Monday, April 8, 2013

Five year olds will save the world

I enjoy finding 'natural' was of cleaning, first looking to vinegar and baking soda before purchasing more caustic, and expensive, conventional cleaning products. As such, friends often come to me to ask for advice on alternative ways of cleaning. In the weeks before Passover, when most of the Jewish world is scouring their homes for ever last spec of bread and dust, I was discussing this topic with a friend who takes a class on Jewish women with me. Our teacher over heard one of the conversation and excitedly interjected, "I love baking soda! I use it to clean almost every surface in my house."

"Rebbitzen, that's so great," I replied, "I didn't know you were into the environment."

"I'm not," she said with a laugh. "I never really cared about 'sustainability' until I sent my youngest son to a local kindergarten. He came home with a note from the teacher saying parents are not allowed to send lunch and snacks to school disposable bags, as part of an effort to teach the children how to live more sustainably. Of course, I was aggravated at first, but during the course of the year, I really started to get into learning how to reduce and reuse, and now it's second nature in almost everything we do at home."

I was intrigued - here is someone who didn't care about the environment at all, and, as I later found out, was actually skeptical of movements associated with environmental awareness. Yet now, she's completely changed her behavior. Plus, as the mother, her habits have the potential to change the behavior of her kids, and ultimately their families, and so on.

She agreed to be interviewed on how one small action could lead to such a big change. Out of respect to her family (and kids, who tend to be mortified when their parents brag about them) I'm not publishing her name or any other personal details.

Q: What was your attitude towards the environment growing up?
A: I grew up in America in the 60s - during the time of the hippies. I associated ecology with free love, and other things not accepted in my upper middle class orthodox community in Flatbush (Brooklyn), NY. We had a relative who was into 'this stuff' and I saw the environment as being associated with the war in Vietnam - definitely wasn't a Jewish thing to do.

Living in New York City, people did talk about air pollution - but just to the extent that it existed, never that we could do anything about it. In the 80s people started talking about aerosol and not using sprays, but that was the extent of it in my world.

Q: What was the attitude towards the environment when you made aliyah?
A: I came to Israel in 1981. Environmental consciousness in Israel was about the same as in the US - in that it was associated with being a left-wing thing to do. In religious newspapers you would see lots of ads 'make your holiday easier with disposables', so reducing garbage or anything like that wasn't on the radar.

Q: What inspired your paradigm shift?
A: One of my kids went to Gan [Kindergarten] - and the Ganedit [teacher] said, "We are going to be environmental." She told the students they had to bring their food in a reusable plastic container - no more plastic bags. This was a shock! It was never told to the parents - my kid came home and said this is what my teacher said. The change was very difficult - you are used to giving your kid a sandwich in a plastic bag, and now I have to change my behavior. A lot of parents complained, and some flat out refused. They weren't going to let their kid's teacher tell them what to do. 

With this one action I started to notice the waste I was producing everywhere. I realized that you don't have to go out and buy so much - for example I can repurpose the hummus container to store things instead of buying new plastic containers. 

Another son went to a Talmud Torah in Bat Ayin - in Bat Ayin you expect that they are going to come home with this behavior. But in this school they had specifically a 'Rav Ecologia' [The Environment Rabbi]. It was its own class, which shows the respect they gave the subject - he wasn't just a teacher, he was the Rav.

Q: How did the rest of your family feel about these changes?
A: With two kids being taught the value of the environment, the whole family started to think green. The kids did a lot of things with reusing, such as making garden beds and a green house out of reused materials. I have a large family and would use Echat Pa'im [disposable products] to make Shabbat clean up easier. My husband  though wanted to use Rav Pa'amim [reusable] dishes and was even willing to wash the dishes! For him though it went even deeper than just the waste - how are we going to eat a nice meal off of plastic? 

One of my kids was vegetarian before he went to school. But the more he learned in school about how destructive soy and corn is to the environment he really wanted to change everyone's behavior. Anyone who wants to take the sandwich in a reusable bag can, and whoever wants the disposable bags, we have that too. No one forced anyone to do anything.

Q: Have you saved money since you change your behavior?
A: Ultimately, only with the driving. I wish the reusable or biodegradable materials were subsidized since they are so expensive. So even though I'm using less, I end up spending more, and come out even. But when it comes to my car, I've started only driving if it's for a big shopping or I'm taking a lot of people. Otherwise I'll walk or take public transport, so I've saved a lot on gas. 

Q: Any other thoughts?
A: I never would have done these things if it wasn't for my kids. These ideas just weren't considered Jewish - destroying the world G-d made. I'm not so sure it's acceptable in society anymore to be so destructive. The stores where they sell the environmental things perhaps have more shoppers.

1 comment:

  1. We are so far away from anything normal.. SO often I see people not making even the minimum of effort to throw stuff into recycling containers, etc, and it really irks me.