From sea to shining sea, thousands of people headed to the nation’s waterfronts during the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup last week. In Montreal, hundreds hit the banks of the Lachine Canal and Lake Saint-Louis, united by a desire for a cleaner environment.
Sunday’s cleanup was organized by Teva Quebec, the province’s first and only Jewish coalition for the environment. Spearheaded by Rabbi Schachar Orenstein three years ago, the group is committed to what they believe is a central responsibility of their faith: stewardship of the land.
“It’s a huge piece of Judaism that’s being rediscovered,” says Rabbi Orenstein. “In the Book of Genesis, God commanded Adam to serve and protect the garden. Healing the land is one of our most important directives.”
Filling their garbage bags was an assortment of litter; the most pervasive items were cigarette butts, Styrofoam and food-related trash.
Anne-Claude Beaudry, who works at the Lachine Visitor Service Centre for Parks Canada, says the waterfront’s appearance has improved remarkably since the event began in 2007. “Now when volunteers come to clean, they don’t have to pick up years and years of accumulated waste.”
But Teva organizer Ilan Elbaz thinks there’s more to it than that. A McGill science grad, accredited by the Canada Green Building Council in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Elbaz tends to look at things from a scientific point of view.
“When you’re in a clean environment, you want to keep it that way,” Elbaz said. “When you see trash everywhere, subconsciously it’s telling you that it’s fine to behave like that.”
He admits that for him, the cleanup is a bit of “an accidental sociological experiment.”
“It’s also an interesting way for less religious, more secular Jewish people to get involved with their roots and community,” Elbaz added. He did stress, however, that they are a Jewish environmental group, whose message can be appreciated by all.
“We’re in this together,” stated Elbaz. “Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and everything in between. We share the same planet. The same amount of air molecules, and drops of water to breathe and drink.”
At the core of the cleanup crew were 20 high school students taking part in Teva’s brand new Jewish Environmental Leadership Training. The event was part one of a six-week program preparing the students for a bigger shoreline repair. In November, these grade 9 and 10 students head to Louisiana to help out with the massive cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We hear so much about what happened there,” said Erin Silver, who goes to Bialik High School. “We want to help.”
Rabbi Orenstein is encouraged by how many young people are attracted to the cause. “They say, “Wow! Environmentalism is Jewish,’ ” the rabbi, who’s also a musician and father of two, joked. “People are looking for meaningful ways to connect to their faith, and perhaps the older ways are more difficult. This provides a way in for a lot of people.”