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Chanukah Feature on This Year’s Festival of Lights, Groups Add Conservationist Touch

December 5, 2006
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For centuries, Chanukah has brought warmth and light to Jewish homes at the darkest time of the year. Now two Jewish organizations are using the eight-day festival to warn about too much warmth and light. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are teaming up this Chanukah for a nationwide education and advocacy campaign about global warming and energy conservation.

Both groups want to shed light on the global warming problem — but a more energy-efficient light.

The bright idea at the center of their effort this Chanukah, which begins Dec. 15, is to encourage Jewish institutions to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, which consume 75 percent less energy.

Apparently unable to choose among clever Jewish light references, the campaign is known both as “A Light Among the Nations” and “How Many Jews Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?”

COEJL Executive Director Barbara Lerman-Golomb is hoping that installing the bulbs will turn the public on to the need for greater energy conservation.

“The idea behind it is that we can start with a simple action that will lead to larger actions that we can take,” Lerman-Golomb told JTA. “It’s a very daunting topic and people feel very overwhelmed, but we’re trying to engage them in awareness, advocacy and action to show that they can make a difference.”

More than 350 Jewish institutions have already signed on, and COEJL’s Web site is maintaining a running tally of how many bulbs have been sold and how much carbon dioxide has been kept from the atmosphere as a result.

“Chanukah is a time when we think about the Maccabees, a small group of people affecting a larger group,” Lerman-Golomb said. “In advocating switching to CFLs, we want to motivate the Jewish community to take this small act of tikkun olam which will have a huge impact.”

COEJL estimates it will sell 20,000 of the compact fluorescent light bulbs, which Lerman-Golomb says will prevent more than 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

The bulbs not only save money by consuming less energy, but last longer than regular bulbs while providing the same illumination. The design COEJL is selling is a unique spiral shape.

“It’s a thing of beauty,” Lerman-Golomb said.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a Reconstructionist rabbi in Maryland and a member of the COEJL board, designed a ceremony for congregations to use in sanctifying the bulb installation.

“As we take in the glow and warmth and peace of these Chanukah candles — and as our way is illuminated by the steady, sustainable light of our new low-energy bulb — let us commit to becoming the Maccabees of our day,” the text reads. “Let us replace more bulbs, install more insulation, adjust more thermostats, and become more conscious of all the small, simple, effective ways that we can help protect God’s good Creation.”

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