Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year starts on September 9 and is to be celebrated until sundown on September 11, this year. An opportunity for good food and fun with family and friends, this festival also is a time for looking inwards -- to reflect upon your actions over the past year and seek tshuva (repentance) and forgiveness for any wrongdoings.
This year as you contemplate on how you could have been better with your fellow human beings, do spare a few minutes to think about how you could have been better to our planet too. Take stock of your habits and behaviours that do more damage to the environment than good and figure out how you could change those. Let the noise of the shofar be loud enough to wake you up to a more conscientious and sustainable way of life.
And what better way to do that than by starting your New Year celebrations sustainably! Here are some tips to help you.
1) Eat it right: Rosh Hashanah is about all things sweet. And what can be sweeter than the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey and pomegranates as the “new fruit”. To make this experience even better, pay attention to where these sweet treats are coming from. Buy consciously. Try to find a local apiary selling raw, organic honey and buy from them instead of picking up mass-produced supermarket honey, which is neither fresh, nor tasty, and has an added disadvantage of having clocked hundreds of air miles before landing in that jar. If you are in Australia, you can check out this map to get your local honey fix.
As for buying fresh apples and pomegranates, just go to your local fruit and vegetable shop instead of heading to the super market. Check out websites like Your Local Green Grocer and Local Harvest to not only find a local store selling good, fresh produce but also to know more about the journey of your food from farm to fork.
Or if you are in for a bit of an outing, why not plan an apple-picking trip to a nearby organic farm and bring a bucketful of healthy sweetness home.
Sarah Newman is the US-based author of the famous blog, “Neesh Noosh: A Jewish Woman’s Year Long Journey to Find Faith in Food.” “For me, food becomes holy not only through the blessings we say, but also by how we grow and prepare it. How can we eat things that are certified kosher when their ingredients, one could argue, aren’t even made of actual food, but are unpronounceable manufactured chemical creations? Are such foods really worthy of a blessing, much less of our consumption? Is this sustenance?” she writes in her article “A year of learning Torah through food”.
Let this be your inspiration for trying to eat sustainable this Rosh Hashanah. Buy local and organic food items and wine, check for ingredients, reduce the amount of meat and include more vegetarian options in your holiday feast, use bio-degradable disposable cutlery, let your challah be made of organic ingredients, and make sure to prepare the fish-head with fish caught using sustainable fishing practices (check out the Sustainable Seafood Guide).
2) Green up the light: Women light up the candles on the first and second evenings of Rosh Hashanah to usher in the New Year. This year make sure to ditch petroleum-based wax candles that give off chemical laden fumes. Buy beeswax or soy candles that are good for the environment and healthier for you. Or better still, make your own. There are several free and paid workshops to learn soy and bees wax candle-making every weekend or you could just find an online tutorial just in time for the festivities. You can even get creative and make little lamps out of random items in your house. Hollow out that huge citrus that you haven’t eaten for a week, fill it with some cooking oil, put a wick in, and light it up for some orange glow with a sweet, and citrusy smell.
3) Water wise: Another beautiful custom associated with Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich. To perform this, people walk to a flowing body of water, such as a river or a stream, recite prayers, reflect upon their sins over the past year, and toss-in pieces of bread to symbolically cast away those sins in the water. You can take this ritual one green notch up by cleaning up the water-body and the area around it after you have performed the ritual. Collect any garbage within your reach from the water, look out for litter, stray plastics and the ubiquitous water bottles on the ground and put them in the bins. At the end of it, you would not only have washed away your sins but would also have performed your good deed of the day.
If you are feeling more generous, and have some time on your hands why not donate to or join a non-profit working for the water bodies in your city. The local councils also run events to clean up and protect ponds, lakes, streams and stretches of rivers in their area. Check your local council website to find out more.
4) Think before you gift: Festivals are a time for gifts. And we go to great lengths to make sure that our gift puts a smile on the face of the person receiving it. But do you ever put any thought into if that gift would put a smile or a frown on Mother Nature’s face. It’s important that we change our buying habits and be more aware of the environmental impacts of the things we buy, be it for personal use or gifts. So, this time around try to buy eco-friendly gifts for your loved ones. There are lots and lots of online stores, websites, and even small local stores that can help you find the perfect gifts that do not put a stress on the environment. You could buy hand-made jewellery sourced from recycled materials, dresses and accessories made from environment-friendly materials and processes, natural, organic cosmetics, handicrafts and artisan-made gifts sourced from fair-trade organisations across the globe, mini-herb gardens, a succulent pot arrangement, bird- and butterfly-feeders, or maybe small, hand-made pouches of organic wildflower seeds to scatter around the house and the garden. You would be spoilt for choice on websites like, Etsy, Ethical Superstore, EcoBella, Oz Fair Trade, Biome, Organic Earth Shop or Ethical Gifts.
5) Food for thought: It is common practice to discuss the words of the Torah while having meals during any Jewish holiday. Make this New Year a time for reflection and thought not only around Rosh Hashanah-themed topics but also find ways to connect teachings of the Torah to contemporary issues pressing our generation, like the state of our environment, global warming, poverty, hunger, etc. Ask each of your family members and guests to bring a reading, a write-up, or anything that they think can start a conversation on issues like scarcity and abundance, wastage, poverty, sustainable living, community and sharing, etc. Make sure to involve kids in these discussions to inspire them to become responsible humans when they grow up.
Hazon, a US-based organisation working to “create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, and a healthier and more sustainable world for all”, has some great tips on their website to help you celebrate sustainably. Hazon's award winning blog, “the Jew and the Carrot", is also a good place to find ideas on food sustainability and the Jewish Food Movement.
Get ready, get reading, and make a resolution to make this Rosh Hashanah your greenest ever. L'Shana Tovah u' Metukah!