Shir Hadash of Milwaukee is slating the upcoming "shemita" or "Sabbatical" year as a "green" year for its congregation. The central theme of the year will be to explore how we as Jews can give our stressed and endangered world a rest. An ad hoc committee chaired by two Shir Hadash members will oversee and coordinate events, classes, educational and ritual opportunities all tied to the yearly round of holidays and holy days of the Jewish calendar.
The year-long exploration of Judaism and the environment commenced during the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) with the distribution of meditations on our spiritual and practical connections to nature based on the successive days of creation as set forth in Genesis 1. On Yom Kippur one of the four Al Het (confessional) recitations was devoted to environmental concerns. During Sukkot, Shir Hadash's annual Sukkot dinners encouraged participants to use locally grown food.
Each congregational committee will be involved in some way in the exploration of environmental concerns. Some of the ideas being considered include discussion/study groups devoted to the study of Biblical, rabbinic, modern Zionist and contemporary literature on the subject, having the Religious School students grow wheat and barley for the Omer period as well as developing an Omer calendar they could sell to benefit environmental causes. Other ideas on the table include: study of oil/energy issues at Hannukah, using Passover to examine our enslavement to material goods and consumerism. By Shavuot the goal is to have worked out rules of eco-kashrut and an ethical purchasing guide for the congregation with suggestions for personal use. Other options include inviting a major speaker to the congregation sometime during the year and possibly a weekend retreat devoted to environmental issues. We hope to have the rabbi and other service leaders make creative use of the year's theme while leading services.
The congregation hopes to send a delegation to the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation convention in November of 2008 to exchange and expand ideas with fellow congregations - carrying the theme forward into the future.