In this time of intense anger and grief, in a country where Black communities are targeted by police violence, we want to acknowledge the collective pain that this moment represents.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. All killed in acts of violence, targeted because of the color of their skin.
It’s no accident that police violence, coronavirus, and climate change all disproportionately impact Black communities. Our healthcare, housing, food, transportation and energy systems put Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities at much higher risk of contracting and dying from coronavirus, whether from poverty or dirty air.
The painful words that George Floyd uttered as he was choked to death, “I can’t breathe” reflect both the devastating, immediate human cost of police brutality and the longer-term crisis of environmental racism.
NEW YORK (JTA) — As the founder of a new organization building a Jewish movement to confront the climate crisis, the lead-up to the High Holidays this year is painfully resonant.
“Who by fire?” the Unetaneh Tokef prayer asks. “Who by water?”
This year, we will recite the prayer amid unprecedented fires, destruction and toxic smoke in the West and flooding in the South, where a series of slow-moving storms have left communities underwater.
Both of these disasters are fueled by climate change and the policies and inaction that continue to make it worse. Most years, the shofar blasts awaken us. This year, we are already painfully awake.
Millions of Americans are living through the unimaginable. Those of us in other parts of the country are pierced by daily images of destruction and surreal statistics. We talk with family, friends and colleagues out West who tell us it is “apocalyptic.” We catch a glimpse of what will soon be our reality — if not by fire then by water, or heat, or drought. The devastation of climate change is not a distant future. It is now.
Today, Dayenu joined more than 30 Jewish communal organizations from around the country to press Members of Congress to advance a just, green recovery to address the economic recession caused in part by the coronavirus pandemic.
While organizational sign-ons are closed, you can add your name to this letter to Congress here.
Dear Member of Congress:
As Jewish communities that care deeply for the future of this country, we pray for your strength as you continue your work to heal our nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you for the efforts you have already made to address the pandemic. As the COVID-19 crisis surges, we ask you to act with compassion to continue to ensure robust funding for public health and economic assistance for those in need. Assistance must be provided at levels that are commensurate with the devastating impact of this crisis and directed especially to communities disproportionately impacted. We are concerned that stimulus funds intended to support small businesses and vulnerable individuals have been misdirected to polluting industries that are compromising our collective future.
As you turn your attention from immediate needs to long-term recovery, we urge you to recognize that the global climate crisis also continues to imperil our health, safety and economy. While COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, 2020 is on track to being the hottest year on record. In our most northern state of Alaska, permafrost is melting and tides are rising, forcing villages to relocate. While Southern and Eastern states face record flooding and heat waves, Western states continue to suffer a multi-year mega-drought, and agriculture is in crisis in the Midwest. The climate crisis is worsening, and costing taxpayers, insurers, and governments at all levels; Since January, according to NOAA, there have been 10 climate-related weather disasters in the United States that have each cost over $1 billion.
We also know that climate change exacerbates the coronavirus crisis. Burning fossil fuels releases particulates and emissions that negatively impact respiratory health, which can make COVID-19 even more dangerous, especially in Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the consequences of neglecting to listen to science and prepare for disaster. This is the time to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable, equitable economy in order to achieve more resilient communities and provide cheaper, renewable sources of energy.
We urge you to act boldly to preserve human lives and all of God’s creation by adopting a stimulus and recovery plan that:
- Accelerates the transition to 100% clean energy by 2030 by incentivizing the deployment of clean energy and investing in sustainable infrastructure;
- Creates growth in the green jobs sector by requiring high standards for good jobs and provides for job training and a just transition for workers in greenhouse gas intensive industries and their communities;
- Furthers environmental justice by working in concert with community leaders to ensure that communities on the frontlines of poverty and pollution benefit from the recovery and transition to clean energy; and
- Discontinues investment in and subsidies for fossil fuel infrastructure and takes steps to hold polluters accountable.
As Jews, in moments of danger we encourage each other with the words that Moses spoke to his successor Joshua as he took responsibility for leading the Children of Israel to the promised land: chazak v’ematz, be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:23). Our future depends on your strength and courage. We urge you to seize this moment to take action for a more just, sustainable, and healthy world for generations to come.
Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action
Jewish Earth Alliance
On July 23, Dayenu held a powerful discussion with academics and activists on why we need a just, green recovery in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Watch Dr. Mark Paul, assistant professor of economics and environmental studies at New College of Florida, Aracely Jimenez, Deputy Director of Communications for Sunrise Movement, and Adrien Salazar, Senior Campaign Strategist at Demos, in conversation with Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder and CEO of Dayenu, in a discussion on why we need a Just, Green Recovery.
In this profound and beautiful conversation, we talk with Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder and CEO of Dayenu - a movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action. She shares powerful stories from the Jewish faith - which provide insight, light and courage in facing dark times. She also shares rituals from the Jewish tradition that help to navigate grief, fight for justice, and honor the historic journey of Jews from oppression and slavery, through years in the wilderness, and ultimately to freedom. Her wisdom will inspire you regardless of your religion or lack thereof.
The climate movement in the United States has grown increasingly diverse in recent years, with young people and front-line communities leading the way. But what has been missing, according to Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, is a strong Jewish mobilization effort at the national level.
Rosenn’s newly launched organization, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, wants to change that.
The Hebrew phrase “dayenu” is well-known among Jews. It’s the title of a popular song communities have sung at Passover celebrations for a millennium now. In English, dayenu is typically translated as “it would have been enough,” reflecting gratitude for all of God’s gifts.
But there is another possible translation, rooted more in urgency than thanks, that Jewish environmentalists say speaks to the current moment.
“‘We’ve had enough,’” Rosenn, Dayenu’s founder and CEO, said in a telephone interview. “It’s time for us all to act. We’ve had enough with the climate changing and there not being robust enough action.”
A new national Jewish group dedicated to tackling the climate crisis is emphasizing the connections between racial injustice and a degraded environment.
Minority communities, says Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, founder and CEO of the new group, Dayenu, “are more likely to have polluting industries close by, less access to cooling in extreme heat, and significantly limited access to quality medical care.”
Launched one month before George Floyd’s killing in police custody led to weeks of demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice, Dayenu aims to link the issues in its push for clean energy and a “Just Green Recovery” — a pledge by the presidential candidates to rebuild the world after the coronavirus so that it is more just and sustainable rather than supporting the coal and gas industries.
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn has spent most of her career working on Jewish social justice causes. Until recently, however, there was one issue that didn’t resonate as strong.
“The environment was something that I knew was important, but I wasn’t passionate in my kishkes [gut] about it the way that I was other issues,” said the New-York based rabbi, who until 2017 led community engagement for the Jewish refugee resettlement group HIAS.
That changed over the last few years, especially after Rosenn experienced a heat wave firsthand one summer in the San Francisco Bay Area “that felt apocalyptic.”
She decided last summer that she wanted to found an organization dedicated to fighting the climate crisis, and on Monday the rabbi launched Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action.
Why was this Earth Day different from all other Earth Days?
There were many reasons. For one thing, this year’s national celebration of the planet turned 50. For another, this Earth Day, celebrated on Wednesday, Apr. 22, occurred in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, Earth Day 2020 was the first to take place entirely online.
But lest you think a virtual celebration of Earth Day is less momentous than the usual live Earth Day observances, think again.
Joelle Novey, director of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light: “All of us are called to protect and to restore This is the central reality we face.”
This Passover, abandoning bread for matzah will hardly register as a disruptive change. Our experience of the coronavirus has upended everything. It turns out our world is much more fragile than we thought.
Things we have always taken for granted — that grocery stores will be stocked with food; hospitals will have available beds and health-care workers proper protective gear; that we can go to school and work; that we can spend time in gyms and synagogues; and that we can hug our family and friends — are no longer the realty.
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