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Dear Friends,

A familiar Midrash teaches that God showed Adam all around the Garden of Eden and then offered this warning:

‎ראה מעשי כמה נאים ומשובחין הן וכל מה שבראתי בשבילך בראתי תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי שאם קלקלת אין מי שיתקן אחריך

Behold my works, how pleasant and how beautiful they are. And I created it all for you! Be aware and don’t ruin or destroy my world, for if you ruin it, there is no one to come and fix it up after you.
–Midrash: Ecclesiastes Rabbah, 7:20

Over 1500 years ago, despite having technology with far less potential to wreak havoc on our planet, the rabbis were already concerned with the impact our human behavior could have on the environment. They understood that our actions today not only affect ourselves, but also determine what type of planet we will bequeath to the generations that will follow us.

Now their concerns are being realized. Droughts are becoming longer, more frequent and more extreme around the world. Tropical storms are becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures. And as temperatures rise, there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas. (Also, it is March 17 and 61 degrees outside—and the temperature will be over 70 degrees next week.)

There is so much going on right now that screams for our attention. Whether it’s our own domestic issues, the crisis in Israel, the explosion of antisemitism, the assault on reproductive and women’s rights or the latest banking meltdown, there is a crisis at every turn. It would be easy and understandable for these emergent issues to claim all our focus. But climate disruption is no less urgent. In fact, as we are now seeing the impact of human activity on our climate, one might argue that it is THE existential issue currently facing us.

With that in mind, I want to invite you to participate in three important upcoming programs to help reignite public discussion of this important issue. (A huge thank you to our entire Tzedek Steering Committee, and a special thank you to TSTI Board Member Barbara Schwartz, who has taken a national leadership role in this work.)

Barbara wrote:
The national URJ movement is coordinating a national effort on Climate Justice in a campaign called, “Power for Purpose.” We have partnered with Climate Action Campaign, a national grass roots coalition of environmental, environmental justice, and public health groups to garner support for tightening various federal pollution standards. Climate Change is the most critical public health issue of our lives, impacting us more every day we do not act. We are hoping to get a team from TSTI engaged in this work.

Three events are planned:

  • Weds., March 22, 8:00-9:15 PM — A national Zoom meeting where details of the campaign will be presented. This event will include sending a comment to tighten a specific pollution standard, currently in EPA review, to EPA head Michael Regan.
  • Mon., April 24, 7:30 PM — A Zoom event to engage as many people as possible from TSTI in generating comments to the EPA on other specific pollution standards to get them tightened, as a concrete step toward reducing pollution of our air, soil and water.
  • May 10-11 – Day of Action in Washington, D.C. — A peak moment in the campaign when we will gather to advocate for climate justice with members of Congress and other officials. We are seeking additional people to join our team in DC to have our voices heard loud and clear as a moral voice on this issue.

You can read more about the Reform Movement’s initiatives here.

In the Talmud we fine this story that beautifully captures our responsibility to work now for those who come after us. It states,

Honi the Wise One was also known as Hon the Circle Maker. By drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain, sometimes even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was, indeed, a miracle maker. As wise as he was, Honi sometimes saw something that puzzled him. Then he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery.

One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” Hon then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?”

The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.” (Babylonian Talmud, ‘Taanit chapter 3)

People are often surprised to learn that Judaism speaks quite powerfully about environmental concerns. And as the current caretakers of our tradition, it is time for us to amplify this important Jewish and moral concern.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel M Cohen