Looking to the next 150 years, Chizuk Amuno installs solar panels

Solar panels being installed at Chizuk Amuno Congregation
Solar panels being installed at Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Courtesy of Chizuk Amuno Congregation)

With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, finishing up on Friday in Glasgow, Scotland, it’s difficult to imagine Chizuk Amuno Congregation choosing a more auspicious time to install more than 150 solar panels on the roof of its building, in commemoration of the year of its 150th anniversary.

“We wanted to think about the Jewish values of tikkun olam, or repairing the world,” said Dr. Richard Reaven, a radiologist, Chizuk Amuno board member and co-chair of the 150th anniversary steering committee. Reaven co-chairs the committee alongside his wife, Dr. Laura Reaven, a neurologist. “In that vein, we wanted to design a project that could show to the community that we’re serious about sustainability and environmental stewardship.”

Richard and Laura Reaven thought of installing solar panels at Chizuk Amuno after they were asked in 2019 by the synagogue’s senior rabbi, Joshua Gruenberg, to chair the steering committee, Richard Reaven said.

“My wife and I were kind of tossing around ideas of what we could do to contribute to the celebration, and I thought that a good way to honor the past 150 years, but also look forward to the next 150 years, we could focus on some initiatives that would be pertainable to the next generation of members,” said Reaven, a resident of Owings Mills. “I thought that a sustainability initiative and environmental stewardship initiative would really help connect us to the next generation and provide a bridge to the next group of community members at the synagogue.”

Lee Sherman, executive director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Schools and a resident of Baltimore, said that anything the congregation can do to help with climate change has value.

“I have been able to witness in my years, certainly, some climate change that has made a difference in the way that we live our lives, regardless of the season,” Sherman said. “And recognizing that the use of fossil fuels is a contributing factor to some of those climate changes, anything that we can do individually, or as a group, and in our case as a congregation, to improve that situation is certainly of value.”

Crews work to install solar panels at Chizuk Amuno Congregation
Crews work to install solar panels at Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Courtesy of Chizuk Amuno Congregation)

Workers began installing the solar panels onto the roof of Chizuk Amuno on Nov. 2, said Richard Reaven. The majority were being placed on the roof of its gymnasium. The panels were purchased from Lumina Solar, a local solar installer, whose workers are also handling the installation of the panels. Speaking on Nov. 5, Reaven expected all of the panels to be installed between Nov. 8 and 11, though he noted that it will likely take a few additional weeks for BG&E to approve everything and activate them.

Reaven estimated that an individual panel, not counting the expense of installation and connecting them to the grid, costs between a few hundred to a thousand dollars. He noted that Chizuk Amuno in essence received a discount for buying in bulk. The cost of the project as a whole was $156,000.

The project was entirely funded using a zero-interest loan from The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Green Loan Fund, Reaven said.

Gruenberg estimated that the panels will generate at least 15% of the yearly energy needs of the synagogue and its schools, including Krieger Schechter Day School, the Goldsmith Early Childhood Center and the Rosenbloom Religious School. As a result, Reaven expects Chizuk Amuno to save between $20,000 to $25,000 on electricity costs per year. Chizuk Amuno plans to pay back the loan over the next five years with the money it anticipates it will save from the use of solar panels, as well as through fundraising efforts.

If he were given an opportunity to address the leaders and delegates attending COP26, Sherman detailed the message he would have for them.

“I would say the time to act is now, that there are steps that we can take, and we should be taking all of those steps,” Sherman said. “And as leaders as they are at the U.N. global conference on climate, it is their responsibility to lead in that regard.”

On the importance of addressing environmental issues, Gruenberg recalled the story of Honi the Circle Maker.

“[He] was walking in a field one day, and saw an elderly person planting a carob tree,” Gruenberg said. “He said, ‘Why are you planting that carob tree? It’s going to take 70 years for it to bear fruit, you’ll never see it. And the person said, ‘Well, somebody planted a carob tree for me, so I’m doing it for them.’

“I feel like we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to the next generation and the generation after that to start reducing our footprint in this world,” Gruenberg added. “If we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble.”

11/9/21 12:33 p.m. Update: This article has been updated to include information about Chizuk Amuno Synagogue’s fundraising efforts for its new solar panels.

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