from the Earth — clean, breathable air, and fertile land in a stable climate. But we are confronted by the fact that the Earth is changing before us, and these resources will not be here for future generations unless we act now. Adopting these rules is an important part of that action.

The release of the proposed standards is a key point in the implementation of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced last June.

“We look forward to the release of standards for existing power plants, as well,” concluded Sanchez.

Off Green: Papering Over Our Environmental Problems

How has the surface temperature of Earth been changing?
This video dramatizes 130 years of planet-wide temperature changes relative to the local average temperatures. Red means warmer and blue means colder. Global climate change is of more than passing interest — it is linked to global weather severity and coastal sea water levels. (Astronomy Picture of the Day.)


DILBERT ©2013 Scott Adams. Used by permission of Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

This is the second installment of a series of articles giving examples of “green” initiatives that do little other than distract, along with ideas about what we should be doing instead.

Trees are the lungs of our planet. Carbon dioxide levels rise and fall in an annual cycle, as plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. As forested land is depleted, our planet loses its natural ability to mitigate the damage that we are doing to the atmosphere.

Accordingly, we should avoid cutting down trees whenever possible, but it should be done in a way that makes sense.

Our School Will No Longer Be Printing Out Forms To Send Home

Each summer I have to fill out numerous forms with the same information for my children’s camps, schools and afterschool programs, the PTO, etc. However, one of the schools has announced that it was “going green,” and would no longer be printing out the required forms. Instead, parents would have to go online to find them.

I was delighted to hear this, and imagined that I would go online and see an online form which would be pre-populated with my data from last year which I could review, correct and then approve by clicking on a button. However, that is not exactly what the school had in mind. The forms were not to be submitted online, but instead needed to be printed out by the parents, completed by hand and mailed in.

Somehow, parents print out their own forms does not strike me as any “greener” than the old system, where the school would print it out for us. The only difference is who pays for the copies.

The story of “Offgreen” banking, and ideas on how to do better follow the jump.
Banks guilting us into forgoing receipts

Similarly, some banks are trying to use a cloak of “greenness” to save themselves some money. As the ATM screenshot to the left shows, the bank is trying to guilt us into forgoing a 2-inch by 2-inch receipt.

It’s easy being GREEN.
You can save paper to save trees and save the Earth.
You can reduce 0.49g carbon footprint at this time.

If I breathed even once during the time I read this message, I have exhaled 0.98g of carbon! Twice the potential savings for not having any record of my deposit.

The electricity used by a 60 Watt light bulb gives rise to the production of 10 grams of carbon every second. That is the equivalent of 20 ATM receipts every second.

My car discharges almost 20 pounds of carbon for every gallon of gasoline it burns. Each gallon of gasoline is the equivalent of over 18,000 ATM receipts. Instead of debating whether or not I should be printing a receipt, I should have debated whether or not to drive to the ATM in the first place!

A round-trip ticket from Sydney to Australia for one person involves the emission of 2776 kilograms of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of more than five million ATM receipts!

We need to focus our environmental efforts where they will be the most effective. When school and banks make these gestures in the name of “greenness” the results are either counter-productive or negligible.

How can we keep our eye on the ball?

What should we do instead?

  • Put clean used paper in a recycling bin instead of the trash.
  • Reuse the back side of paper from the recycling bin when you need to make a sketch or jot a note.
  • Take electronic notes instead of paper notes.
  • Read articles and emails online instead of printing them out.
  • Buy poly lumber furniture made out of quality artificial recycled post-consumer plastic and rubber. Not only you would be saving the trees and keeping soda bottles and automobile tires out of our ubiquitous landfills, but you would enjoy a quality material which is weather resistant, attractive and maintenance free.

Off Green: Distractions on the Road to Saving the Environment

Fighting the climate change is probably the most important issue facing our generation. Many people of good will would like to do their part to address this problem, but don’t really know where to start from.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of disinformation out there, which leads people to take steps that might make them feel “green,” but don’t really help much, if at all.

Accordingly, this is the first of a series of articles giving examples of “green” initiatives that do little other than distract, along with ideas about what we should be doing instead.

This installment is all about drinking water. Future articles will delve into paperwork and electricity. Please send me feedback on these articles along with your ideas.

First part of series follows the jump.


Got Water?
Enjoy a drink and refill your bottle here!

Why support tap water?

  • Tap is regulated by the EPA, and held to stricter safety standards than bottled water.
  • Tap keeps plastic waste out of landfills and oceans.
  • Tap protects the privatization of a basic human right.
  • Tap avoids plastic bottle production, which relies heavily on petrochemicals and fossil fuels for raw materials, manufacture, and transport.
  • Tap only costs $0.002 per gallon.

Led by students, Hampshire college ended the sale of bottled water on campus in Fall 2012.

Bottled “Green” Water

The municipal waters in the areas where most of us live are perfectly healthy to drink, and yet many of us choose to drink bottled water. 20 billion barrels of oil go annually into making the water bottles that Americans throw out, creating 25 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Nestlé’s bottled water comes from Dallas, Texas, meaning that we are simply substituting Dallas water for Philadelphia water, and paying the supermarket and polluting the environment for the privilege. Other waters come from more exotic locations like Fiji. It is still the same H2O by another name, but it is being shipped around the world to quench our thirst.

Nestlé Waters, “The Healthy Hydration Company,” tries to “green-wash” their product:

To reduce the global environmental impact of PET bottles, Nestlé Waters created a new generation of packaging: the Eco-Shape PET bottle.

True, their new bottle is 25% lighter than its predecessor — largely due to a shorter bottle cap. Nevertheless, 25% lighter is still 75% too heavy compared to the truly environment-friendly alternative of a reusable water bottle, canteen or cup. In fact, the smaller cap makes the bottle more difficult to reuse, and is more prone to being swallowed by small children.

Oddly enough, most of our National Parks continue to sell bottled water, even though they have some of the most pristine water in the country on site. In fact, 30% of the Grand Canyon National Park’s recycling waste used to come from disposable bottles before it has gone bottled water-free.

Occasional PJVoice Contributor Arrested At White House Protest


— by Rabbi Arthur Waskov

Along with 14 other religious folks, clergy and committed “laity,” I was arrested for standing at the White House with signs and songs, reciting the names of more than one hundred people who had been killed by one result of the climate crisis — Superstorm Sandy.

Among those arrested alongside me were Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who teaches on social justice at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is a member of The Shalom Center’s Board; Lynne Iser, a member of the Board of Isabella Freedman retreat center; and Freyda Black, a cantor, farmer, and member of P’nai Or Fellowship in Philadelphia.

More after the jump.
We were calling on the President to act swiftly to heal our Mother Earth from the climate crisis, from the plagues that modern Pharaohs — Big Oil, Big Coal, Unnatural Gas — have brought upon us.

As you see on the faces of two of us actually in the prison wagon after our arrests, the arrest itself — paradoxically — felt like a step into freedom, a continuation of, rather than a break from, both our joy in singing and our sorrow at the deaths we had recited. What is the Freedom of Passover? Freedom to grieve our wounds, Freedom to celebrate our covenant for action with YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Holy One who is the interbreathing of all life.

These are the Ten Plagues I recited, and below them, “Ten Healings” that accompanied the blessing of our Globe.

Ten Plagues

  1. Undrinkable water poisoned by fracking. (Sorrow!)
  2. Asthma: Lungs suffering from coal dust and gasoline fumes. (Sorrow!)
  3. Suffering and death for fish, birds, vegetation, and human beings from the oil upheaval in the Gulf of Mexico. (Sorrow!)
  4. Smashed mountains and dead coal-miners in the lovely hills of West Virginia. (Sorrow!)
  5. Unheard-of droughts in Africa, setting off hunger, starvation, civil wars and genocide. (Sorrow!)
  6. Drought in Russia, setting off peat-bog fires and scarcity of wheat. (Sorrow!)
  7. Summer-long intense heat wave in Europe, killing thousands of elders. (Sorrow!)
  8. Unheard-of floods in Pakistan, putting one-fifth of the country under water. (Sorrow!)
  9. Superstorm Sandy, killing hundreds in Haiti and America. (Sorrow!)
  10. Years of drought and fires in Australia. (Sorrow!)
  11. Parched corn fields and dead crops in the US corn-belt. (Sorrow!)

Ten Healings

  1. Creating organic farms in countrysides and cities. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  2. Wind-based energy: Purchasing home & company electric power from wind-based suppliers. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  3. Hybrid or electric cars. Families buy them; convince cities, government agencies, & businesses to switch their auto fleets. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  4. Use public transportation. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  5. Family & congregational education/ action to heal the Earth: At Bat/Bar Mitzvah time and teen-age baptisms/ confirmations, “turning hearts of children and parents to each other, lest the Earth be utterly destroyed” (Quote from last passage of Malachi, last of the classical Hebrew Prophets). (L’chayyim, To life!)
  6. Vigils, picketing, civil disobedience at sites of mountain destruction by coal companies. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  7. Prevent the Tar Sands Pipeline. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  8. End fracking: Insist on moratoriums or prohibitions. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  9. Divestment by colleges, pension funds, religious communities, etc from investment in fossil-fuel companies, shifting investment to renewable, sustainable energy. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  10. Carbon pricing: Insisting that Members of Congress put prices on carbon-fuel production and pay dividends from the incoming fees to American families. (L’chayyim, To life!)

Hazon Receives Grant

Will Oversee First Formal Research on Integration of Jewish Learning with Food

— by the Hazon Staff

Recognizing the growing interest among individuals and families in experiences that integrate Jewish learning with learning about food, the environment, and the outdoors, a group of national and local funders have awarded a grant to Hazon to oversee new research in this area. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, and Rose Community Foundation, the research will explore how participation in immersive Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs influences individuals’ Jewish growth and leads to increased Jewish involvement.

More after the jump.
Nigel Savage of Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental organization says

More and more people, particularly young adults, express their Jewish identity through passion for building sustainable and environmentally conscious Jewish communities. We need to learn more about this phenomenon, better understand effective strategies, and determine long-term outcomes on participants. This is an exciting first step in deeply examining this relatively new and emerging space of Jewish learning and engagement.

While organizations have invested time and resources to develop and sustain these immersive educational programs, to date there has been no formal evaluation or research conducted in this field. Nor has there been a review of existing research from outside the Jewish world to inform practitioners and funders.

Among other areas of interest, the research will examine such topics as the kinds of learning that occurs in these experiences that deepens Jewish identity; to what degree these experiences influence participants to become involved in their Jewish communities; and the relationship between local and national programs.

Al Levitt, President of the Jim Joseph Foundation, says

We are excited to partner with other funders to determine how to invest the community’s attention and resources in this area. There appears to be growing interest in Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs, and this research will help us better understand the learning that is taking place and identify what is working most effectively. The findings from this study will help inform future grantmaking decisions and could ultimately lead to more Jews being engaged in meaningful Jewish experiences.

Charlene Seidle, Vice President and Executive Director of the Leichtag Foundation, says

Immersive experiences in the areas of Jewish food justice, farming and environmental advocacy help align individual values and interests with substantive Jewish principles and traditions. We look forward to learning together about the impact of these experiences in order to inform our funding and program model development.

The grant announcement comes a week after Hazon and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center announced a merger of their organizations, both national leaders in the Jewish Food Movement and Jewish environmental movement in particular. The merged organization also will include the Teva Learning Alliance, which began in association with Isabella Freedman in the 1990s. The merger builds on the success of the existing Isabella Freedman campus – a spiritual home for many — and Hazon’s track record of re-connecting American Jews with the natural world. The new entity will have a wide range of programs, staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and will be positioned to have a greater impact across the country.

“Merging the organizations certainly capitalizes on the strengths of each one and combines various separate areas of expertise into a streamlined operation,” Savage adds. “This in turn will foster a broader and more in depth study that ultimately will lead to more significant learnings for the field.”

Along with reaching out to alumni and former participants of programs run by Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva Learning Alliance, the study will reach out to alumni from a range of other related programs including Eden Village Camp, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, Kayam Farm, and the Jewish Farm School. Their program offerings include Jewish farming programs, environmental bike rides, conferences about food and sustainability, group camping trips structured around Jewish holiday celebrations, backpacking and outdoor adventure trips, and environmental educator training fellowships.

While the exact number of participants in these programs is unknown, field leaders estimate that in 2011, as many as 2,500 individuals participated in an immersive Jewish food, environmental or outdoor education program lasting four days or more.

“Programs that integrate socially conscious living with Jewish learning are proving to be a high-potential ingredient in the mix of experiences that enable young Jews to live as global citizens in accordance with Jewish values,” said Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which includes the Schusterman Family Foundation. “We believe this research will provide a framework for understanding how such experiences can help inspire a deeper connection to Jewish life.”

The research will build upon early planning efforts being led by the Green Hevra, a network of key Jewish environmental organizations of which Hazon is a participant. The Green Hevra received a $65,000 startup grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Morningstar Foundation earlier this year.

Sarene Shanus, Chair of the Jewish Community Development Task Force of the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal at UJA-Federation of New York notes, “We are pleased to embark on this research partnership, as it builds on the foundation we’ve helped to lay with the Jewish Greening Fellowship, the Jewish Farm School, and Eden Village camp as touchpoints for Jewish community and environmentalism.”

Lisa Farber Miller, Senior Program Officer of Rose Community Foundation, says

The Colorado Jewish community is seeing a sudden burgeoning of individuals and new organizations interested in being part of the Jewish Food Movement. Established Jewish institutions are realizing the importance of embracing the values of the sustainable food and environmental movements. Hazon provides pertinent educational resources, links and assists grassroots groups like the Jewish chicken coops in Denver and Boulder, and helps organizations adopt new ways of engaging their users to learn about food and the environment. The national research study, which includes a case study highlighting Denver/Boulder Hazon work, will help us better understand how we can continue to advance this movement.

For Hazon, the grant is an opportunity to further the organization’s goals of offering compelling experiences, providing thought leadership, and supporting the work of the individuals and organizations that share its vision for healthier and more sustainable independent communities in the Jewish world and beyond. The research will be conducted by an outside firm and managed by Hazon with oversight from an advisory team that includes both funders and practitioners.

“There is now a strong and expanding group of individuals and organizations that seek to create these learning opportunities,” says Savage. “The support from funders to conduct this research will ultimately help all organizations that offer Jewish food, environmental and outdoor education programs.”

The 2012-2013 Pennsylvania Budget: Areas to Improve

Daylin Leach— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Since the state’s fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30th of each year, May and June are always a busy time when everyone in Harrisburg is scrambling to put together next year’s budget. We’ve had tough budgets for the past four years because during a recession, demand for government services goes up while revenues coming into the state coffers go down. Unlike the federal government, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget each year, so every dollar we spend must come from a revenue source.

There are really only two ways to eliminate a budget deficit: you can either cut expenditures or raise revenues. Actually, the smartest approach is to use a balanced approach that does both prudently. Unfortunately, for the past several years — due to the political realities of Harrisburg and the fact that Governor Corbett has pledged to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, that he won’t increase revenues in any way — the budget has been balanced exclusively through cuts.

It is important to remember that there are many areas of the state budget that can’t be cut, either due to federal or state law or contractual obligations. In some cases, if we tried to cut money from a given program, we could be sued and required by a court to spend the money with interest. In other cases, our laws force additional spending. For example, Pennsylvania’s criminal code creates about 2,000 new net prisoners per year (the second highest number in the nation). This requires us to build a new prison, which costs about $300 million to build and $50 million per year to operate, every single year.

All of the cuts we can make must come from a relatively small sliver of the budget that is discretionary. This includes money for first responders, education, libraries, human services, health care for our citizens, transportation improvements and our safety net for the very poor. We have continued to go back to these same areas of funding when making deeper and deeper cuts each year.

As a result, we have now reached the point at which we are in real danger of abandoning basic government services and the citizens who rely on them. You may have read about how some of our poorer schools literally would have had to close their doors if the federal courts had not intervened and ordered us to provide additional funds. Tens of thousands of people have lost their access to healthcare, childcare facilities have had to close, and libraries are either closing or drastically cutting back their hours and programs. Schools are eliminating art and music programs, guidance counselors and tutoring; and we are opening 30,000 new natural gas rigs across the state while drastically reducing the funding for environmental inspectors charged with making sure the drilling is done safely. In short, the picture is very bleak.

Following the jump below, I am going to try to give you a fuller picture of the cuts we are facing and provide you with the alternatives for which I am fighting. In my view, we could easily raise sufficient revenue to avoid most of the worst cuts without burdening a single Pennsylvania family. We could accomplish this by, among other things, enacting a reasonable tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction that is giving energy companies billions of dollars and closing the “Delaware Loophole,” which allows 70% of Pennsylvania companies to avoid paying their fare share to help our state prosper.

These and other ideas will enable us to continue providing basic services to our citizens and will ensure that Pennsylvania is a state with the educational, economic and environmental quality of life that will attract businesses and families for decades to come. I hope you find this information helpful.

A list of programs funding to be restored and funding mechanisms follow the jump.
As I noted above, I would like to stimulate an open and honest dialogue about the current budget’s shortcomings. There are a number of cuts that I believe will be extremely harmful to our state. I will first enumerate some of the
worst of the many troubling cuts in the budget proposed by Governor Corbett.

If I want to restore the funds for these important programs, I obviously have an obligation to identify where the necessary revenues would come from. So I will provide some suggestions along those lines as well.

Top 5 most destructive cuts in the budget proposal.

  1. Higher Education
    Governor Corbett has proposed cutting higher education by 30 percent this year, on top of the 19 percent cut passed last year. These draconian proposals represent not cuts, but an abandonment of our commitment to make college affordable for all Pennsylvanians. These cuts would result in dramatic tuition increases in state related universities and put college out of reach for many of our citizens.
  2. Basic Education
    Last year, over my “no” vote, the legislature and governor enacted a budget that cut over $850 million from basic education. These cuts came disproportionately from poor school districts, but hurt all public schools. The governor
    has proposed hundreds of millions in dollars of additional cuts, including eliminating the No Child Left Behind Compliance grants and the Charter School Reimbursement grants.

  3. Department of Environmental Protection
    At a time when we are opening over 30,000 new fracking wells in Pennsylvania, the DEP budget is being cut, which will result in many fewer inspectors and enforcement agents ensuring that this new and controversial fracking technology is being used safely and responsibly.
  4. Human Services
    The governor proposes to cut human service funding by 20 percent ($168 million). These services cover needs including Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Drug & Alcohol, Intellectual Disabilities, Child Welfare, Homeless Assistance and what remains of the Human Services Development Fund. These cuts will obviously have a devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  5. Child Care Services
    If this budget passes, we will have cut childcare services and assistance by almost $140 million over the past two years. Without these services, parents may be unable to get back on their feet, receive training, or go back to work if they have to turn down a job or opportunity because they can’t afford or find childcare. Also, this lack of funding could mean the elimination of “Keystone Stars”, a nationally-recognized program that provides resources and professional development to the educators who prepare children for school success.

In addition, the governor has rejected the recommendations of his own hand-picked commission to raise money to fund much needed road and bridge repairs.

How to pay for the restoration of these funds:

  1. Levying a Marcellus Shale Impact Fee
    Imposing an impact fee on drillers would go a long way toward helping recoup the loss of natural resources taken from our state, as well as toward helping us balance the budget. Going further, imposing a tax on those drillers would do even more to help us. Consider that a 6% tax on producing wells would generate about $312 million in 2012-13 and $396 million in 2013-14. This rate is consistent with what virtually every other state in the nation charges for the extraction of natural resources from its soil.
  2. Closing the Delaware Loophole
    The Delaware Loophole, a way under the law for corporations to evade paying taxes, is an issue that has needed fixed for years. For some reason, this has yet to happen. If we closed the Delaware Loophole, our state would be able to bring in $550 million in just one fiscal year.
  3. Ending the Vendor Discount
    Under the Vendor Discount, Pennsylvania pays private businesses millions of dollars each year just to handle sales tax receipts and remit them to the state. This program was conceived many years ago before the advent of computers, and since there’s no longer a valid need for it, it’s time to end it. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states with an unlimited sales tax vendor discount. If we stopped providing this unnecessary discount, our state would save nearly $75 million per year.
  4. Taxing Smokeless Tobacco
    Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not tax smokeless tobacco. This would be an easy solution that would garner $50 million per year, simply by imposing a tax of $1.35 per unit — the same tax that is levied on cigarettes.

Ten Things Every American Jew Should Know About Mitt Romney


Pro-life mailer sent by Romney campaign to Iowa voters


Ron Paul (R-TX) & Mitt Romney (R-MA) laugh during break at debate Jan. 23. Photo: Chris O’Meara (AP)

(NJDC) Below are ten documented things every American Jew should know about former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney; follow the links to view supporting materials.

  1. Romney emphasized recently that he would defund Planned Parenthood, and that his would “be a pro-life presidency.”
  2. Questions linger surrounding the Iran-tainted assets of Romney’s charity, even as President Obama places unprecedented pressure on Iran.
  3. With each passing month, Romney has disagreed more and more with the scientific consensus regarding global climate change.
  4. Romney vehemently opposed the President’s contraception compromise, which will ensure that women’s preventive services are widely available while addressing religious liberty concerns. This compromise was praised by groups ranging from the Catholic Health Association to the Orthodox Union.
  5. During nationally-televised debates, Romney has engaged in outright lies surrounding the President’s record on Israel, and he uses Israel as a partisan wedge issue whenever possible.
  6. While 76% of Jews support gay marriage and even more support gay rights, Romney doesn’t just oppose gay marriage — he has chosen to engage in gay-baiting rhetoric in front of conservative crowds.
  7. Romney told CNN, “yes, I would vote for” the anti-Israel Ron Paul for president if Paul were to become the GOP nominee.
  8. Romney’s flip-flops are legendary; for example, he supported key elements of the Affordable Care Act — including the individual mandate — but he now promises to dismantle it.
  9. Romney is no moderate, at least not now. By his own description, he’s “severely conservative.”
  10. As the front page of The Washington Post has recently noted, Romney has formed a “strategic partnership” with the anti-Israel Ron Paul.



Broad Jewish Leadership Signs Eco-Covenant

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Yesterday, The Shalom Center and I joined with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) in a formal signing of the “Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative” declaration, part of its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign. Leaders from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community set the community-wide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.

More after the jump.
Before reporting my own talk and naming the other speakers,  I want to note that over the last two years, COEJL has come back from the brink of the grave, mostly owing to the work of three people: Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (under whose umbrella COEJL operates); Rabbi David Saperstein, the Jewish community’s designated prophetic voice in Washington as head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Sybil Sanchez, the exec of COEJL, who breathed active life into the newly raised-up body.


This is what I said:

We have just been reading the Torah passages about the ecological disasters that Pharaoh — a top-down, unaccountable, arrogant ruler — brought upon his own country: undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and lice and locusts, unprecedented hailstorms: what we call the Ten Plagues.

Today our own Pharaohs — the top-down, unaccountable, arrogant giant corporations of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas, and their allies in and out of government — are bringing terrible plagues upon our planet:

  • unprecedented droughts and fires in Russia;
  • droughts and famines in Africa;
  • floods in Pakistan;
  • oceans encroaching on the shores of island nations and Bangladesh, endangering their very existence;
  • vanishing snow-caps in the Himalayas that for centuries have provided water to billions of human beings.

And these are not just foreign events. Those who think that we Americans will be safe if we stop using “foreign” oil must face the truth:

  • The oil-well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for “American” oil.  
  • Drinking water on the farms of Pennsylvania, so poisoned by the fracking industry that when farmers touch a match to their kitchen faucets, chemicals in the water flame up into torches — a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for ‘American’ gas.  If these pharaohs get their way, the plague will engulf the drinking water of millions in the cities whose water comes from the shale rock regions.
  • The worst drought in the history of Texas,  the destruction of whole mountains in West Virginia, the epidemic of asthma among our children ‐ all plagues brought on by modern corporate pharaohs.  Brought upon Americans by corporate obsession with profits from exploiting ‘American’ oil, coal, and gas. Supported by some, including even some in the Jewish community,  in the name of US ‘energy security.’

We can halt these modern pharaohs, as we halted the Tar Sands pipeline when thousands of protesters surrounded the White House and about a thousand were arrested there.

For The Shalom Center, the Covenant we are about to sign means that in order to reduce emissions of CO2,  we must dissolve the arrogant pharaohs of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas — no matter whether they bear a “made in America” label or not.”

Others who spoke were

  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, exec of the Rabbinical Assembly;
  • NY City Councilman David Garodnick; Nancy Kaufman, exec of the National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Joe Laur, exec of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal;
  • Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the program on the rabbi as social activist at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (and president emeritus of the board of The Shalom Center); and
  • Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield, exec of the Jewish Greening Fellowship at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

In signing the Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative Declaration, leaders are committing to take many significant steps, including:



  • Setting the personal goal of reducing emissions by 14% by September 2014, which is Judaism’s next sabbatical year (Shmittah year). 


  • Setting the community-wide intention of reducing greenhouse gases by 83% of 2005 levels by 2050 (a goal set by the US government), with a communitywide approach to greening homes and buildings.

Meanwhile, including but reaching beyond COEJL, there has emerged an amalgam of Eco-Jewish organizations called the Green Chevra, which has recently received an important grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Among its fifteen active and activist members are groups committed to one or more of four ways of dealing with our planetary crisis in Jewish terms:  hands-on greening of synagogues, JCC’s, and Jewish households; the awakening of ecological themes in Jewish practices like the festivals and life-cycle events and the “kosher” consumption of food and other fruits of the earth; the creation of alternative communities, especially Jewish organic farms; and public advocacy for change in public policy.

I am glad to report that The Shalom Center is not only a member of the Green Chevra but sits on its “stewardship committee,” coordinating its work.

For many years we have been doing this work to pioneer eco-commitment in many regions of the Jewish world. It is an aspect of what we call “Transformative Judaism” — a commitment to bring the fullest Jewish wisdom and action to address the present deep multidimensional earthquake (ecological, economic, military, political, familial, sexual) in the life of the human race and the rest of our planet.