Opinions & Commentary

Why Jewish communities need to join the People’s Climate March

By Andrew Oram

Andrew Oram is clerk pro tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network and a member of Winchester’s Temple Shir Tikvah, where he helped found its Acting to Reverse Climate Change committee. Andrew Oram is clerk pro tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network and a member of Winchester’s Temple Shir Tikvah, where he helped found its Acting to Reverse Climate Change committee. Over my years of volunteer work for the Jewish Climate Action Network in the Boston area, I have witnessed a groundswell of concern and activity among Jews about climate disruption. On this coming April 29, a march by the People’s Climate Movement in Washington is hoped to exceed the 400,000-to- 500,000 people who attended the last march in 2014.

These marches go to the core of the Jewish theology, with its appreciation for the Earth and compassion for all. According to Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13, Adam and Eve were told, “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

There is no time for the standard political process to unfurl itself over climate disruption. Communities are drowning now. Melting tundra is releasing methane that will put the Earth beyond healing. If you drive an electric car, use solar panels, or reduce your intake of meat, that’s wonderful – but you also need to change the structural barriers in society that prevent everyone from taking such climate-saving measures.

Another specifically Jewish concern attaches to climate disruption. The land of Israel and its neighbors, like the rest of the world, are vulnerable to the water shortages, degradation of biodiversity, and increasing health problems resulting from climate change. These will have economic and political effects as well, as seen in the rural-to-urban migrations in Syria that many observers say contributed to the outbreak of civil war. Although no one can predict the exact effects of rising oceans and other climate disruption, Israeli leaders would be well advised to pursue clean energy (where Israel’s technical sector is already a world player) instead of trying to achieve energy independence by developing Mediterranean gas fields.

One religious dictum in support of marching this April comes from Leviticus 19:17: “Reprove your kinsman and do not take sin on yourself.” At the People’s Climate March, we reprove our leaders because they fail to nurture the Earth we have been given; because they have cut themselves off from the peoples who suffer from climate induced droughts and floods; because they have cut themselves off from the other plants and animals of the world that make the world livable for us. Kabbalistic sources (quoted in “Kabbalah and Ecology” by Rabbi David Seidenberg) reveal that the creator invited the heavens and Earth, including all the beings created during the first five days, to join in creating human beings: “Let us make mankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26). We must not abandon the Earth. It is incumbent on all of us to remake these connections.

Jewish institutions should endorse the march because it is the most pressing issue of our time. They can help to provide a Jewish context for understanding the issue. And because these institutions want to remain relevant in the eyes of their constituents – particularly among younger generations, who worry about climate disruption every day.

A grassroots group of Jewish activists across the nation is preparing a visible Jewish presence and a Jewish voice at the march. We are also looking for ways to make the march a “Jewish Climate Shabbat” for those observing the Sabbath in a variety of ways. We are seeking housing near the site of the march. For those who do not want to march or cannot get to Washington, we are preparing materials and guidelines for Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night and Shacharit Shabbat services on Saturday morning. We are also looking for a place to hold Kabbalat Shabbat services on April 28 for those who come to Washington.

We need everyone to recognize the evil of climate disruption and respond in some way on April 29. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 is often quoted: whoever saves a life has saved an entire world. How often can you act to save literally an entire world, as you can at the People’s Climate March!

Biblical commentators have suggested (with a nod to Psalm 104:7) that on the second day of creation, the creator had to reprove the waters because they wanted to rush in and flood the Earth. If we reprove our kinsmen who make life-and-death decisions about the future of our climate, perhaps our creator will once again reprove the waters and save the Earth from calamity.

You can sign up with the Jewish Climate Action Network to march at peoplesclimate.org.


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