Friday Night Services With Beantown Jewish Gardens Director Leora Mallach

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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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Troubled Waters – Boston Society of Architects Forum

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Image:Sasaki Associates

On Tuesday, the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) hosted a panel discussion to a packed crowd on tackling the issue of sea-level rise in Boston at their financial district exhibition center BSASpace.  The panel consisted of Chris Reed of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Hubert Murray of Partners Healthcare and Nina Chase of Sasaki Associates.  A very amusing Tom Ashbrook from WBUR served as moderator.  So many ideas circulated and from a design perspective, there appeared to be optimism that adapting Boston to climate change-induced sea-level rise was a manageable problem.  Murray, one of the architects behind the newly built and flood-resistant Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, pointed out that “Boston is in denial about its topography.”  Check out a map of Boston from the colonial era and it is easy to see how much of our city was originally underwater and those are the areas – valuable real estate along the waterfront, Back Bay, South End and large sections of South Boston – which are vulnerable to returning waters.  A report last year from the Boston Harbor Association (BHA) showing which areas would flood with sea-level rise has piqued interest in the topic.  Reed’s position is that Boston must “let the water in” rather than retreat to the interior.  Learning to live with it around us can mean a variety of structures like canals, floodable green areas or first floors modified for uses allowing contents to be temporarily moved and able to withstand floodwaters.  Plans from London, Seoul and other cities were discussed but there is, however, no Boston plan.  A young representative from the City’s Environment department was put on the spot but she merely invited the public to submit ideas to the Greenovate website.  Clearly the discussion is in the very early stages which is alarming since, according to the BHA, Boston narrowly missed Nemo, Sandy and Hercules hitting at high tide which would have been disastrous.  Our luck can only run for so long, what are we waiting for?  Well the conversation turned from bright design ideas to the sobering reality that there is no political will, nor funding, to come to grips with the flooding issue.  The City would struggle to implement grand infrastructure plans, the rest of the state is fed up with money being funneled to Boston for decades and private enterprise has no reason to commit itself to preserving Boston when it can just move inland.  But, as Murray pointed out, no community has ever voluntarily given up its home so it remains to be seen what sort of interest this topic will generate and what shape it will ultimately take.

This forum was organized to complement the current issue of ArchitectureBoston, the quarterly publication of the BSA, titled Coast.  The entire issue is available online and makes for very interesting reading.

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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.

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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.

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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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