Keeping pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay

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Tifereth Israel volunteers prepare the congregation’s new rain garden for the planting of bulbs. Photo by Stan Dorn
Tifereth Israel volunteers prepare the congregation’s new rain garden for the planting of bulbs.
Photo by Stan Dorn

Tifereth Israel Congregation is going green.

The Conservative synagogue in Northwest Washington, D.C., recently installed a combination of linked rain gardens and permeable pavers as part of an environmental demonstration project made possible thanks to $83,000 in funding from the District Department of the Environment.


The low-impact development reduces storm-water runoff that can overwhelm D.C.’s antiquated storm drainage system and pollute the Chesapeake Bay with raw sewage. The project includes two types of rain gardens – an infiltration planter surrounded by a concrete curb to prevent rainwater from reaching the building’s foundation and a bioswale that handles excess water from the planter and can absorb 1,600 gallons of water. There are three types of permeable pavers with spacing that allows rainwater to gradually flow into the ground.

Permeable pavers are important because, as Tifereth Israel member and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light Director Joelle Novey explained, pollution from impermeable surfaces is the only source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that is actually increasing.


“Congregations have a unique role to play in terms of modeling their own facilities to show what practices like storm-water management can look like. People do turn to their faith communities for moral guidance about what living a righteous way looks like, so I think to the extent these communities can model this as an important expression of Jewish values or other faith values, that has a lot of power to inspire others more broadly,” said Novey.

Tifereth Israel Environmental Committee member Carla Ellern, a landscape architect, designed the project. She said they first looked at solar panels and a green roof before deciding on a project to retain water onsite. Other green initiatives at Tifereth include recycling, composting waste from Shabbat and making the building more energy efficient by installing CFL lights.

“We believe in tikkun olam, making the world a better place, and we believe that we are stewards of the Earth and our job is to make sure that we can pass on the world in just as good a shape to our children, so we are trying to do what we think is our responsibility,” said Ellern. “If we can be an example for people and educate people along the way, all the better. If we are doing this and we don’t see other people doing it, we want to tell them about it, show that it can be done and it’s a way to do good and also make your property look beautiful.”

The synagogue recently held a celebration of the project with a ribbon cutting and a community planting. The event also inaugurated an accessible ramp.

The environmental awareness at Tifereth starts at the top. Rabbi Ethan Seidel is an avid bicyclist who bikes all around town, including to shul.

“I’m a big believer in local action about big problems so actually I’m a bicyclist,” said Seidel. “I bicycle everywhere. I actually have a little clergy sticker on the back of my bike. To me it’s important to set an example of having a small footprint and being good stewards of God’s creation.”

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