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Sukkot: Program Ideas for Congregations and Youth: Environment

Recycled Sukkah: The Northwest Jewish Environmental Project of Portland, OR, launched a campaign in 2003 to encourage its members to use recycled materials in the construction of their sukkot. This project can promote an appreciation of the importance of buying and using environmentally sustainable products.
Go Local! Decorating & Donating: Temple B'nai Israel of Kalamazoo, MI, held a service on Shabbat afternoon in the sukkah, which included decorating the sukkah and joining together in a potluck dinner and Havdalah service. Congregants were encouraged to support local farmers by using locally grown produce for their potluck dishes. All attendees were asked to bring a bag of apples (locally grown or picked) which are donated.

Bereshit - Up Close and Personal: Hold a retreat in connection to Sukkot and/or Simchat Torah focusing on the environmental themes of the holidays and Parashat Bereshit, the creation of the world. The New Jersey - West Hudson Valley Regional Council held a Shabbat retreat themed, "Confronting Creation." The day-long workshop was devoted to learning about the Meadowlands - an endangered wetlands adjacent to the New York metropolitan area. The day includes an outdoor service and an eco-cruise tour of the Meadowlands. Following the cruise, the group learned about sacred teachings, the environment and the importance of advocacy on behalf of environment preservation.

Sukkot Gleaning Project: Judea Reform Congregation of Durham, NC, runs a yearly Sukkot gleaning project for synagogue families in which they gather sweet potatoes on a local farm to be donated. They worked in conjunction with The Society of St. Andrew, which provides a roster of farms that allow such gleaning projects. In 2003, Judea Reform gleaned over 6000 sweet potatoes.

Greening the SynagogueSukkot can inspire your congregation to maintain environmentally sound and healthy procedures in the operation of the temple building. Explore ways to reduce energy use in the building by changing light bulbs, improving window treatments and other means. Encourage members to do the same at home.

Environmental Mitzvah Week: Create special environmental programming throughout the entire week of Sukkot for all ages: students can plant gardens on synagogue property to beautify the grounds and grow fruits and vegetables for use in future sukkot. Puppets can be made out of recycled materials to donate to a local hospital. Organize families to clean parks or volunteer at a local animal shelter. Post signs around the synagogue encouraging water conservation (near the drinking fountain) or thoughtful energy use (by the light switches).

Create a "Teva" Committee: Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, OR, created a teva, nature, committee, which organizes creative programming all year round, particularly on holidays such as Sukkot, Passover, and Tu BiSh'vat. The Teva Committee helps build the community Sukkah as well as leads a special hike aimed at appreciating local ecology.

Solar Power: Sukkot is an excellent time to dedicate your new energy-efficient system. Congregation Shir Hadash of Los Gatos, CA, taught environmental consciousness, related to the holiday's themes of harvesting and nature, by beginning to use a new solar-power system during the Sukkot season.

Visit an Organic Farm: Organize a religious school trip to a local organic farm. The students can be taught about the importance of organic produce by explaining its healthier qualities and impact on the land and the environment. At the farm, students can gather natural s'chach and sukkah decorations, harvest fruits and vegetables for Sukkot meals, as well as collect produce to be donated to a local food bank.

Planting Winter Grains: Sukkot is a wonderful time to plant grains that can later be harvested during the Passover season. Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, MA, sets aside a plot of soil on synagogue property to plant winter grains. As each religious school class visits the sukkah to wave the lulav and etrog, the students spread a handful of wheat, rye, or barley on the prepared soil, thus sowing the spring harvest. During the second seder of Passover, attendees gathered outside to harvest the first growing grains, tie them in a sheaf, and declare the start of the counting of the Omer, linking Sukkot and Passover in their connection to the harvest.

Adopt-a-Park: As Sukkot inspires us to appreciate the natural world around us, we become more aware of our responsibility to keep nature beautiful and clean. Each religious school class can select or be assigned a local park, street, beach, lake, river, etc., and be responsible for cleaning up that particular area.

Additional environmental programs can be found in our Social Action Program Bank.