How One Jewish Environmental Activist Found Inspiration In The Hanukkah Miracle

The Hanukkah story is an account of a religious miracle, but in it lies another important message -- one that is inspiring some Jewish activists in their work for the environment.

Liya Rechtman, an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is using the Jewish month of Kislev, which runs Nov. 23 - Dec. 22, to do a "Hanukkah Conservation Challenge," during which she will replace all of her incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.

The challenge is light-specific to highlight the miracle at the core of the Hanukkah story. After years of battle between the Jewish Maccabees and the Syrian-Greek army, the Maccabees finally defeated the last fortress and returned to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. They had only enough oil to light the temple for one day -- but it miraculously lasted for eight.

Rechtman writes in an article about her conservation challenge:

Hanukkah, which begins on 25 Kislev, puts light at the core of our celebration, reminding us on cold and dark winter days how integral light is in our Jewish tradition. By replacing our light bulbs, we can minimize the damage done to our earth when we use unnecessary energy to light our homes and uphold our Jewish obligation not to destroy our earth and not to waste its resources, bal taslich (Deuteronomy 20:19).

HuffPost Religion spoke with Rechtman to hear more about the Hanukkah Conservation Challenge and how others can get involved:

What inspired you to take on this challenge?

We were inspired to create the Monthly Green Challenge this year because it’s important to realize the ways that by slightly altering your lifestyle and daily routines one person can make a real impact on energy conservation. Our hope for the series is that others will join the challenge! So far I’ve gotten positive feedback from several readers.

How can the Hanukkah miracle translate into conservation work for Jews today?

The celebration of Hanukah connects well to themes of conservation. In the Hanukah story, the Maccabees have oil only enough for one day and are miraculously able to make it last for eight days. As helpful as a miraculous solution to the challenges of climate change would be, we can create our own miracle by reducing our use of non-renewable energy sources, specifically oil. We need to increase our usage of wind, solar and other cleaner energies if we are to save ourselves from the devastation of the climate change crisis.

Have you seen any synagogues or Jewish group taking on this challenge or doing other environmental work?

Many Reform Jewish synagogues and affiliated organizations, like our summer camps and youth groups, are doing environmental work. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is partnering with an organization called GreenFaith to support our congregations in doing energy audits, making congregational spaces more energy efficient, and educating our community on environmental issues through worship services and programming. Some, like Temple Jeremiah in Chicago, are working on GreenFaith certification right now. In Boise Idaho, Congregation Ahavat Beth Israel runs a community garden for the local refugee congregations. Community gardens have become very popular among our congregations and summer camps, many of them donate the food they grow, working to protect the vulnerable within their communities at the same time that they are working to protect the earth.

What stories, lessons or rhetoric do they use to inspire their congregations?

Congregations talk about environmental issues and Jewish values through a couple of different lenses. One of our central values is to pass on our tradition from one generation to another, from parents to children. In our text this is call l’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next. In the same way that we are taught to pass on our tradition, we also believe that we must pass on a heritable, viable earth to the next generation. We also often talk about the command to be environmental stewards, citing genesis 2:15, in which God tells Adam to “till and tend” the Garden of Eden. In the same way that Adam is commanded to till and tend the earth, we believe in protecting our earth.

Will you continue the challenge beyond this month?

The Monthly Green Challenge is actually something I have been writing every month, with challenges specifically related to that month. I wrote one for the month of Tishrei about recycling grocery bags (here) and one in Cheshvan about turning down your thermostat (here). So yes, the challenges will definitely continue past Kislev throughout the Jewish year! I’ll present – and try to live by – a new challenge each month.

Read Rechtman's blog about her Hanukkah Conservation Challenge here.

Hanukkah 2014