Area Jews Take Action Ahead of Climate March

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The words of Dr. Seuss’ environmental tale of the Lorax may ring especially true in the Jewish community: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

And Jewish Philadelphians certainly seem to care a whole awful lot.

Ahead of the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., on April 29, some Philadelphians are using the Shabbat weekend and preceding days to discuss and educate about environmental issues.


On April 26 — in conjunction with the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Jewish Farm School and the Center City Kehillah — Repair the World: Philadelphia featured a discussion on environmental justice with Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center.

“From a practical, secular standpoint, climate change is about a existential risk to billions of human lives and possibly humanity as a whole (not to mention thousands of animal species),” said Rabbi Seth Goren, Repair the World: Philadelphia’s executive director.

“Judaism embraces the belief that among the mitzvot is an obligation to be stewards for the environment and for our planet,” he continued. “In addition to mitzvot that require us to engage in positive action to protect other people and our surroundings, the specific prohibition of bal tashchit commands us to refrain from actions that carry out wanton and unnecessary destruction.

“It’s hard to think of anything more wanton and unnecessary (not to mention dangerous and harmful) than making substantial portions of the planet uninhabitable and contributing to planet-wide extinctions and loss.”

Given that Earth Day, which was marked by marches for science across the country, just passed, the timing to discuss these issues is fitting.

“We’re at an inflection point when our opportunity for a last, best effort to limit climate change is here,” Goren said. “In addition, when science and reason is under attack from so many directions, standing up for climate justice is equivalent to standing up for reality and truth.”

Goren also noted the Jewish connection to standing up for the environment.

“Acting for climate justice is a way to live out Jewish values,” he said. “More specifically, it’s an expression of our gratitude to God for all that we’ve been given, as well as the divinely provided circumstances and resources that have allowed us to be alive and reach these moments. In this way, acting for climate change is, effectively, transforming the shehechiyanu into action.”

The Jewish value in environmental justice is something Rabbi Kevin Kleinman has been passionate about for many years.

The associate rabbi and director of education at Main Line Reform Temple will speak about “The Jewish Ecology of Now: Applying Ancient Wisdom to Help us Respond to Today’s Environmental Challenges” at Germantown Jewish Centre during a Shabbat service April 29.

He — like Goren — pointed to the biblical value of bal tashchit, which commands us to not waste and not destroy resources unnecessarily.

“Throughout history,” said Kleinman, who previously served as associate rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel for seven years, “there’s been a great deal of rabbinic discussion around this value and applying it beyond its original biblical commandment, which is, ‘Do not cut down a fruit tree in the time of war,’ really to talk about everything in the natural world from furniture to firewood to even a mustard seed shouldn’t be wasted unnecessarily.”

Applying that ethic to our modern “consumerist society” can shape our choices.

“We can apply this principle of ‘do not waste, do not destroy resources unnecessarily’ when thinking about, you know, ‘Should I drive my car or walk to where I’m going? What is the impact of my choice?’” he said. “And if I’m thinking Jewishly with an environmental consciousness, then I maybe make a decision that’s not the easiest to do but a decision that has the least impact on the environment itself.”

He pointed to the passage in Genesis that says that people have the responsibility to “fill and tend or really to guard and protect the planet,” which ties into topics he’ll discuss in his sermon.

“We have a Jewish responsibility to make sure that we are protecting the air, the water, the land, because ultimately we have the Jewish responsibility to protect people,” he said.

“I feel passionate as a Jewish leader that this is something that is deeply Jewish,” he added. “When we recycle, it’s a Jewish choice; when we carpool, it’s a Jewish choice; when we bring a bag to the supermarket, it’s a Jewish choice.

“And those are just the small day-to-day things. So all the more so, protecting the EPA is a Jewish choice because we are guardians and protectors of the Earth.”

Though a sister march to the People’s Climate March will be held in Philadelphia, some locals are boarding a bus to D.C. to participate in the main event.

“After the election, I was so depressed and overwhelmed. I decided I needed to choose two issues and let others handle all the other ones,” said Mount Airy resident Pesha Leichter, noting she chose climate change and gerrymandering. “Minimizing climate change is important because we have nowhere else to live. And what gives humans (or in this case, specifically Americans) the right to destroy the environment of all the species we haven’t killed off yet?”

Leichter will be aboard a bus taking a group of interfaith participants to D.C. to participate in the Shabbat-morning march, co-sponsored by Interfaith Power and Light Pennsylvania.

“As a Jew, it is clear to me that we are supposed to be stewards of the land,” she said. “The current administration is moving backwards, and from all I’ve read, we simply don’t have the time to do that.

“We certainly have the technology to get most, if not all, of our electricity through wind and solar. It’s cleaner and safer to produce and use than coal or gas from fracking.

“We need to be using our resources to retrain those who have been in the fossil fuel industry to be able to work in green energy.”

If there’s one thing all organizers and participants agree on, it’s that the time is now to act.

“We only have one planet, we’re only given one opportunity to live on this planet,” said Kleinman, “and our choices as a society, our choices as individuals are having an impact on the planet and therefore having an impact on us as a people who depend on food and air and water to keep us healthy.

“So it’s a critical moment to continue to move forward rather than stop the progress that’s being made or even go backwards in terms of environmental regulation.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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