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Judaic teaching and nature go hand-in-hand at Solomon Schechter

April 8th, 2009

By Harriet Blake

Going green” may be all the rage these days, whether it’s at a school, hospital, office or municipality. At Solomon Schechter School in Westchester County, N.Y., “green” has been part of the philosophy from the start.

Founded in 1966, the conservative Jewish day school serves nearly 1,000 students. It incorporates the environment not just in the curriculum but in every day life, says chief operating officer Rahel Rosner.

“Our philosophy is based on the Hebrew expression “Min Ha’ Aretz,” meaning “with the earth,” she says.

“We’ve always lived with the earth, “ says Rosner, explaining that it is part of the Jewish culture. The K-12 school has two campuses – one located in White Plains for K-6; the other located in Hartsdale for 7-12. Each site is comprised of about 24 acres that are heavily wooded and well-maintained for nature walks.

“We come at green from two angles, religion and science,” says Rosner. The Judaic and science teachers offer a class, ‘About the Earth,’ in which the students have fun learning how religion and science work together. In one session, the kids make cheese by stirring it with a fig branch, Rosner says. “The fig tree is important in both religion and science. Figs are considered to be one of the seven species that dominated the diet of the Jews in biblical Israel. They were one of the staple foods. This way the kids understand how they are part of the earth.”

Even a simple thing as eating has meaning, says principal Nellie Harris. “Our Jewish texts call on us to be mindful of the food that comes from the earth and not take it for granted. Eating is a sacred event, it is not mindless, but mindful.” She points that out that the eating of kosher food, which minimizes the eating of animals, has this mindfulness at its core.

Rosner, who has been with the school about five years, is very proud of the school’s two 50-kilowatt solar panel systems. A third system is planned for this summer. The panels were made possible in part with state funding. “We generate electricity and also sell back to the grid,” she says. The best part?

The solar installation is cost neutral, she says.

Rosner wants to spread the word to other schools about solar installations, which she says is possible despite the initial costs.

“Initially, we couldn’t afford the $500,000 solar panels,” says Rosner. “But we first received a $250,000 grant from the state of New York. Then we developed a roof lease program – in conjunction with Mercury Solar, an alternative energy company — in which we lease our roof to a for-profit organization that in turn could get the tax credit. This took off another 50 percent of the cost. We were able to lock into a utility rate for the next 10 years meaning our energy rate will stay the same, no increases.”

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