Temple B’nai Israel, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, Michigan is the 2022 winner of the new Electric Vehicle Leader category of Interfaith Power & Light’s Cool Congregations Challenge for their efforts to educate about the benefits of adopting electric vehicles. IPL congratulates Temple B’nai Israel!
“The members and friends of Temple B’nai Israel are thrilled to receive a first place award. As a Jewish community we believe our actions should align with our values, especially the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the teachings of our sages regarding our responsibility to our planet. Recognizing climate change as an existential threat to God’s creation, we are looking at every way to minimize our environmental impact,” said Simone Schicker, Rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel.
Temple B’nai Israel started their congregational green team in 2021 and have already made a huge impact in their region of Michigan. They began by installing two EV charging stations in the parking lot at our building in Spring 2021, went on to educate others about the advantages, and are advocating the adoption of EVs to elected officials.
Read more in the words of Steve Bertman, a member of the congregation:
Our Level-2 EV chargers came on line in the early Summer of 2021. Many volunteer hours went into planning and preparing the site. A congregant who is an electrician installed the stations and helped decide the appropriate size and location. We want to involve as many members of our synagogue as possible in EV promotion and other ecological issues.
The temple congregation aspires to install solar panels on our roof, and we are working on financing options to make this happen. Our chargers are powered by our account with Consumers Energy. We received a rebate from Consumers Energy through their “MIDrive” program that provides incentives for installation of EV chargers. The congregation paid for the balance of the cost from the general fund with the addition of a donation specifically earmarked for this installation. The ENELX Juicebox unit that was installed is managed by ENELX software and payments are made online through a 3rd party company. All users pay for electricity at the rate charged to the temple.
We have spearheaded an effort to encourage other houses of worship in Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan to install chargers. As founding members of Hope for Creation, the SW Michigan chapter of Michigan Interfaith Power & Light, we developed an educational “roadshow” about the Consumers Energy rebate program and the benefits of electric vehicles. We made almost two dozen presentations to local houses of worship and to organizations with broader membership, for example the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition. So far, two of the congregations who participated in our presentation outreach have now installed chargers, and we are hoping more will follow. The presentations were very well received and many people had questions. Several congregations formed ad hoc committees to investigate the possibilities.
In conjunction with the “roadshow” lobbying effort, we worked with People’s Church of Kalamazoo to plan an EV show in July. The event featured a range of electric vehicles and presentations about the potential of electric vehicles to transition away from fossil fuels. Congregants with electric vehicles parked in a central city lot and were present to answer questions for all participants who visited this EV show. Direct contact with individuals in the community who have interest in EV but have questions was an important part of our contribution.
Our temple is actively helping newly arrived immigrants get settled, find jobs, schools, clothes, and other items. We have been talking about buying an electric vehicle for someone in our community, specifically an electric bicycle.
Our congregation established a Green Team committee in 2021 to improve our environmental impact by working on energy efficiency and encouraging carbon-free energy. We now have 12 congregational families represented on the Green Team (over 10% of our families) in addition to our Rabbi. Our Rabbi is strongly supportive of our efforts (see her article in the Detroit Jewish News; https://thejewishnews.com/2021/08/20/guest-column-investing-in-the- future/), which is an important element for the success of our Green Team efforts in the future. One of the activities our Green Team is working on is encouraging interactions with elected officials. We will arrange meetings with local politicians and planning boards to explain the advantages of and advocate for EVs. Individuals on the Team have also contacted officials in support of environmental issues.
Temple B’nai Israel’s Green Team is a new venture, begun in the past year. As a small congregation, we are initially focusing on low- cost improvements that we plan to implement to make our building more energy efficient. These include
- Insulating pipes in the drop ceiling in the foyer
- Installing an on-demand water heater for the kitchen sink Installing smart thermostats
- Installing insulated blinds in classrooms
- Building an airlock out from the current front door
We are in conversation with an energy consultant to assess our building for future long-term plans.
A focus of our congregation’s Green Team is to model actions that members can take in their own homes. To that end, we are sending regular “Did You Know” tips to the congregation through social media and regular email blasts. We plan to publicize the energy improvements that we make as tips for congregants. We will include information about how congregants can make similar improvements in their own homes and highlight the energy savings that we reap through these improvements. The award will also bring recognition and build momentum for our new Green Team that will help us continue our mission of education and action.
Some congregants have established and promoted a new compost project this summer, tended new organic garden beds, planted native trees and shrubs in our wooded area, and created a pathway for nature appreciation. Other congregants created a small-scale solar panel project to light our holy ‘eternal light’. One member is working with the city for the development of a green/natural burial option in our cemetery. As individuals pursued each of these projects, we publicized it through our social media to inspire others and to demonstrate that promoting EV adoption and the other activities are part of our faith’s and our congregation’s values.
Our small congregation is fairly progressive and takes seriously the Jewish directive of ‘tikkun olam’, which means work to heal the world and make it a better place than we found it. Recognizing climate change as an existential threat to God’s creation, we are looking at every way to minimize the environmental impact of our communal building space and to educate all congregants about minimizing their own individual impacts. More importantly, we are hoping that our actions with the limited resources we have available will show everyone the importance of getting involved and taking the threat of climate change seriously by taking action.