In August 2015, I received a surprising email. It was from Brian McLaren, an evangelical author and activist, inviting me to be part of a historic ecumenical and multi-faith response to Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical and visit to the United States that September. The event was called “Coming Together in Faith on Climate,” and I was one of two national Jewish leaders asked to present, alongside the likes of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
Five years ago, there were only a handful of rabbis and cantors who were taking public action on climate change. It was a strange feeling to be one of them. On the one hand, as a newly minted rabbi, I was excited by the opportunities to speak, write, sing, and organize for climate justice, often in interfaith contexts.
The three Jewish festival holidays mark transitions in our relationship with the natural environment: the start and end of the growing seasons, which give us both physical and spiritual sustenance. Tu BiShvat – the New Year for Trees – reminds us that everything we have, everything we do, depends upon the natural world that sustains us. Our stewardship of the natural world is the moral imperative contained within Tu BiShvat.
As we all know, the clock is ticking. Humanity needs to commit to real change. And the Jewish community, as an ethically-based people, must model this commitment — as individuals, as leaders, and as a community as a whole.
Bold climate action at the scale that science and justice demand needs to become a central moral imperative of the entire Jewish world.
That’s why hundreds of leaders and organizations have come together to create The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. Our goal is to make climate action a central moral issue of the Jewish communal agenda.
The Jewish News
Dayenu is a new movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis “with spiritual audacity and bold political action.”
Concerns about climate change and its impact on our world “loom like big clouds” over everything for Josh Bender of Ann Arbor. The Michigan State University graduate, now in his second year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, says he’s made environmentally focused changes in his daily life like eating less meat and avoiding single-use plastics.
But he wanted to do something to tackle the global problem on a larger scale.
“With big societal changes you can sometimes feel powerless to do anything about them,” Bender says. “I remember during the election, I wanted whoever the nominees were to be people who got what a serious generational issue this is.”
This week’s guest, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, discusses Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Dayenu is building a movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action. Dayenu mobilizes Jewish support for climate solutions, builds collective power with national and global movements, and raises up a spiritual, religious, and moral voice.
The climate crisis is the existential crisis of our time. We feel the heat. We read the staggering predictions of sea level rise. We witness the floods, fires, and hurricanes wreaking havoc across the globe, and we know that without very significant changes, we are hurtling towards an unlivable and unsustainable future. Many people are already experiencing the painful impacts of Climate Change.
We have known our world was broken. Even before the pandemic hit, we knew that we couldn’t continue as we had been and expect our children and grandchildren would have a safe planet to live on.
But the deep disruption caused by the coronavirus has put these truths into even sharper focus. We have experienced our profound interconnectedness. We have a new knowledge of what disruption feels like, what happens when governments fail to prepare and respond adequately, and what not listening to science leads to.
Dayenu founder and CEO Rabbi Jennie Rosenn was featured in Avodah’s video series, Speak Torah to Power about her journey to becoming a dedicated climate activist.
In this election, American Jews are voting on climate like our lives depend on it — because they do.
Over the past eight weeks, we — together with more than 800 other Jews and in partnership with more than 40 Jewish organizations — have been reaching out to voters across the country as part of Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2020 campaign.
Jews young and old, from across the country, have been gathering (virtually) twice a week to contact voters in key states, especially those experiencing immediate impacts of the climate crisis like triple-digit heat in Arizona, flooding in Michigan and frequent hurricanes in Florida.
We identified voters who are “climate-concerned” using research from Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication and matched this data to voters who are Jewish, as well as those who are infrequent voters. We contacted them to boost voter turnout and urge leaders to have the chutzpah to take bold action on climate change.
Dayenu volunteers, ranging in age from middle school students to baby boomers, have reached out by phone and text to voters across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
We set out with a goal to reach 200,000 voters. By election day, we have reached more than three quarters of a million voters.
For those who live in the Bay Area, Sept. 9 was a day they will never forget. Nina Schmier remembers waking up that morning to a completely orange sky, the bizarre byproduct of an intense wildfire season that has become an annual occurrence for Californians.
“I felt like everything was breaking down in our world,” said Schmier, a 16-year-old who attends Hillsdale High School in San Mateo.
The recent blazes in the state, scientists say, were worsened by a warming planet.
But are voters in the upcoming election focused on climate change? It’s an issue that can easily get buried, with the national conversation dominated by Covid-19, the possibility of a disputed election, racial justice protests, the economy, debates over health care, Amy Coney Barrett’s ascension to the Supreme Court, the spectre of right-wing fringe groups and the war against disinformation.
But for Schmier and others, those orange skies were a foreshadowing of a disastrous future.
Now, she is one of many young activists determined to keep climate change at the forefront of voters’ minds.
With the election less than three weeks away, Jewish groups are out in force seeking volunteers to get out the vote.
Here are four Jewish ways to volunteer on and before November 3rd.
Organize for the environment with Dayenu
Dayenu, a national Jewish start-up has been working to drum-up political engagement at the intersection of two major interest groups before the 2020 election, Jews and environmentalists.
“Voters are paying attention to the climate crisis in the 2020 elections — the question is how we can help them take action on their convictions,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, CEO and Founder of Dayenu. “Grounded in our Jewish values, Dayenu is encouraging Jewish Americans to confront the catastrophic impacts of climate change, racism, and the COVID-19 pandemic, and make change on a systemic level. Together, we can build a country where all people have clean air and water, good jobs, and strong communities. But not unless we vote.”
Dayenu is looking for volunteers to help organize around the intersection of climate justice and Jewish Identity. Join them at their website: https://dayenu.org/signup
Max Sussman, 31, spends much of his life advocating for climate justice. As important as the work is to him, however, he worries that it keeps him from being as active in the Jewish community as he would like.
That dynamic shifted a little over a year ago when he met a rabbi at an event protecting Native American land. The two sat together and Sussman learned about Dayenu, a national organization that describes itself as a Jewish call to climate action. Suddenly he found a place where two central aspects of his life could intersect.
Dayenu is reaching out to voters in seven states including Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania before the general election on Nov. 3. Its Chutzpah 2020 campaign is an effort to talk to Jewish voters about the reality of climate change and methods of combating it with “spiritual audacity and bold political action,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, the CEO and founder.
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