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The Builder

Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation

“Judaism is rooted in environmental values,” says Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, a 480-family synagogue in Evanston. “It’s not just this faddish thing. These ideas have been around for centuries.” JRC spent $9 million to put this philosophy into action, constructing the greenest house of worship in the United States and opening it last year. The stunning 32,000-square-foot facility using 2,700 tons—or 96 percent—of the materials that made up the old JRC temple was rewarded with a Platinum LEED rating in September 2008. 

The new facility mixes commonsense solutions—natural light, maple wood from storm-felled park district trees, reclaimed cypress from barns in New York—and smart technology such as a ventilation system that circulates air near the floor. “In Genesis, we learn that the world is sustainable, but only if we sustain it,” says Rosen, 46. “We need to be active participants to make sure that we hand the world to the next generation in the same condition we received it, if not better.”

A California native who graduated from rabbinical school in Philadelphia, Rosen arrived in Evanston in 1998 and understood immediately that JRC had outgrown its decrepit building. During talks about a new structure in 2003, someone on the congregation’s environmental task force suggested that they consider green architecture. Yes, said a few others. We could really make a statement here. “Green architecture was still fairly off the radar screen, so it took a bit of selling,” Rosen recalls. “But these were sacred discussions we were having, because they weren’t about just a building. They were about the values we use to make these decisions.” As it turns out, the timing was perfect. Once the rest of the world began focusing on green issues, Rosen’s families were on board, and well on the way to constructing their building.

If the structure represents an eco-triumph, Rosen and his congregants consider it only a launching pad. “How is this going to impact the lives we lead outside of the synagogue?” he constantly asks. “Are we going to walk the walk in a broader sense?” Perhaps most tellingly, the younger members of JRC are among those doing the walking. Says Rosen, “I don’t think we can overestimate the extent to which we’re helping to lay the groundwork for a new kind of world.” 


Photograph: Erika Dufour; assistant: T. Harrison Hillman Wardrobe: Julie Korman Tallarida Stylist’s assistant: Jessica Elmore Hair and makeup: Christine Stahl/beautyidentity.com Special thanks to Joshua Height of Brickermade; Pop chair by Brickermade

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