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‘Eco-theologian’ returns to the earth

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Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Rabbi Lawrence Troster, who served pulpits in the Toronto area in the 1980s and ‘90s and went on to pioneer the Jewish environmental movement, died May 24 in Englewood, N.J., after a long illness. He was 65.

He served as an assistant rabbi at Beth Tzedec Congregation for four years until he became the first full-time spiritual leader of Shaareh Haim Congregation, a 10-year-old Conservative synagogue in Richmond Hill, Ont., in 1986.

“I want to be your rav,” Rabbi Troster said at his installation. “I want to make your eyes light up at Torah and Judaism.”

In 1990, the synagogue, then with about 300 member families, celebrated the opening of its new permanent home at Bayview Avenue and Weldrick Road.

But the recession of the early 1990s took its toll and, in 1992, Shaareh Haim closed due to lack of operating funds (most of the congregation later re-formed as Beit Rayim Synagogue, the only Conservative shul in Ontario’s York Region).

A year later, Rabbi Troster moved to New Jersey, where he served Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange.

He was a leading Jewish “eco-theologian,” and “a founder of the Jewish environmental movement, writing many of its critical articles, prayers and theologies,” according to an obituary.

Rabbi Troster was the founder and co-ordinator of Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth; was the rabbinic scholar-in-residence of GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental coalition in New Jersey; and the former creator and director of GreenFaith’s fellowship program.

He was part of the leadership team of Ourvoices.net, a worldwide movement of people of all faiths advocating for a strong climate treaty. He also served as rabbi-in-residence at the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at New York’s Iona College, and was the rabbinic fellow for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). He was also a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps.

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In 2005, he was the only rabbi among 50 invited guests at a two-day international interfaith conference on the environment held in Tehran, Iran. He said at the time that he was wary of the invitation, but that “It was really important for people to see a rabbi in this situation, speaking about the Jewish tradition.”

Rabbi Troster authored Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism, and wrote a chapter on Jewish environmental ethics in The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews.

Born in Toronto, Rabbi Troster graduated from the University of Toronto and spent summers in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, where long canoe trips helped instil his love of nature.

As a “Jewish person of faith, I hold deep respect for the fundamental understanding that God, as creator of the universe, is (the) real owner of all,” he wrote in 2013, marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. “It is also evident from the first chapter of Genesis, and other biblical texts, that God creates, takes care of and takes pleasure in the diversity of life in the world.”

Rabbi Troster was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary and taught at a number of Jewish and religious institutions, including his alma mater, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. JTS awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his more than 25 years of rabbinic service.

Most recently, he was spiritual leader at Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester, Pa., and also served as rabbinic director for J Street, a liberal Middle East policy group.

Rabbi Troster is survived by his wife, Elaine Kahn, a writer and former columnist for The CJN; twin daughters, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, the deputy director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Sarah Kahn-Troster, a health policy researcher; four grandchildren; a brother, Joel Troster, and a sister, Cyrel Troster.

 

With files from JTA and Times of Israel

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