There are just over 5 million Jews in the U.S., and close to half of them belong to a synagogue. As the center of spiritual life in Jewish communities, synagogues have taken the lead in practicing and preaching the bible’s dictum to “Love thy neighbor” by preserving resources and sustaining the Earth. Tikkun olam, repair of the world, is another concept in Judaism that inspired these synagogues to make drastic changes to God’s home on Earth.

Congregation Emanu-el B’ne Jeshurun: Milwaukee, Wis.

Congregation Emanu-el B’ne Jeshurun: Milwaukee, Wis.

Award-winning architect and landscaping specialist Phillip Katz took a synagogue that had been around for a century and a half and merged the age-old value of “waste not, want not” with modern green technologies. The challenge at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun (CEEBJ) was to create a design that would focus on the beautiful surrounding landscape, reduce energy use and retain the ability to keep more than a thousand worshipers comfortable in one room.

Katz was up to the task, incorporating floor-to-ceiling windows in the main sanctuary and an ice storage system in the basement to cool the building. A green roof over the covered walkway greets members and guests with a bold statement of sustainability. Fully operable windows open and close to let in cool air from the retention pond and release warm air from higher spaces. Low-flow fixtures, green label carpets, FSC certified wood beams and native plant species are some of the other green initiatives implemented by CEEBJ.

Westchester Reform Temple: Scarsdale, N.Y.

Westchester Reform in Scarsdale, N.Y., has pulled green tricks out of its hard hat everywhere you turn: It features concrete made with fly ash (a byproduct of coal manufacturing, creating less landfill), and faceted light poles designed to reduce the effects of unnatural lighting on the nocturnal environment. Inside, 100 percent of the synagogue’s energy use is alternative. It purchases energy from wind and solar farms, thereby preventing 283,854 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from being emitted into the atmosphere.

The sanctuary uses an airfloor system — an efficient alternative to standard overhead air distribution — to provide uniform thermal comfort. Building materials were locally sourced, including glass, concrete, cedar wood and gypsum plaster board from within the state and neighboring Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Congregation Beth David: San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Congregation Beth David: San Luis Obispo, Calif.

In 1962, just in time for the High Holidays, Congregation Beth David became the first Jewish religious structure in San Luis Obispo County. Decades later, the congregation underwent a major move and green building plan to modernize, expand and meet the needs of a flourishing, eco-conscious congregation.

The new synagogue is shaped like a bagel — sans lox — with a central courtyard surrounded by the main building. Sophisticated computer programs were used to study weather patterns and determine which tree species would provide protection from wind and noise. The synagogue utilizes photovoltaic panels, skylights, solar light tubes, motion detector light switches, extra-thick concrete floors and straw bale walls. South-facing water tank walls create thermal mass that stores heat from the sun and cools the building in the summer, and gas fireplaces heat small areas as needed.

Congregation Neveh Shalom: Portland, Ore.

Congregation Neveh Shalom: Portland, Ore.

Neveh Shalom in Portland, Ore., takes the green theme well beyond its new LEED Silver walls. Congregants restored the creek that runs alongside the synagogue, planted and maintain an on-site vegetable garden, and work toward a goal of zero food waste at the synagogue.

Inside these hallowed walls, Soderstrom Architects set new administrative offices along outside walls to maximize sunlight and reduce the need for electric lighting. Low-flow fixtures and LED lighting were installed, and in the chapel, only low-impact materials were used. During construction, a full 95 percent of construction waste was reused or recycled.

Around the new building, plants are native and low maintenance, eliminating the need for a sprinkler system. Stormwater is treated on-site and flow-through planters are incorporated into the design to beautify the grounds and improve the water quality.

Temple Sinai: Rochester, N.Y.

Temple Sinai: Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester, N.Y., is home to this stunning synagogue where home energy audits, biking to synagogue and a Community Day of Eco-Judaism are part and parcel of congregant life. Inside the synagogue, energy-efficient lighting, recycling bins, plastic collection bins and Goodwill boxes encourage waste reduction and resource preservation. A high-efficiency boiler, on-demand water heater and insulation save energy, while reusable dishes and mugs prevent waste.

A grant by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will fund research and future project implementation to further the environmental goals of this congregation.

Related green design stories on MNN:

Click for photo credits

Photo credits:

Westchester Reform: Westchester Reform

Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun: Phillip Katz Architects

Beth David: Mike Blum

Neve Shalom: Kirsten Force

Temple Sinai: Eli Tuber

Sarah F. Berkowitz Sarah F. Berkowitz was born in Jerusalem, raised in Detroit, and currently lives in Atlanta with her Manhattan born and bred husband. Her dream of becoming a psychologist was traded in for a laptop and chef’s hat when she decided to pursue her passion for writing and food. Sarah enjoys cooking, trying to get food to stay still for a good photo, and convincing her kids that they're lucky to have a chef as a mom. (They're still waiting for dinner.)

5 sustainable synagogues
These sustainable synagogues exemplify the Jewish doctrine of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Synagogues have taken the lead in practicing the bible’s di