Environmentalism and the Internet: two words you don't hear too often in the same sentence.
But 19 young Jewish environmentalists are hoping this combination will be just the thing to connect and promote environmental activism across the world.
Together, they recently launchedJewcology.com , an interactive web portal loaded with eco-conscious blogs, discussion forums, event listings and educational resources.
At the heart of the project is Evonne Marzouk, a Philadelphia native who credits the sunrises and ocean waves of childhood summers at the Jersey shore for sparking her deep appreciation of the natural world.
During a 2008 trip to Israel for a leadership conference organized by the ROI Community for Young Jewish Innovators, Marzouk began exchanging ideas with like-minded environmental activists from as far as Los Angeles and Santiago, Chile.
"We had so many things left to talk about so we were trying to figure out how to stay in touch," said the 34-year-old.
When they heard that ROI founder and philanthropist Lynn Schusterman was offering participants the chance to apply for a new "Innovation Fund" grant, Marzouk submitted their idea to build an interactive hub for Jewish environmentalism.
While the dozen or so Jewish environmental agencies in North America and another half-dozen in Israel generally already have a web presence, none had a comprehensive forum where young environmentalists could ask questions, share ideas and learn how to bring environmental programs to their cities, said Marzouk.
The goal was to create a portal that would not only promote existing organizations, but go beyond them to engage a much broader, multidenominational Jewish environmental community, she added.
"The opportunity here is for us to use the amazing technology of the Internet to connect with each other and find other people with common problems, and really bring the Jewish environmental movement to the next level," said Marzouk, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and oversees the site in conjunction with another environmental agency she runs called Canfei Nesharim.
To Change a Community
With a $50,000 award from the new fund, the Jewcology team hired a fellow ROI graduate to develop the structure of the site.
The rest of the money will be reserved for stipends for frequent bloggers and, in a departure from the virtual world, leadership trainings for Jewish environmentalists, said Marzouk. Those one-day conferences will be held starting this spring in Los Angeles, Baltimore and upstate New York.
"There's a lot of, 'Here's a great program, do this program in your synagogue,' and there's been a lot of, 'Come and farm with us,' " said Marzouk. "But there hasn't been a lot of, 'Here's the skills you need to make change in your community.' "
So far, more than 200 people have registered to network on the site since it went live on Nov. 29, and hundreds more have visited to peruse the content.
In addition to daily blog posts on a range of topics, the site features Torah teachings with environmental messages and educational resources in English, Hebrew and Spanish. Those materials target a variety of ages and interests, everything from children's art projects to rabbinic liturgy for Tu B'Shevat.
Altogether, the site boasts more than 440 resources submitted by Jewish environmental activists and organizations around the world. At least two of the more frequent contributors hail from the Philadelphia area: the Shalom Center and the Jewish Farm School.
Shalom Center director Rabbi Arthur Waskow couldn't even remember how many essays, articles and liturgies he's passed along. The center has been sharing such resources "forever," he said, in its mission to show that Jewish traditions and holidays can be used "as moments for eco-Jewish activism, not just ritual."
Waskow said when he first began advocating for environmental causes 25 years ago, there were maybe 10 other Jewish leaders doing the same thing. Now, he said, there are thousands of Jewish environmentalists, but even more are needed to take a proactive stance against the ecological damage humans have caused.
"If human beings are creating the disaster, human beings can cure it and heal it, and it means we have to start behaving in different ways," said Waskow. "We have to pay attention to stories that remind us that self-restraint can be joyful, let's enjoy the abundance that there is and restrain ourselves."
Having a central place to access and discuss those stories "invigorates people to act politically, as well as personally," said Waskow.
So many people feel powerless when it comes to protecting the environment, said Marzouk, "but really there's so much we can do if we attend to it and work together."