PIEDMONT -- Faithfully dedicated to greening their building, members of the Kehilla Community Synagogue turned to a higher power to undertake a new project. Well, not the highest power, but high enough.
In a partnership with a RE-volv, a nonprofit organization that finances solar projects, the progressive Jewish community installed a 22-kilowatt solar array on the roof of their Grand Avenue building in Piedmont. The 88-panel system is expected to produce nearly three-quarters of the building's electricity use and save the synagogue about $150,000 over time.
RE-volv raised more than $56,000 on a crowdfunding site to pay for the system, which Kehilla will lease for 20 years, and 10 percent of synagogue members also contributed. The lease payments will fund three other solar projects, thus launching a revolving energy fund called Solar Seed Fund, said Andreas Karelas, founder of the San Francisco-based RE-volv.
"This is such an inspiration for future projects," Karelas told Kehilla members gathered Saturday for an inauguration ceremony.
He called the synagogue's green committee "a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with." The group has also installed bike racks to encourage less vehicle use.
Committee member Claudine Jones and her partner, Rich Yurman, suggested the solar project after reading about RE-volv's first project at the Shawl-Anderson Dance Studio in Berkeley. The committee contacted Karelas in July and sat down to plan the project in October. Volunteers provided by SunWork helped build the project, which recently passed inspection.
Ralph Silber, chair of Kehilla's green committee, said, "We're trying to save our planet not just for ourselves but for our children and our children's children. What we are doing today is emblematic of what Kehilla is doing as a whole."
As a politically progressive interfaith congregation for the past 30 years, Kehilla views social justice advocacy and climate change action as key tenets of their faith. Rabbi David Cooper said the solar project addresses two important commandments: a responsibility to save lives and a prohibition on waste.
"Society has to shift into respecting not only the lives of people," Cooper said. "At stake are the lives of species, as well. This is the generation that has to turn it around."
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, whose district includes Piedmont, applauded the group Saturday, saying their dedication to creating a healthier environment for themselves and future generations was, in fact, a "mitzvah," or spiritual mandate. She said it is important "to make sure solar arrays are available to everyone regardless of their socioeconomic status."