Opinions | Our own Jewish Burning Man: meeting zero-waste challenge

Zero. That’s how much waste was created when Deborah Newbrun, who spent four years as the director of Hazon, spoke at Temple Sinai in Oakland. When we invited her to speak last December, we challenged ourselves to do a “waste-free” event. It only seemed fitting. After all, Deborah had been a national park ranger, Bay Area naturalist, and spent 25 years running Camp Tawonga, where she built its national reputation for environmental ethics.

Even more inspiring, her presentation focused on shmita, the “year of release,” when the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity is forbidden. We discussed how the Torah connects to our environmental roots, agricultural laws and social justice mandates. As the green committee, we decided it was a great opportunity for us to walk the walk, while she talked the talk.

So we did what any self-respecting Jews do. We had bagels.

But here’s where we did things differently. Instead of buying multiple plastic tubs of cream cheese, we purchased one large block. We chose foods that caused minimal waste, like grapes, apples and olives. We made conscious choices.

I know what you’re asking: “What did you eat those bagels, grapes, apples, and olives on?”

Plates, of course. We’re not animals. But we brought our own from home.

Crazy, right? Coffee cups, too. Even cloth napkins. Together we easily covered the entire event. Not one paper plate, plastic utensil or plastic foam cup entered the room. No waste. Nothing. Nada.

If you don’t believe us, ask the custodial staff if the bins were a little lighter that Shabbat.

Was it a nuisance? Nope. It was like our own Jewish Burning Man — we just carried out whatever we brought in.

Was it easy? You bet your bottom shmita.

So here’s our challenge to you. See if you can make your next event waste free. Give us a call and we’ll help you pick food choices that don’t come in unnecessary plastic wrapping or require wasteful cutlery. We’ll point out ways to minimize your impact on the planet and create a healthier environment.

And if you ask nicely, we may just lend you a mug.


Jeff Kirschner is a member of the green committee at Temple Sinai, which was certified as a California Green Business last December.