Introducing Rabbi Barry Kenter and his synagogue, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, current fellows in the Jewish Greening Fellowship cohort! Kenter is an alumnus of the GreenFaith Fellowship as well, which seeks to “inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.” Though there is considerable overlap between the GreenFaith and Jewish Greening fellowships, Kenter notes that they differ because of the JGF’s uniquely Jewish mission.
Kenter’s environmental awareness and involvement was sparked by his youth in California, where he was surrounded by smog. “As a student, my peers and I had been taught how Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into la Bahia de los Fumos et los Fuegos, the Bay of Smoke and Fire, now San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles,” said Kenter. The smog around him was a constant manifestation of this smoke and fire. “How I longed for the Santa Ana winds of fall, winter and early spring that would blow through the canyons and leave a crisp azure blue sky in its wake,” he remarked.
The Reform Temple of Forest Hills started out as four congregations which consolidated in 1994. Two well-established Reform Temples, both in Forest Hills, merged first, followed by two smaller congregations the next year. We blended the congregants of four congregations into one, a task requiring much wisdom and diplomacy. Fortunately, those skills were on hand in abundance in the person of our Rabbi, combined with a universal determination on the part of every congregant to make us stronger than the sum of our parts.
So here we are, now a vibrant, active congregation with myriad activities, a terrific educational program that runs our age gamut, and of primary importance, wonderful religious guidance and spiritual support.
Over the past 6 months being a part of the Jewish Greening Fellowship has been a game changer for Kane Street Synagogue and for my work here. Many people at the synagogue were already passionate about the environment and sustainability, but we lacked direction. We felt like our concerns were peripheral to the educational and spiritual pursuits that are central to our congregational life.
However, involvement in the Jewish Greening Fellowship has changed all of that. We no longer feel marginal. The values of sustainability have largely been embraced by lay-leaders and staff, students and worshippers. The imprimatur Hazon/Isabella Freedman’s expertise, track record and UJA financial backing helped give us the confidence and authority to rally together. The education that Mirele Goldsmith and Matt Dorter have imparted to me and to our terrific synagogue board fellow, Ariel Krasnow, guided us to make a lot of changes with many more in the works. Learning from outstanding professionals in the field with the group of fellows has been very motivating and highly informational.
When President Obama spoke about climate change in his inaugural speech, it was a small victory for the hard working members of environmental organizations everywhere to finally hear that their agenda was being acknowledged on a large scale. One of these hardworking individuals is Mirele Goldsmith, the director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship (JGF), a program created by UJA-Federation of New York to mobilize the Jewish Community in response to climate change.
With terms like “CSA” (community supported agriculture) and “CFL” (compact fluorescent light bulb) becoming increasingly common, it’s easy to be excited and quickly overwhelmed by climate change and sustainability. In an interview with Mirele, she explained, “It’s hard to think of things to do between changing your light bulb and saving the world; as a community we can make a difference in ways that we can’t as individuals. That is what the Jewish Greening Fellowship is about.”