The Blog

A Jewish Approach to Ecological Dinners

While our own No Impact Iftar had to unfortunately be cancelled do to the Hurricane Irene, we wanted to share a similar model of community, food, and ecological stewardship. The following is from Green Muslims partner and friend, Joelle Novey, and Green Muslims is forever indebted to her for all the countless help she has offered. Here is her introduction to a ecologically friendly Shabbat dinner (excerpted from the book Empowered Judaism by Elie Kaunfer):

At Tikkun Leil Shabbat (whose name alludes to tikkun olam – repairing the world), more than 150 folks in their twenties and thirties gather regularly on Friday nights for a songful, soulful service featuring a teaching about a social justice issue—and just about all of them stick around afterwards to share a vegetarian potluck dinner.

For more than four years, Tikkun Leil Shabbat in Washington, DC has managed to establish a system for hosting collaborative Shabbat dinners without using disposable plates, cutlery, or napkins, while meeting the needs of people with varied practices of kashrut. People share the work of cleaning up while maintaining an atmosphere of oneg Shabbat (delight in Shabbat).

The “two-table” potluck system, which TLS borrowed from the independent minyan Kol Zimrah (Sound of Song) in New York (who claim it may have originated, in turn, back in DC) is designed to honor a variety of Jewish dietary practices. We have one table for vegetarian food and another table for vegetarian food which is also hekhshered or made in a hekhsher-only kitchen, each with its own sets of dishes and cutlery that are washed separately. This makes it possible for the maximum number of people both to eat and to contribute food. By saying “vegetarian” and “hekhshered,” rather than “not kosher” and “kosher,” we make clear that TLS is not taking any position on what it means to keep kosher, but is simply setting out a logistical arrangement so that we all can share the meal.

Reusable Dishes
We’ve also sought to minimize waste from disposable tableware. On both potluck tables, we use lightweight reusable Preserve plates and cups from Recycline, made from recycled yogurt containers. We use a collection of previously loved forks purchased from Goodwill and donated by participants, and wash and reuse plastic cutlery and cups. We use a colorful collection of cloth napkins we procured on Craig’s List and through donations from participants—a volunteer launders them after each Tikkun Leil Shabbat. We recycle glass, plastic, and aluminum containers after TLS meals. (To keep the separateness of the hekhsher tableware simple, the “H-table” sports its own set of dishes, serving utensils, and sponges, all of a “lime-green” color, and its own dish bin that sits under the hekhsher table. When an “H” fork or plate finds its way into the wrong bin from time to time, it is retired.)

At least 30 people end up playing a role in washing all these dishes after dinner. We have developed an extensive online spreadsheet of a dozen volunteer roles at each TLS, including, for example, a “Food Monitor” who sets and refreshes the buffet tables, and two “Dish Captains,” one for each potluck table. The fifteen members of the Tomchei Tikkun (Supporters of the Minyan) coordinating team play a “spreadsheet role” pretty much every time. Additionally, a group of reliable volunteers, known as the “Tachlist,” gets an e-mail inviting them to sign up for these spreadsheet roles as well (a list of tasks for each role is included in the spreadsheet for those signing up for the first time).

Attendees are invited to volunteer for 10-minute dishwashing shifts by accepting a colorful lei necklace, which they wear while they’re helping, and can then bestow on someone else, until the dishes are all clean. (We like to joke that we are a “lei-led” Jewish community.) The volunteers circulating in the crowd collecting dishes with a Hawaiian necklace on add to a generally festive atmosphere, and some of the best conversations, new melodies, and personal connections at Tikkun Leil Shabbat happen around the kitchen during dishwashing.

On several different dimensions, Tikkun Leil Shabbat’s dinner system reflects our community’s core values:

  • It is pluralistic, because it permits people with various practices of kashrut to eat and to contribute food.
  • It is egalitarian, because everyone brings food to help create the meal, and just about everyone ends up helping to clean up, through a combination of roles signed up for in advance (like Dish Captain) or accepted in the moment (like a lei for 10 minutes of dishwashing).
  • Just as important, by having named roles and physical markers of who is helping and how at a given meeting, we also help to clarify who is “off the hook” this week. Naming explicitly who has signed up for particular tasks helps prevent certain conscientious souls, or women more likely to have been socialized to help with dishes, from accidentally becoming the default cleaning crew week after week.
  • It is socially conscious, by being mindful of minimizing our waste from disposables, and modeling a greener way of eating (vegetarian, and using reusable napkins and dishware).
  • Finally, it is community-building. By involving so many people, even those newly arrived, in the act of helping to feed one another and then doing the dishes, we’ve created an atmosphere of hands-on participation and provided the context for many conversations and connections that arose around the sinks.

Someone wrote a satirical song about TLS last year, which included the line: “You just might get your wishes; meet your soul mate washing dishes . . .” While we have yet to report an incidence of true love arising from dishwashing at TLS, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that our dish system in all its glory is one of our community’s spiritual practices.

Joelle Novey directs Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, which supports faith communities from across the DC area in saving energy, going green, and responding to climate change. She helps to coordinate Tikkun Leil Shabbat, an independent Jewish community that gathers in Dupont Circle for songful, soulful Shabbat services featuring a teaching about a social justice issue and followed by a potluck vegetarian dinner.

Re-Connected

Sitting in the room where Marvin Gaye performed for the first time, we listened to Dennis, coordinator at Washington Parks and People, inspire us with the evolution of the Marvin Gaye park. What had once been a haven for drug dealers (the previous year they counted ~60,000 drug needles littered around the park), stripped cars, crime and waste, had now been reclaimed by the community as a center of hope, movement, growth, and reconnection to the land.
The 11 of us followed Dennis through the park toward the children’s garden center where we would be working that afternoon. He pointed out open spaces and his vision for their potential uses; a future playground, a future flower garden, a footbridge in progress, park-lighting in the midst of wiring… I was overwhelmed with a sense of hope and excitement of the ongoing reclamation of the park. The children’s garden, an essentially one-man operation run by an endlessly energetic elderly gentleman named Jerry, provided open space for neighborhood children to reconnect to their land. Situated around the corner from where once Martin Luther King Jr. had gathered 5,000 civil rights activists to stage lunch counter sit-ins, we worked to help prepare the children’s garden for spring.
At first, some of us who had been removed from working with the land, gingerly coaxed the weeds out of the soil with gloved hands. Realizing the weeds were stubborn and infestuous by nature, we resolved to hacking at the soil beneath the weeds, resolute to clear the soil, allow it to breathe, make way for new growth…new hope for the children who would soon be planting prized vegetables, beautiful flowers, nurturing a once abused and neglected space with care, dedication and love.
Jerry urged us, upon our departure, to return in the near future to observe the transformation of the garden after the plantings. Deeply humbled, we made the intention to return to the site soon inshaAllah. Watch out for future Green Muslim service events with Washington Parks and People! 🙂 

http://www.washingtonparks.net/