Greening Hanukkah

By USGBC MA Chapter on


With Hanukkah coming up soon, I wanted to throw out an idea that occurred to me last Earth Day. The idea I had is "Eco-Hanukkah" (there is very likely a better name) or in other words adding environmentalism as one of the holiday's themes using home energy use.

 

It struck me that the main miracle of the Hanukkah story is how menorah oil used in the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees was only suppose to last for a single day, but ended up lasting for 8 days. Hence the 8 nights and 8 candles of Hanukkah. Maybe not the most fantastic of miracles but from a certain modern perspective then the Hanukkah miracle is essentially one of fuel efficiency! The menorah of the Second Temple was 800% more energy efficient than competing menorahs, giving it I am sure a high Energy Star score.

 

Jumping off of that, my idea was about how Jewish families, individuals, and communities could potentially add a new way to celebrate the holiday that tackles more modern problems; namely climate change, environmentalism and what we can do to reduce our ecological impacts and carbon footprints.

 

The way people can celebrate this version of "Eco-Hanukkah" is to aim to use 1/8th of their typical daily energy consumption during the holiday. Much like the oil in the Hanukkah story, the goal is to consume the amount of water, electricity, heat, disposable trash waste, etc, you typically use in a day, spread over the course of the whole 8 days. The typical American emits about 36,000 pounds of greenhouse gases a year, or about 98 pounds per day. That includes consuming 31 kWh of electricity and 551 kBTUs of fossil fuels per day! Do you think that you can take the Green Hanukkah Challenge and make that last for 8 full days.

 

Eco-Hanukkah could be a good way to teach kids and adults about their environmental impacts. Furthermore it could encourage people to benchmark and track their normal daily energy consumption so as to figure how to cut it to 1/8, which is important knowledge to have in and of itself. Most people won't be able to meet the goal of cutting energy consumption down to an 1/8 (its a pretty high bar), but that alone would be an important lesson in itself on the hard work needed in truly reducing our environmental impacts. Boston has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 which will require us as a city to go beyond just the Eco-Hanukkah challenge.

 

Its just an idea, but I believe there is a value in the work of updating and reinterpreting past traditions to serve modern needs. The purpose of holidays like Hanukkah shouldn't just be about giving kids gifts and gelt. It should also include teaching people of all ages valuable lessons about their place on this fragile world and what they can do to live more sustainably.