Seattle’s Ravenna Kibbutz Launches New Sustainability House

The Ravenna Kibbutz new sustainability house is looking for new residents for July, August and September move-in dates!  Please contact us if interested at kayam@ravennakibbutz.org.  The house is particularly seeking those with experience in areas like environmental education, sustainable retrofitting, alternative transportation, advocacy, local foods, natural building, alternative energy or gardening.

The initiative also seeks sponsors for small or large projects, as well as ideas from the community.


The Jewish environmentalist who had to change a light bulb was just like her mother. It’s OK, she said, I’ll just sit here in the dark.
Oh, and how about the oil spill?  Between the CEO of BP, three Navy Admirals, and the president, clearly there was not a Jew among them to have learned the lesson of Chanukah the way a Jewish environmentalist would: That sometimes a little oil can go a long way.

Humor aside, the idea of Jewish sustainability has grown so big, with the work of organizations like Hazon, that we’re now seeing local projects pop up around the country, sometimes as new initiatives and sometimes as part of existing organizations.  The latest is at the Ravenna Kibbutz in Seattle: a sustainability-focused house, set within an existing Jewish residential community.

The Ravenna Kibbutz is a co-operative, inclusive Jewish residential community of multiple houses on one block, a model unique in America for its non-Orthodox focus on neighborhood, and for what it offers to members as well as visitors: community, activities and a place to experience and participate in everyday Jewishness.  The Kibbutz is a has been around Seattle long enough to feel like an institution, and community activities are the way non-residents know it best.  Visitors are familiar with its community potluck Shabbat dinners, open-mic Coffeehouse events, film nights, discussions and how-to workshops.

So, why the new project?  A residential community such as this is a natural fit for focusing on sustainability: it encourages sharing resources and supplies, walking to social events, and doing things better by doing them together.

The sustainability house, currently exploring potential names like Beit Kayam or S.E.E.D. House (Seattle Experiment in Ecological Dwelling), is a new project starting up this summer in one of the kibbutz’s existing houses. In addition to trying to decrease the house’s environmental impact, residents will offer workshops, activities, potlucks, and events for the community on topics like local food, transportation, natural building, retrofit home energy efficiency, global warming, or advocacy. They will share a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, or farm share) from JHarvest, a Hillel initiative with Oxbow farm to increase the Jewish community’s relationship to local agriculture.  The house will host local-foods themed Shabbat dinners, Sukkot meals, and Tu B’Shevat seders as well.

At some point, it makes sense for any established institution to take new steps, and the kibbutz is doing that through other means as well, like acquiring non-profit status and looking to buy its properties, with the support of community investors.  Also, for a culturally Jewish institution especially, there’s a certain appeal about adding new elements that challenge us or inspire us to ask new questions.

Exploring intersections is particularly valuable: the connection of Jewish culture and sustainability, or the intersection of Jewish ethics and environmental ethics, for instance.  Intersections encourage nuanced, complex thinking, something Jewish culture values.

Intersections also encourage us to interact with people and ideas we don’t necessarily come across every day.  We joke about how most Jews are environmentally conscious, but in reality, there are a great many Jews who have no strong sense of Jewish identity, but for whom sustainability is a passion, and there are Jews with a strong connection to Judaism, for whom sustainability isn’t necessarily a high priority.  A project focusing on the intersection of these ideas might engage people on both end of this spectrum, and provide a venue for those of us who have been working hard on engaging the Jewish community in thinking about sustainability.  It becomes, simply, a place we can go to share a meal or a skill.

Intersections shouldn’t feel forced, but secular or religious Jewish culture and environmental sustainability are a natural fit.  Kosher laws can be seen as an early-established approach to mindful eating. Shabbat can be seen as a time for low energy use and slow-food style meals.  We even have a whole holiday for the birthday of trees; how much crunchier can you get?

The house will be one of the kibbutz’s long-time rented properties, an old Craftsman that isn’t exactly up to snuff of the sexiest, latest green standards: it’s poorly insulated and it’s limited by its status as a rental house.  And that’s a challenge, but it’s also realistic: not everyone who wishes to make their lives more sustainable is going to own a brand new green-built house (to say nothing of the materials involved in tearing down old houses and building new ones).

For now, projects, dialogue and community work serve as a good start.  There are so many things we can do within the community, whether it’s trying to develop a source for grass-fed, kosher meat or increasing bike commuting or advocating for energy policy change.

While we’re trafficking in Jewish stereotypes, consider the two-Jews-three-opinions picture a moment.  Not everyone will agree on what the most important ideas are for sustainability.  Some argue that individual action is the most important thing, whereas others say it pales in comparison to corporate or government-level change, and that our efforts must lie in large-scale advocacy.  Some encourage vegetarianism, while others advocate for supporting grass-fed alternatives to industrially-produced meat.

As a Jewish project, that must be kept in mind.  Sustainability, like Jewish identity, means different things to us; individual choices must be respected and dialogue, encouraged. Shared goals can be set together as well.  Increase the connection between the sustainability movement and Jewish community in Seattle?  Create a model of a more-sustainable living situation within the limitations of an old rental house?  Have a physical space for workshops and activities we’ve always wanted to attend or organize?

Or, you know, maybe the goal is just to feed you.  Could that be so bad?

A different version of this article appeared previously at jew-ish.com

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One Response to “Seattle’s Ravenna Kibbutz Launches New Sustainability House”

  1. Nina Says:

    This is such a great idea!

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