Friday Night Services With Beantown Jewish Gardens Director Leora Mallach


Tucked away on Beacon Hill’s quiet Philips Street is an early 20th century synagogue known as the Vilna Shul.  Originally serving Lithuanian Jewish immigrants living in Boston’s West End neighborhood, it no longer has a full-time congregation but is being slowly restored to its former glory while hosting a few religious and cultural events each month.  Once a month, Friday night services are held with a guest speaker invited to give a talk.  This past Friday, Leora Mallach, co-founder and director of Ganei Beantown (Beantown Jewish Gardens), spoke about biblical laws dictating a rest year for the health of agricultural land.  Ganei Beantown seeks to build community by educating and promoting the connection between Judaism, food and agriculture.  Among their work has been the establishment of organic gardens at synagogues and an annual sustainability-themed conference.

Mallach’s talk was timed to coincide with the upcoming minor holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the “new year” for trees which technically serves as a reference date for laws relating to tithing and land use.  However, in modern times it has become a day for ecological awareness in Israel and many people have adopted the practice of planting trees.  Traditionally, though, the custom is to eat fruits that begin to appear at this time of year in Israel including dates, grapes and figs.

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My Holiday Haul

I have always thought holiday shopping is a great metaphor for all that is unsustainable about our culture.  Shopping, much of it manic and mindless, for large quantities of cheap goods that turn out to be of questionable value and you can never be sure they are actually wanted.  University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel coined the phrase “deadweight of Christmas” with research that essentially indicates whatever you buy as a gift for another person during the holiday season will turn out to have less to no value for the recipient.  While I have no issue with holiday gift-giving I do think it should evolve into something less wasteful.  So I do apply certain principles when choosing gifts for others – sustainably produced, environmentally friendly, etc. – however I don’t have much control over what they buy for me.  This is not the most comfortable of topics to bring up with people.  There is no polite way to say “please don’t buy me anything made in a Bangladeshi death trap factory.”  I started by dropping hints that I preferred edible and drinkable gifts and that went surprisingly well.  I have even noticed that people find it easier to buy chocolates or a bottle of wine.  As I have babbled about my concerns on consumer goods over time, it seems my friends and family have responded.  Among the items I received this year were:

Señorío de Vizcántar organic olive oil from Cordoba, Spain
Taza Chocolate, organic and sustainably produced from the cacao growers to the factory in Somerville
Lodge Cast Iron Fry Pan, made in the USA from a 100-year old company
Reusable Produce bags from Crate and Barrel


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Festive (But Office Appropriate) Party Outfit

What to wear to my conservative office holiday party that is still fun and seasonal?  I searched around a variety of eco-oriented shopping sites for something but just didn’t find anything that fit the bill.  I wish I didn’t admire the mass-produced clothing at J Crew so much, but as I have previously noted, there is no shortage of castoffs on Ebay.  There I found the Phoebe dress in black watch plaid which garnered many compliments at my office party at the Union Bar & Grille.


While looking for navy tights to add some warmth – a color that is not that easy to come by – I discovered the brand commando at Neiman Marcus.  These are made in the USA and work just like Spanx.


I have a pair of navy patent leather Cole Haan heels that I love and have worn so much the heel was ground down to a pulp with the nail poking out the bottom.  I thought they would complete the outfit really well but they were unwearable.  I brought them to Alton Place Shoe Repair in my effort to fix rather than buy new.  For $25 they did quite a good job which I would not have though possible considering the state they were in.  The shop is located a few blocks from Coolidge Corner and but is only open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.


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High Holiday Attire

A prominent feature of each autumn for me is the celebration of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and observance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  The latter is perhaps well known for its full day of fasting, water being prohibited as well as food.  Depending on how strictly one observes, the outfit to wear to synagogue services takes some thought.  It is customary to wear white – a reference to the purity from sin to which one aspires.  Women wear skirts that cover the knees, tops that cover down to the elbow and do not wear jewelry.  All abstain from wearing leather shoes which were seen as luxury items historically and improper for a day of humility and modesty.  While I never have dressed entirely in white for services, an ensemble sported by a certain duchess inspired me.  I am, however, attempting to limit my consumption these days to used and vintage items or new products that have been manufactured sustainably.  Luckily for me, there is no shortage of disillusioned J Crew shoppers on Ebay trying to part with impulse purchases in virtually perfect condition.  From there I was able to find a white eyelet lace blazer, a-line skirt and skinny belt, all J Crew, for around $75 total, including shipping.  In order to avoid leather shoes, many show up to synagogue services on Yom Kippur with canvas athletic shoes.  I thought an espadrille wedge, typically made of cotton and jute, would be more suitable.  Unfortunately, I was a bit late in the season to be searching for such a thing and allowed myself to be lured by the do-gooder brand Tom’s Calypso peep-toe wedge.  They certainly want to be seen as socially responsible with the “one for one” policy.  The company website explains that environmental responsibility is also one of their values and that they are making strides towards the use of eco-friendly materials and verifying their supply chain and manufacturing processes abroad.  So I was very disappointed to find the shoes I purchased were in fact made in China.  Not  coming from a facility certified to have environmental and safe labor standards means the conditions in which they were made are questionable and highly likely to be unsustainable.  I hope Tom’s will do better in this regard in the future, especially given their stated philosophy, but I will refrain from buying their products for time being.


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