Visiting Sustainable Paradise: Berkeley

There are cities with a holy stature (like Jerusalem), and there are cities with cultural eminence (like New York) – but my family just came home from a vacation to a place that holds my nomination for Paradise on Earth: Berkeley, California.

I already knew that Berkeley residents are required to collect their food waste for composting (with weekly pick-ups), but to see it operation, with ordinary citizens scraping their plates (and all food-related paper) into their home-sized composting bins was truly inspiring.

Our friends belong to the modern Orthodox congregation Beth Israel in West Berkeley, which recently voted to allocate money for compostable plastic flatware for their weekly kiddushim. This came after intense discussion about priorities, because the additional expense impacted their educational budget. One of the regulars frets about people absentmindedly throwing their leftovers into the regular trash bins, but they’re already operating at a higher madrega (spiritual plane). Also impressive (especially for an Orthodox shul) is the presence of ramps to the bima from both the men’s and the women’s sections and gates in the mechitza for the Torah to be passed to a woman for carrying through the women’s section. So, this is a shul that believes in total inclusion as well as community responsibility.

Walking back from shul (an urban hike of 2-1/2 miles past gorgeous yards where even the strip between the sidewalk and the street is lushly planted), we detoured to visit Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project, which occupies one acre of a former parking lot on the campus of the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. The students plant, harvest, cook and bake (in an outdoor stone bread oven!) their fruits and vegetables as well as composting the organic waste. A substantial proportion of the students’ lunches comes from this garden. There’s also a lovely chicken coop on the premises. This is a wonderful educational community project that has brought together neighbors to help in its maintenance.

Visiting Berkeley felt like Paradise on Earth to this Pennsylvanian. Where is your sustainable paradise?