The Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County has become the first school in New Jersey, and only the second Jewish day school, to be named to a prestigious environmental “honor roll.”
The Green Schools Initiative recognizes schools that strive to be toxin-free, use resources sustainably, create green space, and provide environmental education and advocacy through hands-on involvement.
Of the 21 schools on the honor roll, two are Jewish day schools.
“Schools where part of the mission is a focus on service and issues of social justice, environmental justice — tikun olam for Jewish schools — are more likely to be early adapters and want to ‘go green’ and make a difference and engage their students in making their community better, healthier, and more sustainable,” said Deborah Moore, cofounder and director of the initiative, based in Berkeley, Calif.
HAMC offers an eco-friendly Styrofoam-free and plastic-free hot lunch program, and only biodegradable cups, dishes, and utensils are used in classrooms, while the lunchroom uses regular dishes, glasses, and utensils that are washed in an energy-saving dishwasher.
The school instituted a comprehensive recycling program that includes bins in every classroom, a crayon recycling program, and a paper-free policy that extends to board meetings and parents’ events. Students are also encouraged to use thermos bottles instead of juice boxes.
The school has added green education to the curriculum through guest speakers that have included Rabbi Moshe Rudin of Temple Hatikvah in Flanders and Rabbi Lawrence Troster of the religious environmental group Greenfaith.
The school is also careful to incorporate the Jewish imperative for stewardship of the earth and its resources into the curriculum.
“We love to weave Judaism into everything we do. We never forget that part of our mission,” said Naomi Bacharach, HAMC director of marketing and development.
The school purchased a composting bin this summer, and its upcoming fund-raiser will focus on selling environmentally friendly sand-bead bracelets made by people in Darfur.
This year, the school also looks forward to starting a community garden, welcoming a green captain to the student council, and participating in both a no-littering poster contest and a campaign against car idling — an unnecessary source of air pollution.
Greening the academy has been a labor of love, according to Joy Sussman of Randolph, whose two children, Charlotte, four, and Zachary, seven, attend the school.
She advocated to get rid of juice boxes last summer — and in short order the school created a green team, which she heads.
“Joy Sussman is a very environmentally aware person, and she’s tenacious. Without her, this would not have happened,” said Bacharach.
Moore said that the honor roll is not meant to provide an official or formal certification. “Schools want recognition and the know-how to be green; they are getting ahead of where states are,” she said.
About 15 states offer green certification programs for schools. The federal government is in the process of creation a “green ribbon” school program similar to its blue ribbon program for academic excellence, but it is still in development.
As for cost, Bacharach acknowledged that some items, like biodegradable products in the lunchroom, are pricey.
“We’re not going to do this half way, and we worked it into our budget,” she said. “We’ve decided this is a priority and if we say we are environmentally friendly, then we have to be that.”