Our family’s not the perfect environmentalists, but we have the best intentions. We bike for transportation when the weather is tolerable, we recycle everything we can, we buy organic products and our last kid wore cloth diapers. If we had more time and money, we’d install greener electronic products, some solar panels and eat even more sustainably.
To most people I know, that makes us just as environmental as imaginable–in fact, it makes us downright hippies. But head 4 miles north to Evanston, Ill., and it makes us normal. In fact, among my college friends, most of whom are Reform or Conservative Jews, we’re pretty typical. We grew up hearing more about tikun olam, most commonly referring to caring for our Earth and its inhabitants, more than any other value. And you know what? It was important.
Since living in West Rogers Park in Chicago, I have never heard about caring for our environment from a Jewish perspective. Sure, there are Jews on the left of the Orthodox spectrum speaking about the environment, but if there is a popular view on the right that mandates it, I haven’t heard it. (I would love to be corrected, so please let me know in the comments below!)
So, here’s why Earth Day should matter, and how you can make a difference:
1. We live here. As simple as it sounds, there is only one planet. Continue to ruin it now, and our children will continue to suffer later. And, if you think that Mashiach will fix our planet woes, I’ve got news for you: you made that up, and it’s foolish. Some damage can’t be undone. If that’s not enough reason, well, read the Torah. We’re commanded to take care of the Earth.
- What you can do: Make a plan TODAY to talk to your kids about our responsibility to care for the Earth. Think of one change your family can make. This is part of your obligation as a parent to raise responsible citizens of the world.
2. Bigger families=bigger impact on the environment. With families of 12 and even 18 in these parts, there’s a whole lot of impact that one family can have on our environment. (You can calculate your carbon footprint here.) With many kids, some families leave behind 5 or 6 times the number of diapers as a typical American family. Those diapers WILL STILL BE HERE when your great-great-great-great grandchildren have babies. We’re talking about 500 years or so.
What’s more, many families use disposable dishes EVERY DAY. Those Styrofoam cups and plastic ware? They’ll be chillin’ on Mt. Trashmore long after you are gone.
- What you can do: Not everyone can deal with cloth diapers. I get it! But everyone can potty train their kids earlier. It’s an American luxury to wait to 3 or even 4 (gasp!) to potty train kids. For millennia and still today in developing countries, kids are potty trained under 1 year. In our house, we start at 24 months. It’s worked 4 times, and it’s not because our tots are geniuses.
- Get rid of some disposables. Make it the cups, the plastic ware or the bowls. Choose one thing to stop using, and when you’re ready, choose another.
- Also, if you’re not recycling, shame on you! It’s the law now in Chicago, and it’s just plain responsible living in this day and age. It takes VERY little effort to throw recyclables in a separate garbage bag.
3. We have a lot of celebrations. Let’s be honest, you can’t make a kiddush for 300 people without using some disposables. But, we can choose the kind we use. You know those fancy plastic plates that almost look like real glass? Imagine what your backyard would look like if you had to pile them there…FOREVER! Toss in all the 2 liter bottles people throw out at a kiddush to your mountain as well.
- What you can do: Make sure your synagogue recycles. Have a few kids collect the liter bottles to take out to the recycle bin. And when it’s your kiddush, choose really cute PAPER plates.
4. We drive a lot. Big families means a lot of carpools. In just one day, I sometimes drive 5 carpools for my 4 kids. Imagine what the taxi mom of 8 is doing in a day in her gas guzzling bus!
- What you can do: Orthodox neighborhoods are meant for walking, since that’s the main mode of transportation on Shabbat. When it’s nice on a weekday, get up and walk! Or bike! You’ll feel better, spend time with your kids, think more creatively and be happier. No one needs to maneuver around your giant bus while you drive a carpool half mile from your house.