By Michael Jacobsmjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Young Israel of Toco Hills was the star of the show March 19 at Georgia Interfaith Power & Light’s ninth annual Gippy Awards.

Young Israel of Toco Hills Rabbi Adam Starr and Southface program manager Bill Abballe discuss the Toco Hills' shul's EarthCraft certification.

Young Israel of Toco Hills Rabbi Adam Starr and Southface program manager Bill Abballe discuss the Toco Hills’ shul’s EarthCraft certification.

Not only did the Orthodox congregation host a crowd of roughly 75 people for the ceremony in its new, EarthCraft-certified building on LaVista Road, but it also received the night’s top award, Congregation of the Year, for the being the first Orthodox congregation in the world to build a shul from the ground up according to environmentally sustainable standards.

“Every square foot of this building was intentionally planned to be sustainable as well as to reflect the Jewish value of environmental stewardship,” GIPL Executive Director Kate McGregor Mosley said in presenting the award, which recognizes a faith community that has done exception things in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

She said Young Israel’s dedication to a culture of sustainability began with a conversation within the congregation about what it wanted in its new home. “They dreamed big dreams together and sought the wise counsel of Southface.”

Bill Abballe, the EarthCraft light commercial program manager for green consultant firm Southface, said Young Israel’s whole team was on board with the focus on sustainability and embraced the vision of the building as one big system. He said the system will evolve as Young Israel invests its energy savings into new environment-friendly opportunities.

Mosley cited a range of sustainable elements in the new building, from the standard (motion sensors to turn lights on and off automatically) to the increasingly common (charging stations in the parking lot for electric vehicles) to the extremely rare (a vice president for environmental sustainability and building operations on the synagogue board).

“It’s fantastic to have that in a congregation,” Mosley said about the board position.

Jeremy Sarnat fills that position, and Rabbi Adam Starr credited the Emory University assistant professor of environmental and occupational health with driving the congregation’s commitment to sustainability.

“He really deserves all the credit,” Rabbi Starr said. He also cited the efforts of congregation President Davi Kutner and Executive Director Eliana Leader.

Gippys Kate Mosley

Kate McGregor Mosley heads Georgia Interfaith Power & Light.

Rabbi Starr said Young Israel decided that the building should be not only a physical space, but also a sacred reflection of the congregation and its values. “One of those values was the value of sustainability of the glorious world that God created that we are stewards of.”

Young Israel committed to judicious use of natural resources and earned EarthCraft gold certification through features such as a highly efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, a roof modified to accommodate solar panels in the future, and the use of locally sourced building materials.

Rabbi Starr said he’s most proud of the number of parking spaces on the property. Because the congregation wanted to maximize its green space and, being Orthodox, doesn’t have people driving to services, Young Israel wanted DeKalb County permission to build fewer spaces than required by the county code.

To get approval, Rabbi Starr went across the street to Intown Community Church and proposed that the two congregations share parking: “Our parking is your parking, and your parking is our parking.”

That example of interfaith dialogue and shared commitment to sustainability won the day.

Rabbi Starr acknowledged that Young Israel still has a lot to learn and do on its path to sustainability, but the commitment is crucial to ensure that future generations “will inherit the beautiful world we have benefited from.”

Mosley praised Young Israel for making all decisions through the lens of sustainability and said she’s looking forward to watching Young Israel grow into its identity as a sustainable congregation.