Less than a year ago, Ziporah Tenenboin didn’t have any connection to Germany’s Jewish community. An expert in environmental engineering and land use occupation, Tenenboin cared about the environment but didn’t see how Judaism could help her advocate it.
However, when she attended a Sukkot event about water and the reduction of plastic, all that changed. She had finally found a Jewish community that appreciated her expertise. Called Jews Go Green, Tenenboin’s new community is an ecology project lead by Agatha Kaplon and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
“Now there is definitely someone to talk to,” she said recently to The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “It’s kind of nice.”
Now Tenenboin is leading events for Jews Go Green in her own community.
Tenenboin is just one of the over 100,000 Jews living in Germany Jews Go Green is trying to reach out to.
Kaplon’s project is part of the ROI Community, an international network of activists funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network that hopes to redefine Jewish engagement for the younger generation.
“We are trying to reach a thousand people who will in turn engage a million people in Jewish life, and each one will be active in their own community,” No’a Gorlin, the associate executive director of ROI, said. In the last eight years, ROI has brought in some 960 leaders from over 60 countries, through their annual capstone ROI Summit held in Israel in June.
While ROI projects encompass everything imaginable from Jewish text studies to Yiddish farms, Kaplon’s project, Jews Go Green, focuses on the connection between the environment and Judaism. Through environmental action and discussion Kaplon hopes to engage young Jews who are interested in the environment but might otherwise be uninterested in Jewish life.
Through environmental action and discussion Kaplon hopes to engage young Jews who are interested in the environment but might otherwise be uninterested in Jewish life
Last month she organized a movie screening and discussion as well as a “Fair Trade Brunch” where she and the 70 attendees talked about fair trade and its connection to kosher food.
While the turn out for the brunch was good, according to Tenenboin the project does not have many regular members.
“It is a top down thing,” she said. “People come to events but it’s always different people. It has the potential to build a Jewish community” but is too new to have proven itself. Jews Go Green is only about two years old, and currently has about 200 members.
Tenenboin is confident, however, that if Jews Go Green continues on its current trajectory it will build a large Jewish community.
“I think it is important now that there are people who continue something regularly,” she said. “We just have to push and then something will develop.”
Its success is almost solely dependent on Kaplon, as ROI aids individual leaders but takes a hands-off approach to the specifics of the projects.
“We don’t get into the nitty-gritty of every project,” Gorlin said. “We are a people incubator.”
Kaplon, the sole coordinator of the project, hopes to create 16 functioning projects in communities around Germany in the next two years. She plans to reach out to large Jewish centers such as Munich to gain more participation. She is also hosting a retreat in August to empower and train young leaders to initiate action in their own networks and communities.
While the Jews Go Green community still has room to grow, Kaplon emphasizes just how much can be achieved by becoming environmentally conscious on the individual level.
“You have to change this attitude from people feeling sorry for not being 100% environmentally kosher to an active state where they feel empowered to do something about it,” she said. “It brings a very positive message from person to person. Then the community can change and then maybe the bigger community.”