Two weeks ago, Emily Freed of Santa Cruz helped launch Jewcology.com, a comprehensive website that enables Jewish environmental activists around the world to network and swap materials.
The site’s early success still hasn’t sunk in.
“It’s funny,” said Freed, a Jewish farmer who grows organic herbs. “I don’t know if I’ve taken the time to celebrate the accomplishment. I’m still in wonderment that the site actually exists after waiting so long for a project like this.”
Freed, 34, is a founding member of Jewcology.com, a virtual learning community for educators, farmers, gardeners and others, spearheaded by Evonne Marzouk, 34, of Silver Spring, Md.
She, along with Freed and 17 other Jewish environmental activists, collaborated on the effort during a 2008 conference in Israel for young Jewish innovators.
“It’s really exciting to be part of an international project,” said Freed, an assistant production manager at Jacobs Farm in Santa Cruz County. “We’ve been wanting a website like this for many, many years. I feel pretty lucky to have the chance to help create it.”
Jewcology.com is attracting two different users to its site: proactive and casual.
There are the activists who Marzouk says are “really into Judaism and the environment,” such as those who organize events at their synagogue or school, or rely on resources to create campaigns and blogs.
And there are the casual visitors who “may not necessarily be so into the environment,” Marzouk notes, but still want to peruse the site’s marketplace of ideas. She offered the example of a rabbi who wants to give a sermon on an environmental topic.
Jewcology.com has daily blog posts on several topics, from vegetarianism and agriculture, to recycling and humane treatment of animals. Torah teachings with an environmental message, in addition to resources from synagogue projects, awareness activities and art lessons, populate the site.
“There is something for everyone,” said Freed, who was involved in the early planning stages of the site before it went live. “We put a lot of work into making Jewcology exciting and fresh so people come back.”
Members of the Jewcology.com team live all over the world — from San Francisco to New York to Miami, from Shanghai, China, to Santiago, Chile.
The eclectic group met through ROI, a global community of young Jewish leaders created in 2006 to cultivate an international network of innovative and creative individuals. They convene at the annual ROI Global Summit in Israel, which is where the idea for Jewcology.com was envisioned.
Two years ago Marzouk attended the summit, where it was announced that a $50,000 grant would be available to turn the 100 or so participants’ dreams into reality. Activists took on projects for social justice, education, technology and Israel advocacy.
Marzouk’s interest in Jewish environmentalism prompted her and 18 like-minded ROI members to think about what the movement needed most. The answer, they felt, was an all-inclusive website for users looking to help create, sustain and further the development of the global Jewish environmental network.
“We realized there was no common place to look for resources,” Marzouk said. “To find materials, you would have to search so many websites or miss them completely. If you were teaching a class and had useful materials, there was no way to share with the community.”
Earlier this year, she received a call from ROI saying she won the grant.
The first day Jewcology.com went live, it attracted 60 registered users. That number more than doubled after the site’s initial week. Marzouk said she receives e-mails daily from people wanting to use the site as a place to promote their environmental projects.
With each request, Marzouk is reminded of her website’s early success and its potential for expansion, both in content and viewers.
“A robust Jewish environmental movement has taken ownership of the site,” she said. “We’re hoping to strengthen this effort and engage a diverse, multigenerational group of activists who can educate the Jewish community about our responsibility to protect the environment.”