November 2018 Newsletter Article
Each month I invite the 11th and 12th graders to study with me at my home for Post-Confirmation class. Over brownies we converse about topics in which there is an intersection between Judaism, social justice, current events and identity. The conversations, which are wide ranging, make clear to me that our teens are growing up in a world in which they need to navigate issues that are truly challenging.
At our first class of the year I did a mixer with the teens. I opened up a pack of 50 postcards called Act Now! – Protest Postcards. Each teen was supposed to take one or two postcards which display an image that they care about or one that they care about and one they disagree with. The postcards were either photographs of actual signs for protest marches or pictures of people holding signs. We had a great conversation about the issues that are on their minds.
Two students picked cards that I think are relevant for all of us. One teen chose a card that has a picture of the earth from space and it says, “There is NO Plan B” with the earth being the “o” in NO. The second student picked a sign that says, “Science IS REAL”. Both of these teens spoke about the fact that although they cared about many of the other issues that were written on the other cards, the issue of climate change was so scary and important to them that they could not think of another more important issue.This conversation happened the day after the UN released the 2018 report on climate change. All of the teens had heard about it and all of them were quite concerned and scared. The report outlines that in these kids very lifetimes they would be seeing mass die-off of coral reefs, a dramatic decline in species of both fauna and flora, worsening food shortages, increasing wildfires, more dangerous storms, a massive refugee crisis caused by climate change and more. I know that as a nation we talk about the impact of the national debt on our children, but that night I felt struck by how these kids felt like we were leaving them with a broken planet. It was very, very disheartening.
As Jews we are commanded to respond to our children’s concerns. The Torah and Jewish texts clearly articulate our responsibility to protect the environment, and as such, I believe that it is essential for Jewish communities to respond to our youth’s concerns. In the book of Eclesiastes we read: One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever. (Kohelet 1:4) We must ask ourselves, “Will the Earth remain forever if we continue down the path of ignoring the warning signs of climate change?” Judaism teaches us that we have a solemn obligation to improve our world for future generations and one step we must take is to learn how to live within the ecological limits of our earth. Unless we do this, we will fail to protect our children and will compromise the ecological and economic security of future generations.
In Genesis 2:15 we were told that humanity was given the responsibility of stewardship: of tilling and tending the earth, not destroying it. In the Talmud, we are taught the command of bal tashchit, “Do Not Destroy”. This early environmental doctrine asserts that ownership of land is an artifice and that in actuality the earth is God’s, a gift that is loaned to us and needs to be protected. This concept is reinforced in Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Judaism teaches us that any act of environmental destruction is an affront to God.
In this same vein, the Union for Reform Judaism’s position on environmental protection includes the statement that “energy policy must also be equitable and just, as the Torah commands, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). The countries most responsible for climate change should be those most responsible for finding a solution to the problem. Judaism also underscores the moral imperative of protecting the poor and vulnerable: “When one loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of the loving-kindness of the Eternal” (Psalms 33:5). Indeed, poor nations are likely to bear the brunt of the negative impacts associated with climate change.”
Over the years, Congregation Shalom has taken steps to GREEN our place in the world including changing our lights to energy efficient lighting, improving our insulation, updating our thermostats, participating in re-cycling efforts and more. There is still so much to do. Just as many of us have tried to make changes in our personal lives in regards to helping the environment, many of us would like to increase our efforts as a synagogue community as well. We want to do this one step at a time and would like to invite anyone interested in participating on a Green Team at Congregation Shalom. One symbolic step we are taking is that our Ner Tamid – our Eternal Light – with a gift from last year’s Confirmation class, is going to go green by becoming a solar Ner Tamid. A next step will be to work in our kitchen to see what we can do to go fully green. This would include evaluating our use of paper goods, using actual dishes, replacing energy eating appliances and more. There is much we can do in the realm of energy efficiency that would help our planet and save our congregation money. Follow-up efforts might include steps towards better insulation, solar power and more. If you would like to be a part of this green team please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be meeting in the near future to take the first steps.
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry