More than 100 groups from across the spectrum of Judaism, including dozens of Jewish environmentalists from Philadelphia, marched through New York City to call for global action on climate change.
Jay Sand says he’s done “the little things” to limit his environmental footprint. At his West Philadelphia home, he has solar panels and a rooftop garden. He and his wife and their three daughters compost, recycle and keep the temperature down in the winter.
And early Sunday morning, he rode in the back of a bus from West Philadelphia to the People’s Climate March in New York with his 10-year-old, Molly, who has absorbed the message about what’s behind her family’s lifestyle choices.
Asked why she wanted to attend the march, which was aimed at putting pressure on world leaders two days before a United Nations summit on climate change in New York, she responded:
“Because if we don’t change it soon then the world will be a horrible place,” said Molly, whose father leads a children’s music education program.
The Sands sat among fellow Kol Tzedek congregants on one of 55 buses from the Philadelphia area, preparing to join a predicted 100,000 people in New York. Ultimately, organizers tallied 310,000 participants — environmental activists, politicians, United Nations officials including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and even celebrities such as Jewish actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt — marching through Midtown Manhattan to the sound of drums, horns and chants.
More than 100 groups from across the spectrum of Judaism participated as part of the Jewish Climate Campaign, and more than 2,500 solidarity events also took place in 166 countries, according to event organizers 350.org and Sierra Club.
Some of the sights included a Jew standing next to an atheist on a Noah’s Ark float atop a flatbed truck; the Topsy Turvy Teva Bus — two school buses welded together on top of one another that has been traveling around the country on used vegetable oil; enough shofars to fill all the synagogues in a slightly smaller town than Manhattan; and a Long Island couple in their late 60s and early 70s marching with Zionist youth group Young Judea.
“To see this turnout and see how diversified it is — it represents every segment of America, so I hope that the elected officials who have the power will recognize the meaning of this kind of support,” said Don Ashkenazi, 71, adding that his wife is his “soulmate on environmental activism.”
“We haven’t been formally involved but concerned — recycling and things like that — and once I heard about the march, I said, ‘Everybody has to be there.’ We have to say to the world and to the United Nations, ‘It’s time already,’ ” said Karen Ashkenazi, 68.
Kol Tzedek Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann offered a prayer for safe travel to the interfaith group, which included about a dozen members of her synagogue.
“As a community, we’ve been addressing this issue internally to the best of our ability,” said Grabelle Hermann. “We’ve been composting for the last four or five years; we’ve been trying to make our community as green as possible. People, I think, feel that climate justice is also connected to the value of bal tashchit, not wasting.”
Many people on the bus discussed how to follow-up after the march. Grabelle Hermann said she planned to invite her congregants who participated for an aliyah at Rosh Hashanah services and to offer another aliyah for those who pledged to “up their activism” on climate change in the coming year.
North Jersey native Ben Jieoson said he came out to the march to “make an impression on politicians” and was optimistic about the chances of spurring change. He’s been traveling on the Topsy Turvy Teva Bus Tour to teach people around the country about sustainability and alternative energy.
“Jewishly, all of the Torah and all of the laws have tie-ins to the land and say if you’re good to the land, then rain will come and everything will be good. And if that doesn’t happen, then things are going to start going crazy,” said Jieoson, 24, who spent four years in Israel before moving to Los Angeles.
“I see slowly that there is change out there,” said Jieoson, “And I definitely think that we’re going to be in time to set things right.”