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~I'm dreaming of a Green Hanukkah~ A blog post by our Social Action co-chair, Jennifer Hisrich.

Are you dreaming of a Green Hanukkah? I sure am! This is the Schmita year, a year of release and sharing in the Jewish life cycle. In that spirit, the social action committee of Kol Ami brings you ideas for a more ecological Hanukkah. Hanukkah starts Sunday November 28, so get ready now for a more sustainable celebration!

The 8 days focuses are:

Day 1 Cards

Day 2 Gifts

Day 3 Menorahs, lights, and decorations

Day 4 Action

Day 5 Charity

Day 6 Wrapping

Day 7 Food

Day 8 Everything else

Each day we've been posting about it on Kol Ami’s Face book page. Visit it for discussion and support here, or Contact me, Jennifer Hisrich at


Ecards are an easy way to send Chanukah greetings and there is no paper waste or shipping.

Design you own or use a local vendor. Hadassah has ecards available for a donation.

Recycle old card fronts as postcards, it's recycling and costs less to send. Cut them down to postcard size: 6 inches long by 4-1/4 inches high by .016 inch thick. Make postcards or folding cards and even envelopes from leftover paper around your house tp recycle them and eliminate waste. There are many different papers around the house you could recycle, from school flyers to junk mail. Kids artwork makes great cards, too. You can google envelope patterns and this is a great craft project to for kids. Your cards don’t have to match. Use up all the half boxes in the back of your storage space. Bonus gain in storage space and another way of recycling. Buying new? Look for recycled materials and /or support a of a worthy cause. If printing photos as cards, consider just sending the photo by email or other messaging service. If physical photos are a must item on your list, limit recipients and don’t over print. Also, if you are sending someone a gift and a card, put the card in the package. Read more here. If you do thank you cards, try making a charitable donation in the person's name instead. The charity will send them an acknowledgement and depending on the charity you may be able to include a personal message. If you do choose to send cards, search out eco-friendly cards made with plant-based inks, recyclable paper, etc. Choose smaller cards over larger ones. Or make your own with eco-friendly supplies.


Gifts are an important and fun part of Hanukkah celebrations for many of us. We need to consider what gifts are the best for the recipient and for the planet we all live on. The above graphic from Just Little Changes is a helpful starting point. Memories! Experiences you can share are a great gift. But what about far away loved ones? For a family, consider a membership to their local museum or zoo – a gift they can enjoy all year. Theater or music tickets, local shows, movie gift cards, sporting events and restaurant cards are all good options. Pick a thing they already do or something convenient to them. And try to get a purely e-gift card or a printable one rather than a piece of plastic. Give Hanukkah gelt in the form of tzedakah to a Jewish or environmental organization of your choice in honor of a friend or relative. ‘Adopt’ an animal, plant a tree, or buy an acre of rain forest in someone’s honor. Donate to a local Jewish organization. Not sure which one they would support? Use a service such as Kiva that allows them to pick. Time! An overlapping category with experiences for those nearby. Make your own gift certificate or coupon. You could give someone ‘a night at the movies,’ ‘one week of walking the dog,’ etc. This is a great way to give someone exactly they want! The first 15 on this list are not so pricy. This site has good ideas for children. If you are willing to go big with experiences, check this site out. This site suggests subscription boxes that you could each get and share over zoom. You can still stream movies together in different locations and do the same with art museums, too. Up-cycling! Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value. The Internet is your resource. Do consider that it is something the recipient can fit in their home and use. Second Hand! Secondhand, pre-loved, vintage or antique presents are all good eco-friendly options. Books are my favorite. If it is a heirloom write the story to go with it. Make Your Own/DIY! Take a photo and create your own frame, knit a scarf or a hat, or make your own beeswax candles. There are lots of great books about homemade gifts in your library; check one out today! You know what works for you but consider trying one new thing with the supplies you have. Food! Edible gifts are always great for holidays. Bake someone a batch of cookies in Chanukah shapes, cook sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, a traditional Hanukkah treat) or be more creative. Ethical Buys! Use Wooden dreidels. The great pacific garbage patch is a massive floating vortex, comprised mostly of plastic, that stretches from the West Coast of the US to Japan. It doesn’t need more spinning plastic dreidels! Get something that’s both useful and reusable: a travel mug, cloth bag, linen napkins, reusable lunchbox, etc. Buy someone an environmental book or a subscription to an environmental magazine. Buy Sustainable! When buying gifts, make sure to look for sustainably made products. Check out clothing made by ethically treated workers or recyclable metal water bottles. Buy Fair Trade! In addition to fair trade gelt, Fair Trade Judaica is home to a collection of fair trade products you can check out, including: menorahs, oil, dreidels, and decorations to help enhance your celebration of Hanukkah. Use Hanukkah as an opportunity to raise awareness about sweatshop labor and teach about ethical labor practices, while simultaneously supporting Fair Trade products. Check out this site for Eco Friendly gifts for children. Buy Organic! Clothing, bath products, and food are always good options - although check the level of packaging and have a close look to determine how eco-friendly the product actually is. Buy Local! Many locally produced items will fit in more than one category. Buy for charity but be cautious, make sure the items are sustainably produced, and that the money goes to those producers and the charity. Items are still unsustainable if they are cheaply produced by poorly paid workers. Do you have a toy already promised? Try to buy as local as you can to avoid additional shipping and traveling costs.


Candles and Oil. Burn olive oil, not petroleum. The commonly found rainbow Hanukkah candles are made from paraffin (petroleum). Keep the petroleum out of your menorah by burning beeswax or vegetable candles. Soy and palm Oil candles should be organic and /or sustainably sourced. Alternatively, be just like the Maccabees and burn pure olive oil. Link for wicks at the bottom of the posts. Beeswax candles. Honeybees pollinate every third bite of food we eat. However, Colony Collapse Disorder–a massive die-off of bees worldwide–threatens our global food supplies. Support your local beekeeper buy purchasing beeswax Chanukah candles. Or buy wax and make your own for a craft project. Reduce: To try and reduce the number of candles lit, light one Menorah together with a friends and family or go to a public menorah lighting. Instead of allowing the children to light a Menorah each, get them to take it in turns lighting candles. There are 8 nights and lots of candles, so they can all have a turn at some point (even if you have a really large family). Make the most of the candlelight! Turn off the lights while the candles are burning and save on electricity. I love the tradition of not working while the menorah burns. Most Chanukah candles burn for half an hour. Great time to talk and sing with family and maybe play a game.

Green your Hanukkah decorations. Try crafting a dreidel out of recyclable materials. Remember making an alphabet block Hanukkah as a child? Recreate the experience with your family or community and see how creative you can make your Hanukkah. For inspiration, check out this article about a Green Menorah Contest here. Decorating your home? Make your decorations from recycled or recyclable paper with family. Reuse decorations, even paper ones, form year to year. If you’re not into crafting, look into buying an eco-friendly menorah that is made from recycled products or uses LED lights. Cleaning hint: If you are shining up a menorah that you already own, consider using an eco-friendly alternative to silver polish, such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) or other natural cleaners. Some very innovative ideas for making your own menorah including oil burning menorahs that you can read about here.


Social and Community actions during Hanukkah often require some planning. Grow Your Community! One easy way is to invite your friends to Kol Ami’s Chanukah party. Please look for details here. Consider a year of focus on someone you know who needs help, an elderly neighbor, a single parent, a family caregiver. Even if you need help yourself there are ways to help others who will help you. Can’t think of anyone? Jewish Family Services has a great volunteer program here. Participate in 8 days of action. After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to being more environmentally sustainable and enacting food justice when possible. Volunteer at your local emergency food provider one night. Cook a meal for someone recovering from surgery another night. Screen a movie relating to food justice another night. Bring light into someone's life. Find a shelter for battered woman, or homeless persons or elders (etc.) and bring your menorah over there for lighting. Listen to the Torah of each person's life with care. Invite them each to light a candle and express their greatest hopes for their future or most precious memory of light in their lives. Bless them to attain their dreams. Talk to the center director and find out what is needed, with money from the tzedakah box project above, obtain something needed by that community and bring it over—often this would be feminine hygiene items that are so costly for those with few resources. If you have children in your life, make sure they come along with you and help with the blessings and decision - from Reconstructing Judaism – perhaps not totally possible this year but there may be ways you can talk to residents. If you can, donate your time to a local emergency food provider or shelter to help make someone else’s holiday. Look for volunteer opportunities through Jewish Family Services. They have several family-oriented options. There are many other volunteer matching services too. Contact Kol Ami to join the Social Action committee or contact Jennifer Hisrich for information on the Kirkland Jewish Community group, which has a strong volunteer focus. Green Your Community – Take Action! Sign up To Receive RAC (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) News and Legislative Action Alerts These alerts will help you keep up on current environmental news and policy. Join your state’s chapter of the Interfaith Climate Change Network, here. Kol Ami is also involved with FAN ( Faith Action Network) read more about them here. Green your Investments! Invest in companies or Funds that have sound environmental practices or that provide renewable sources of energy. Check your bank’s practices. Clean and Green!

Find room for what comes into your home by donating items you don’t use. Do check the practices of the place you donate, not all thrift stores are charitable, for example. Read more here and here.


Give a different type of gelt. The practice of giving gelt began as a means of respectfully providing money for poor people to purchase Hanukkah candles. In 2014, there were 48 million people in the United States, including 16 million children, who went hungry, while an estimated 130 billion pounds of food is wasted annually in the country. Hunger is solvable. Pantries best operate with large-scale canned food donations, fresh food, and money. Donating unwanted canned foods from your pantry is not the most effective approach. Rather, the most effective ways you can help are by donating money or fresh produce to your local food pantry. Encourage your local supermarkets to donate, not throw out, unsold items to food banks. Instead of giving chocolate Hanukkah gelt, give money to your local emergency food provider or hunger relief organization. For the Eastside the provider is generally Hopelink and for King County, check here.

If you are still growing produce, check here to find a food bank to donate your extras to. On one of the nights of Hanukkah open all of the tzedakah boxes (collection boxes for charity) in the house and count the money in preparation for giving to a worthy cause. I keep a tzedakah box on the counter by my desk at work, many mitzvah-centered Jews and non-Jews who come through the building help to keep it brimming. A lovely practice I learned from my teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, is to take all change out of my pockets before lighting Shabbat candles and put it into a tzedakah box. (His family had a "Shabbos box" where wallets and keys would also go to be retrieved after Shabbat ended.) When everyone in a household does this, the tzedakah boxes get very full. (One year we collected over $1,500 dollars. Sometimes we would put in even more than pocket change to celebrate someone/thing wonderful in our lives.) In our family, if we don’t collect that much, we just put it into the Coinstar machine. They don’t collect a fee for charity donations. Or if your charity is not represented, get a gift card to give them to help those in need. On another night of Hanukkah decide on the important causes to which you will send the money. Have every person bring a clipping (printout) about a cause they believe needs funding in the most immediate way. Families who are doing the tzedakah box collection described earlier in this list can regroup on the last night of Hanukkah to allocate the funds to the causes presented tonight. Kids can contribute as well! If they receive monetary gifts, encourage them to donate a part of it. Remember your Kol Ami Community as this is the perfect time to contribute to the Turning Over a new Leaf Campaign at Kol Ami: A Center for Jewish Life, here.


Both before and after your Hanukkah traditions, wrapping paper is a consideration. Although

it is paper and can be recycled, there is a carbon cost involved in producing and recycling it.

Instead of wrapping presents you could just present them nicely and tie a re-usable ribbon around them. Children however may find this disappointing so instead you could try the following:

Get your children to go on a treasure hunt to find their presents. Hide the present(s) somewhere around the house and provide clues to help them find it. Again, put a re-usable ribbon around each present (you could color code them if you have more than one child). To create more eco-friendly Hanukkah traditions, consider using your own child's artwork as wrapping paper. And keep any wrapping paper you get given, put it under a cloth and iron it and it will look as good as new. Use that wrapping paper to cover re-usable boxes and save for packaging presents next time. Cloth bags or even store-bought gift bags reused from year to year can become a family tradition. Re-use tissue paper the same way as wrapping paper, with a cloth and iron. If you do buy, consider recycled or recyclable paper. Click here for more ideas, here on wrapping with cloth, here on how to make a Hanukkah bag, and here for more cloth bag instructions.


Food is a big part of Hanukkah and everyday life, too. Look into sustainable scrap cooking for Hanukkah and year-round as well. This is a great start if you peel your potatoes for latkes. And, I highly recommend this book on scrappy cooking, which is super informative, useful, and is written by a local author! Go small, go local! Every food choice we make is an opportunity to fulfill our obligations to protect Creation. Industrial agriculture’s approach to growing food is oppressive and is treated like warfare: us versus them. The use of heavy pesticides and fertilizers destroys critical nutrients in soil and pollutes the air and water. Dead soil is gone forever; it cannot be replenished. When you buy produce from small, local farmers, you opt to protect and preserve local food systems and support growing food without harmful chemicals that poison our air, water, and health. Potatoes and other root vegetables are in abundance during the winter. Stop by your local farmers market and stock up prior to making your Hanukkah latkes. Change up your latke. Toppings: Rather than buying a traditional brand of sour cream, stock up on an all-natural or organic sour cream. More of an applesauce fan? Make your own from apples purchased locally or buy an organic brand. Latke: You can use sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, or carrots as an added healthy bonus to give your latkes a different taste! Buy Fair Trade Chocolate. If you still want chocolate gelt, opt for Fair Trade choices. I recommend Chocolove, Dagoba, Equal Exchange, or Seattle's own Theo Chocolates. Try making you own gelt using this great recipe. And remember to always buy Fair Trade chocolate (or anything else for that matter) as it's far less likely to rely on Child slavery. Consider skipping the foil and try reusable molds. Buy organic oil. Since Hanukkah frequently involves oil in some form for every meal, buying organic oil ensures a more sustainable celebration. For a healthier alternative, skip the deep frying and bake instead. It's the time of year to have fried food and if you are doing a lot of frying then make sure you re-use the oil as much as possible. If there is oil left over afterwards, pour it back into the bottle (once it has cooled) to use another time. Never pour oil down your sink as it may contribute to drain blockages. There are also locations where you can drop off used cooking oil to be recycled into fuel. Click here to do that.

Cut down on waste! If you're hosting a Hanukkah party or large communal meal, use recyclable, reusable, or compostable plates and flatware. And, try and make larger batches at once and freeze whatever you don't need immediately. If the doughnuts or latkes are shop bought and you are likely to have leftovers, you can still freeze them to make sure there is no waste. For tips on cutting back on waste, check this out. For more sustainable meals, check this article out, and for more affordable ones, read this article.


There are many other steps to sustainable living that we can't possibly cover in 8 days. But, this holiday of light can be an important reminder to reset our thinking of our overall energy use and conservation. The traditional Jewish relationship to olive oil can teach us how we can relate to reflecting on the reason Hanukkah lasts eight days was because that was how long it took to create a pure batch of renewable olive oil. One of the miracles of Hanukkah - the energy that lasted longer than expected - can remind us the need to conserve our own energy resources. Let there be renewable light! Check out this article and don't forget all the other environmental groups out there to help. Finally, a last reminder that Kol Ami - A Center for Jewish Life, is always striving to be more sustainable, and you can help by donating to us here.

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