Beth Sholom Focuses on a Brighter, Eco-Friendly Future With Solar Project

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Beth Sholom in Frederick with the new solar panels. Photo Courtesy of Beth Sholom.

Beth Sholom Congregation in Frederick will soon become one of the first religious institutions in the county to be solely reliant on solar energy after it activates its newly installed solar panels in a few weeks.

The upcoming switch to solar energy is just another part of the synagogue’s commitment to eco-friendly measures at its building that includes a garden for monarch butterflies on their migration path.

“We talk a lot about the fact that one of the first things God commands us is to take care of his garden. And that’s something that we’re very conscious of,” said Beth Sholom’s Rabbi
Jordan Hersh.

The process for the solar panel installation began a year or two ago when the congregation made it known that it was interested in using solar energy, and it was something that several of its members had already done with their homes.

The synagogue then began a partnership with Paradise Energy Solutions, a solar energy company that Beth Sholom identified as having done work in the area.

“They [PES] have been great. The project has moved along nicely. There’s something sweet about it. I walk to work most days and walking up to the shul and seeing the new solar panels on the roof was really exciting,” David Bass, Beth Sholom’s executive director, said.

The solar panels will provide almost 90% of the energy that the synagogue uses, but some final administrative work with the power company has kept the final switch pushed back to the end of March or early April, when the congregation will hold a “flip the switch party.”

The rest of the energy production will be provided by a group called Community Solar that the synagogue is working with, which will allow them to become the first fully solar sufficient religious institution in the county.

“We may be the first, but we really hope we’re not the last. [We hope] That other shuls, other churches, the Islamic community, that all the houses of worship here see this and learn that it’s doable, it’s reachable on a financial level. Because that’s often a barrier as people think, well, we can’t afford to do that. And [we hope to] demonstrate the importance of the religious community being leaders in these causes,” Hersh said.

While solar panels are expensive, the synagogue was able to get the money for it by investing a lot of their funds and instituting a program called solar sustainers. That program allows congregants to donate $180 dollars and place their name on a mockup of the solar panels.

They decided on that number as a multiple of “chai” and it’s a sustainable amount for people to reach as they make the investment back over several years. The synagogue is also working with PES to get tax rebates for the panels, which furthers the affordability.

The synagogue is involved in other eco-friendly causes, most notably its garden, which serves as a native species garden and a monarch butterfly way station. The garden is made up entirely of native plants to Maryland and has milkweed that monarch butterflies need on their yearly migrations, which have become difficult and dangerous with human activities over the past several decades.

They became involved in the garden project several years ago, when one member of the congregation who was passionate about protecting the monarchs gave a presentation on why they should help. It also helped that the synagogue had been thinking about planting a garden for several years.

They were finally able to accomplish this during the pandemic, which also provided a great outdoor activity for the congregation at a time when it was nearly impossible to do in-person activities with others.

“We have master gardeners in the congregation, people who are knowledgeable about that, and we had a good group of people who spent a summer digging, preparing the soil and planting. And we have congregants to take care of the garden and manage it,” Hersh said.

All these efforts further the connection the congregation has to the natural world and protecting it, a highly unique measure among local religious institutions. And while the addition of solar power to the building is a great beginning, the synagogue’s efforts are not yet done.

Although the congregation doesn’t currently have another project planned for after its solar project is completed, it won’t stop Beth Sholom from continuing its commitment to the natural world in the future.

“[With our projects] We can live out our values visibly and powerfully. In doing so, we also demonstrate not just environmental stewardship but financial stewardship, and it’s a no-brainer,” Hersh said.

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