by Ben Yanowitz, Hevrah Co- Rosh Eidah

Here in Hevrah, we’ve been discussing the ecological crisis. This topic is incredibly broad, including truly global issues like climate change, and more local crises that affect our community like wildfire, water shortages, unsustainable agricultural practices and pollution. In such a large and urgent crisis as the one we are facing, making change can often feel difficult, if not impossible. While we’ve taken part in lobbying for important bills in California such as AB 2316 (Community Solar) and SB 260 (Corporate Carbon Accountability), we’ve also worked to confront the ecological crisis in our own community here at Camp Newman. In the first few days of our Community Organizing Task Force, we identified various problems around camp we wanted to confront, first among these was ensuring that Camp could reduce the amount of waste we generate by composting in the Chadar Ochel. While a seemingly small step, “composting allows us to recognize the privilege we have to have food to eat at every meal, and find ways to give back to the planet and environment around us,” (Aaron Wolf-Bloom) allowing us to take steps every day to improve the world around us.

We pinpointed all of the major reasons why composting was not happening at camp even though Camp has had the infrastructure to participate in the commercial composting system in Santa Rosa since last summer. While compost bins remained in the chadar, they contained plastic trash bags rather than compost liners, and the compost dumpster was removed from its place next to the garbage dumpsters. With all the technical infrastructure already present on camp, the community organizing task force saw this as an opportunity to educate the community and implement a system which could reintroduce composting at camp. After all, as Hevrah Camper Mia Kaufman said, “Composting is important because it’s taking our food scraps and turning them into soil which can improve the Earth,” a much better fate than letting it rot in a landfill.

To do this, we brought the composting dumpster back next to the Chadar and decorated the Compost Corner in the corner of the chadar closest to the door leading to the dumpsters. We also decorated 4 mobile compost bins which we put around the chadar in places far away from the Compost Corner. In addition we made posters to put up all around the chadar reminding the community to compost and informing them how to do so effectively.

After meeting and educating staff and some campers about our planned system, we implemented it during the intersession, before the final two-week session (Dalet) began. This allowed us to closely monitor the system with a lower volume of food-waste. Despite a few initial hiccups due to miscommunication with housekeeping and maintenance, the system has been a resounding success. During the first meal of the new session, Hevrah campers announced the composting system, and campers, with the help of their counselors, effectively composted their food-waste. With compost bins filling so quickly, Hevrah campers stepped-up to empty them as they got close to being full. During Shabbat dinner, Hevrah campers noticed the over-filling bins and immediately jumped up to empty them themselves. Because, as one camper put it, “it makes me feel fulfilled.”

Implementing this composting system has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the Hevrah community. Historically, Hevrah has always been externally focused, that is, centering lobbying for bills as the primary means of making change. While this is an important way to fight for social justice, by focusing inward we’ve made much more concrete and visible change. As Avi Briskin put it: “it’s nice knowing that we’re actually making a change and that we pushed for this and made it happen…we have the ability to make a change like that.” “This project has shown how us teens can come together and accomplish real change and see it before our very eyes. It helps us reduce waste and make the world a better place.” (Aaron Wolf-Bloom).

This has allowed us to make a strong impact on camp and taught our campers how organized communities can make a difference at the local level. In addition, it’s provided our campers with an opportunity to lead in a unique way. As Eyla Bauer put it: “It’s been really nice because it lets me feel like I’m contributing to the community and give back to a place that’s given me so much.