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Summer 2022 Sustainability Tips

by Cantor Emerita Kay Greenwald

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לְהִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה
It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. (Mishnah Pirkei Avot II. 21)

Back in the summer of 2019, I read an editorial in The New York Times in which the author stated that she had finally come to understand something that one of her college professors had said over and over: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

Okay – what?

Well, it would be great if real life allowed us to give our full attention, time and effort — not to mention our very best — to everything that we care about. But, we know that this kind of commitment of our personal resources is just not possible. We want to be the very best parents that we can be, but we must live with our “good enough” parenting. We want to be the very best professionals that we can be in our workplaces, but we know that compromises will need to be made along the way. We want to be the very best spouses/partners/significant others, but sometimes we are forced to prioritize something — or someone — else (see references to parenting and professional lives above).  

And, of course, we want to be good citizens.  We read the news and we wish that we could fix all of the problems that we see in the world around us: environmental issues, workplace issues, homelessness, injustice, violence — the list, unfortunately, goes on and on. We often want to give up before we even begin.  Remember, though, what the Jewish tradition teaches us: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work….” The Mishnah says, in effect, “Do not be overwhelmed — do what you can do and that will be enough.”  

Similarly, to go back to that not so tongue-in-cheek statement from that unknown college professor: if something is worth doing and you can’t do it all, then just do what you can. Maybe you can’t leave your job and family to attend a march for a cause that you feel is important. Can you write a letter? Talk about it with your friends? Inspire someone else? Maybe you’re living in a drought and you have a new baby. Each load of laundry fills you with guilt about all the water you are using. Can you save what’s left in your tea kettle to water your plants? Can you let your lawn dry out?  

Sometimes one small thing is all we can manage.

To that end, I am excited to let our Beth Am community know about a new feature that will be appearing in the Builder beginning with this July/August edition: a Sustainability Tip Box containing a suggestion for how to reduce our carbon/plastic footprint in our daily lives.  

In each edition of the Builder, the Consumer and Personal Sustainability Action Group of the Beth Am Dayenu Circle (BADC)* will suggest a small way that we can make a positive environmental change. Even if all you can manage is one thing, that one thing will have a positive impact. Imagine if everyone did just one small environmentally helpful thing — what an amazing impact that would have! Moreover, it can be stunning how much impact one individual’s minor contribution can make over the course of their lifetime.  

We will offer some statistics along the way to show how one small change in our buying habits, or our cleaning routine, or our food storage routine, or many other choices that we make can have a very great — positive — environmental effect.

I do want to offer one important caveat to those of you who decide to follow the BADC on this journey: Some level of commitment to some level of inconvenience may be necessary. The grocery store, online ordering, etc. are set up for our convenience — and this is really nice. They are not set up by and large, however, with an eye toward environmental awareness and/or impact. Therefore, it may take a little effort on your part to make a change or two — which brings me to the second half of that Mishnah quoted above: “It is not your obligation to finish the work,” but “Neither are you free to desist from it.”  

We do have an obligation to this world, and to our families and communities and most importantly, l’dor vador — to the generations to come. What will we be leaving to them?

You may already be finding that the best way for you to fulfill your obligation is by raising strong, self-confident children who care about our world and our community; or by loving your spouse/partner and helping to give that person the strength to do good work; or by supporting and empowering your friends in the good work that they do. You are probably already fulfilling the second part of the Mishnah in a very significant way.

Yet, here we are, the BADC, asking you to consider taking on one more thing.

Do not be overwhelmed — do what you can. Together we will make an enormous difference.

*The Beth Am Dayenu Circle is a branch of the national Dayenu organization. Dayenu is a Jewish call to Climate Action. The Beth Am Dayenu Circle has five different action groups: Beth Am Sustainability; Personal and Consumer Sustainability; Legislative and Policy; Engaging Youth; and Sustainable Investing. If you are interested in joining the Beth Am Dayenu Circle and/or any one or more of our Action Groups, please email dayenu@betham.org.

Wed, August 10 2022 13 Av 5782