My children attend Chai Altman Preschool at Chabad of Poway. When I received an e-mail from Morah Bluma Rubenfeld, the director of religious education, requesting the donation of fruit and a tree for the school’s Tu B’Shevat celebration, I figured I could just drive over to Evergreen Nursery and purchase a tree for the kids to plant. But then I realized that by educating not only the children, but their parents, we could be doing an even greater mitzvah and teaching an even greater lesson.
In Judaism, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, and although it is considered a minor Jewish holiday in the Hebrew calendar, we cannot underestimate its importance in the preservation of our planet. Tu B’Shevat marks the new year of the trees. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu B’Shevat and symbolizes the beginning of spring.
Now consider this alarming statistic: More than 100 million trees are logged every year to produce the nearly 6.5 million tons of paper that is used for junk mail in this country, nearly half of which is never opened. The greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the manufacturing of junk mail are equivalent to the emissions of 3.7 million cars. Many of the trees used for junk mail come from endangered forests like the Canadian boreal and Indonesia’s tropical forest. Despite all the reasons to protect and maintain the precious ecosystems these forests support, the Canadian boreal is being logged at a rate of two acres a minute, 24 hours a day, to make unsolicited credit card offers, catalogs and advertisements. According to the estimates of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, the world population of Jews is 13.2 million. This means every Jewish person in the world would have to plant seven trees every year just to keep up with this rate of devastation. Somehow, I think, the one little tree requested by Chai Altman Preschool is just not going to cut it.
I am not a card-carrying ecological organization member and admittedly, more than one Diet Coke can has found it’s way into the gray bin instead of the blue one, but the blue bin is there because our family, as I’m sure is yours, is well-intentioned, and there is something we can do.
We can precycle. By now you know all about the benefits of recycling. You may have even begun free-cycling thanks to clever, eco-friendly Web sites like Freecycle.com and Craigslist. But the word “precycle” is relatively new to our vocabulary. Precycling is the practice of reducing waste by attempting to avoid bringing into the home or business items that will generate more trash. The most offensive of these items is paper.
I’m not talking about the beautiful monogrammed paper on which you write a handwritten thank you. Not the paper on which your ketubah or your baby’s birth certificate is printed. I’m talking about the ugly paper that would compel every Jewish person in the world to lift a heavy shovel seven times to replace the tree that died for it. Do not underestimate it. Junk mail is a crafty thief. Junk mail robs us of space. It robs us of trees. Without trees, there is no oxygen. In essence, the junk mail piled high on coffee tables and kitchen counters across the world robs us of our very breath.
Junk mail never enters my house. Never. Anything that is caught in my precycling filter is discarded somewhere between the mailbox and the front door. Credit card applications and any correspondence containing personal information are shredded immediately. The phone book is recycled because, despite my efforts, they keep delivering that big, fat yellow book to my address! And if I receive a catalog or magazine I did not solicit, I take a few minutes to peruse the pages, immediately bookmark anything I find interesting electronically on the company’s Web site, and recycle the paper. This level of intense purging may not work for some people, but there are several strategies for precycling and minimizing junk mail anyone can do today.
First, contact the Direct Marketing Association by e-mail. Visit their Web site at www.dmachoice.org and follow the steps they recommend. You will need to list your complete name, address and zip code (but don’t worry about privacy; these folks have all of your personal information already anyway). Listing with the mail preference service will stop 75 percent of all national mailings. It may take a couple of months before you notice a difference in the volume of junk mail that you receive, but it is well worth it!
You can also opt out of all unsolicited credit card offers. Call toll free at (888) 567-8688 to have your name removed from the list of major credit organizations. You can choose to have your name removed for a year or forever!
For your regular mail, switch to online bill paying. Most banks, credit organizations and utilities offer an online payment system that is easy to use. As a bonus, you’ll save 44 cents for each envelope you don’t mail.
Insist that your name and address not be sold when you sign up for a new catalog, buy a new product, or any time you provide your personal details as part of a business transaction. Read the fine print. There is almost always an opt-out box you can check. If you’re worried about missing a great sale or a fabulous coupon (the 25 percent off ones from Bed Bath and Beyond are not to be missed!), most retailers will gladly share special offers and information with you via e-mail.
With a little bit of effort, anyone can easily bring eco-awareness into their lives.
A great service I have personally used for more than a year now is Planet Green (planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/precycle-offer.html). With the purchase of the Precycle package, Planet Green will plant five trees on your behalf, and you will receive a postal junk mail reduction kit and a few other green goodies. Coincidentally, or not, the package costs $36 — double-chai, a mitzvah at work in the universe! This is a small fee for something that is not only valuable today, but is a great investment in the planet for our children and future generations. L’dor v’dor!
So this Tu B’Shevat, let’s teach our children about rebirth — about the revival of nature, the coming of spring. Let’s take them to the San Diego Botanic Garden, an outing I hope will become a tradition in our chavurah. Let’s walk them through our lush neighborhoods and teach them about planting and sowing in our own backyards. Let’s also teach them about conservation and preservation, about precycling and honoring one of the earth’s most precious gifts to all of us. Let’s instill in them the value and importance of trees, building a respect that they will hopefully carry with them throughout their lives. In doing so, hopefully we’ll all make a little more room on our coffee tables.