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Save the planet — walk to synagogue!
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Save the planet — walk to synagogue!

Beth El urges its members to leave their cars at home

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

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In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Congregation Beth El is taking a page from tradition.

On May 15, the Conservative synagogue in South Orange is organizing what organizers are calling a “walking shul bus” for Shabbat. Participants are being urged to leave their cars at home and walk to synagogue in groups.

Originally conceived as a tie-in to Earth Day — which was marked for the 40th year on April 22 — the effort reflects both traditional Shabbat practice and Judaism’s spiritual tie to the environment.

“We wanted to be as green as we could, and we thought walking to shul also encompasses the Judaic aspect of not driving to shul,” said David Ascher, one of the organizers of the event.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Conservative movement amended the traditional prohibition on driving on Shabbat and ruled it permissible for its adherents to drive to synagogue under specific conditions. Like most Conservative congregations, Beth El members include those who normally walk to synagogue on Shabbat and those who drive.

The effort was also inspired by the “walking school bus,” a program for elementary school children started in Australia in 1992. Intended to encourage youngsters to get more exercise and cut down on the use of resources by walking to school, the idea has been adapted around the world.

The “walking shul bus” also has a communal component.

“People tend to arrive at synagogue in a silo, on their own,” said Ascher. “It’s rare to see multiple families or couples coming together, whether they are walking or driving. This way, we can create community by walking together.”

Plans call for groups of congregants to gather at two locations on Saturday morning, May 15, each with two different times for starting out: one at 9:15, which will have the walkers arriving at the synagogue for the beginning of services, the other at 10:30, for people with families who wish to arrive in time for youth services.

One group will set out from South Orange Middle School, the other from the Ethical Culture Society at the corner of Parker Avenue and Prospect Street in Maplewood. Both spots are about .8 mile from the synagogue.

The Walking Shul Bus is part of Synaplex Shabbat at Beth El. During services, congregants will hear from a rabbinical student who traveled to Mexico to participate in a sustainable agriculture project, a representative of Al Gore’s Climate Project discussing climate change, and the executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Essex County, who will discuss homelessness in the area.

For more information, contact Congregation Beth El at 973-763-0111.

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