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The Miracle of Solar Energy

“In the case of mortal danger, where a person is within inches of death…being saved from death is a miracle and divine providence, and it is clear that everyone agrees that she should say a blessing.”
—Nishmat Adam 1:65

Why do people get so excited about solar energy? I finally figured it out last week when I participated in a study session about how miracles are defined in Jewish law.

In preparation for Hannukah the topic of our study session was miracles. Since ancient times there has been an ongoing debate about what miracle we celebrate on Hannukah. Perhaps the miracle is the military victory of the small band of Maccabees over a powerful enemy. Or, alternatively, the miracle is that when the Maccabees lit the menorah in the rededicated Temple one day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days. Was the miracle the human achievement or the supernatural occurrence?

The definition of a miracle is a halachic matter (question of Jewish law) because the rabbis needed to decide when a person has to say a blessing of thanks for a miracle. As I followed the debate from generation to generation, guided by Rabbi Jason Rubenstein of Mechon Hadar, I learned that the essential criterion for a miracle is a narrow escape from death in response to a sudden danger specifically a danger not anticipated in the normal course of life (such as travel or childbirth.) The test of the miraculous is not its supernatural cast.

Rather the test is subjective: Were you scared to death?

Suddenly I realized why people get so excited about solar energy. If you are scared of climate change, it makes sense that solar energy feels like a miracle. The danger has suddenly become apparent and it is life-threatening. Clean, renewable, solar energy is life-saving.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for divine intervention to bring us solar energy. JGF organizations are making their own miracles:

The JCC of Staten Island raised all of the funds needed to install a solar thermal energy system that heats hot water for the pool and fitness center. With no fuel to purchase, the JCC gets clean energy for free.

At Eden Village Camp, Ramapo for Children, and Surprise Lake Camp, campers monitor the production of energy by the solar panels and learn how the sun is the ultimate source of all energy on earth.

A free-standing solar array greets visitors to Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, sending a strong message of commitment to environmental responsibility.

The Sephardic Community Center’s installation of a solar system was spearheaded by Michael Hidary, a board member who has helped to bring solar energy to several institutions in the Syrian Jewish community. Linda Eber, Greening Fellow, shows off the solar system in photo below.

With 50KW solar systems on both the Upper and Lower Schools, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester was one of the first schools in Westchester to install solar panels.

Greenburgh Hebrew Center and Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights have entered into Power Purchase Agreements that enable them to have solar systems installed with no up-front cost.

To enable more organizations to generate solar energy the JGF has launched a solar energy community purchasing project in cooperation with Solar One. Twelve JGF organizations are working together to obtain rooftop solar energy systems.

A solar energy system is a practical and effective way to reduce the harmful emissions we put into the atmosphere. But it is also something more. Appropriately, the original meaning of the Hebrew term for miracle, nes, is a standard or flag. A solar energy system installed on the roof of a Jewish community building is a visible sign that we are taking action, moving forward together, making miracles.