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With solar panels, Milton congregation hopes to help repair the world

Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills has installed 76 solar panels on its synagogue roof, which will supply about 95 percent of the building's electricity.
Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills has installed 76 solar panels on its synagogue roof, which will supply about 95 percent of the building's electricity.Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills

Driven by the religious principle of “tikkun olam,” which means repairing or healing the world, Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills has installed 78 solar panels on its synagogue’s roof -- enough to meet nearly all the Milton building’s electricity needs.

“It’s a huge principle of Judaism,” congregation president Paul Cooperstein said of tikkun olam. “Over the long term, 20 years, there will also be a financial benefit, but that wasn’t the key. Even if it had been cost-neutral or cost a little bit, we would have done it. It’s primarily to stop using damaging petroleum fuels.”

Cooperstein said the panels were installed from October to December of 2020 by Arlington-based SunBug Solar, with assistance from Resonant Energy of Boston, and recently started generating electricity. Resonant Energy specializes in solar arrays for houses of worship, nonprofits, and affordable housing, and has helped with solar projects for churches and synagogues in Brockton, Milton, New Bedford, and Westwood.

The panels on the synagogue’s roof are expected to produce about 29,000 kilowatt-hours annually, which will supply about 95 percent of the synagogue’s electrical use when it gets back to non-pandemic conditions, he said.

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The solar generation also will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent each year to the effect of 30 acres of forest, he said.

Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills is an independent synagogue that merged the memberships of the former Congregation Beth Shalom of Milton and Congregation Beth El in Quincy, both of which had declining and aging memberships.

Members come from Milton, Quincy, Boston, and Weymouth.

Congregation Beth Shalom had been around about 80 years and in the 1960s and 1970s had as many as 600 families, Cooperstein said. He said the membership had declined to about 175 families when the congregation decided 10 years ago to sell its building on Blue Hill Avenue. Temple Beth El in Quincy also sold its building.

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The new congregation opened a new, smaller building in Milton in 2016, on land donated by members Marvin and Andrea Gordon of Milton.

Marvin Gordon’s grandparents, Bertha and Samuel Shoolman, bought the land in 1920 – a purchase that made it the first Jewish-owned property in Milton, according to a history on the congregation website – and ran a kosher dairy on the site for 29 years.

“A lot of good karma there,” Cooperstein said.

He said the congregation now has about 150 families, many of them young.

He said financing for the project came, in part, from a grant from the Left Coast Fund through the Solar Moonshot Program, both of which help nonprofits finance solar projects. The fund was created by a San Diego philanthropist to support work aimed at addressing the climate crisis.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.