Rabbi Jennie Rosenn had already dedicated her career to the Jewish pursuit of social justice when, six years ago, she experienced an awakening to the climate crisis.
She had been reading more about the environment, both in the press and in reports from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Then she went to San Francisco to visit her father during a heat wave. Rosenn knew that compared to other climate catastrophes, high temperatures in the Bay Area were relatively insignificant, but it was a powerful enough experience to give her a hint of the “apocalyptic” nature of the global problem.
“People had been talking about this for years,” she told eJewishPhilanthropy. “How did I not get this?”
She also came to realize that the unequal impacts of climate change on low-income and minority populations made the environment a social justice issue, and started to think about creating a new Jewish organization that would focus on environmental policy and ground its work in Jewish values, text and ritual. The result was Dayenu, which launched in April, 2020.
“This was not something to do lightly,” Rosenn said. “I don’t have thick skin. And it would be disruptive in certain ways. But we all need to be doing uncomfortable things right now to respond to this moment.”
With Announcement of the American Families Plan, Dayenu Calls for Swift Congressional Action for a Just, Green Recovery
With President Biden proposing the American Families Plan during his Joint Address to Congress this evening, Dayenu issued the following statement from CEO and Founder, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn:
“President Biden’s address tonight demonstrated that his administration is pursuing a path toward economic recovery that addresses racial and economic inequality and confronts the clear and present danger of the climate crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic has made clear, healthcare, childcare, educational opportunities, and other social services are crucial for our families and our society. They enable people to join or return to the workforce without worrying about their own health and wellbeing or those of their loved ones at home. If we are to build a new, clean energy economy for all, we must ensure that nobody is left behind.
“Jewish tradition is clear: it is our obligation to protect the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, those who have been made most vulnerable. This certainly includes those who for too long have faced exclusion and discrimination. If we are to truly recover from the pandemic and address climate change, we will have to reimagine and rebuild our economy to include everyone.
“Together, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan are crucial first steps to help ensure a society that is more equitable and sustainable, for generations to come. There is certainly much more to do, but it’s clear the President’s proposals align with the needs and concerns of Americans: that’s why 64% support the American Families Plan.
“A critical but often overlooked dimension of a just, green recovery is the care economy. We at Dayenu believe everyone should share in the benefits of a just and sustainable future – that means economic, gender, and racial justice must be at the core of climate solutions. President Biden’s proposal goes a long way towards making this vision a reality.
“We call on Congress to swiftly pass President Biden’s sweeping economic recovery proposals and deliver bold climate action at the scale that science and justice demand.”
In 2019, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn—a veteran of the Jewish nonprofit world—founded Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. In March 2021, Steven Spielberg selected the organization, which has quickly sprung into the center of the vibrant climate justice movement, to receive a portion of his million-dollar Genesis Prize.
Arielle Silver-Willner: What drove you to start Dayenu?
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn: I once thought of “the environment” as out there, and was less viscerally connected than I was to people, to civil and human rights issues. But a lot of things contributed to my awakening.
I remember reading reports on the climate crisis and realizing that this was coming much faster and more furiously, and that terrified me. Without major change, climate collapse was going to happen in my lifetime! And the future for my children, let alone my grandchildren, was in peril. Would there be enough food to eat? Water to drink? Clean air to breathe? I felt like, “Where the hell have I been?! People have been talking about this for years. How did I not get it?”
Fiery orange skies. A record number of tropical storms. A global pandemic, triggered by humanity’s unstinting exploitation of natural resources. For 364 days of the year, doomsday messages dominate the world of climate media. As a graduate student in Environmental Communication, I consume a lot of them. And sometimes, those messages consume me.
But then there is Earth Day.
Once a year, motivational newsletters flood my email inbox, inspiring me to reduce my meat consumption, plant a tree in my backyard and beautify the world around me. I go on my favorite hike, notice native plants in newfound places and try my best to convince my parents to invest in solar panels. On Earth Day, I feel true motivation to take action on behalf of our planet’s climate. This 51-year-old holiday makes me feel like a sustainable world is possible and that, by reducing my own carbon emissions, I can make an impact in this monstrosity of a crisis.
Yet when I consider just how bad our climatic future might be, Earth Day feels painfully inadequate. As the highest emitter of carbon dioxide cumulatively, America is not doing nearly enough to reduce its emissions. President Joe Biden’s recently proposed infrastructure plan aims to reduce emissions by investing $2 trillion in public transit, electric vehicle infrastructure, disaster relief and climate research. Although the plan is an important start, it would only cover a fifth of what multiple reports estimate the federal government must invest to avoid the most severe consequences of global warming.
Dayenu Welcomes Biden’s Paris Agreement Pledge and Calls for Historic Action to Secure a Just and Livable Future
With President Biden’s announcement of the United States’ Nationally Determined Contribution, it’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, released the following statement from CEO and Founder, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn:
“After rejoining the Paris Agreement, President Biden’s announcement regarding the United States’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is an important step to place our country on a path towards a just, sustainable future. The pledge reflects the urgent need to cut emissions to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. As the cost of clean energy continues to fall, wildfires, storms, flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather events have made clear the very high costs of inaction. It is critical that the NDC meet the scale that science and justice demands, with the US contributing its fair share to turning the tide of the crisis. Dayenu calls on the Administration and Congress to enact bold regulations and policies to meet and exceed today’s commitment
“These emission reduction targets are promises we make to the world, but we’ve made promises before, and broken them. In Judaism, words are significant and vows are sacred. Today, we must hold one another and our leaders to these commitments because it will take all of us to fulfill our communal vows and promises. As the largest historic greenhouse gas emitter, America has a responsibility to act decisively and quickly, given the urgency of the unfolding climate crisis. Today’s announcement represents an important step in taking such action.
“Dayenu will continue to demand ongoing action from the Administration and Congress to support the transition towards a sustainable and just future. Most immediately, we need a just, green recovery from the pandemic that supports clean energy, good paying jobs, equity, and justice. To that end, we urge swift passage of economic recovery and infrastructure legislation. This is a timely opportunity to provide critical investments in energy efficiency, clean energy, and transportation. Passing this legislation would demonstrate a commitment to reaching and raising the United States’ emissions pledge, and is just one of many ways Congress and the Administration can work to slash greenhouse gas emissions and rapidly transition to the clean energy future we need.
“It is time to make bold promises and keep them.”
What can one person do about climate change? For Grace Wallis, the answer is simple: a lot, but not enough. “Individual actions don’t create direct change, immediate change, in the areas that are most effective — which would be policy change,” she said.
That’s why the 23-year-old Stanford grad student is focusing not only on modifying her own personal actions but also working to mitigate climate change at the state level, lobbying lawmakers in the Capitol on issues such as fracking and pollution. She’s been doing it with the help of climate organization Dayenu, a New York-based national endeavor that is helping to mobilize the Jewish community on what it sees as the No. 1 issue of our time.
“Policy is really impactful, and community is really impactful in the face of climate change,” Wallis said. “And that’s what Dayenu is really about.”
Founded in April 2020 by Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Dayenu was set up to give ordinary people the tools and information they need to get educated, raise awareness and pressure elected officials on environmental issues. They’re encouraged to set up their own groups, called “circles,” to work autonomously at the community level, but with coordination and support from the national organization. According to Dayenu’s director of organizing Vicki Kaplan, there are nine Dayenu Circles in the Bay Area so far, with more forming each week.
“I think the fact that people are starting Dayenu Circles shows just how much appreciation there is in the Jewish community for bolder and more direct collective action to address the climate crisis,” Kaplan said.
Buoyed by Biden’s American Jobs Plan, Dayenu Calls on Congress to Support Historic Investments in Clean Energy, Good Jobs, and Justice
“As we begin the long path to recovery from the pandemic, it’s our moral obligation to rebuild a clean energy economy that is equitable and sustainable for all, for generations to come. When faced with existential crisis, the Jewish community must respond as our biblical ancestors did in Egypt: with organizing, leadership, and decisive action.” -Rabbi Jennie Rosenn
NEW YORK, NY – As President Biden proposes the largest investment in clean energy and infrastructure in U.S. history today in Pittsburgh, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, released the following statement from CEO and Founder, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn:
“We applaud President Biden’s vision for economic recovery and job growth through bold climate action and a focus on racial and economic justice. With the announcement of this historic proposal, Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver real economic stability and benefits to Americans across the country, particularly those from historically marginalized groups, while accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. With 77% of Americans supporting further Congressional action to accelerate recovery from the pandemic, there is a public mandate for affordable, accessible clean energy and infrastructure built by American workers making a living wage. Now is the time for Congress to put the country on a path towards a just and sustainable future for generations to come.
The Passover story reminds us that when faced with an existential crisis we must respond – as our biblical ancestors did in Egypt – with dedicated organizing, leadership, and decisive action. Through Dayenu’s ongoing Just, Green Recovery campaign, the Jewish community will continue to demand swift passage of an economic recovery and infrastructure package that delivers clean energy, good jobs, and justice.”
NEW YORK (AP) — Steven Spielberg said Thursday that he will donate his $1 million Genesis Prize to 10 nonprofits that are working for racial and economic justice. The film director and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, will match those donations with $1 million of their own.
In February, Spielberg received Israel’s prestigious 2021 Genesis Prize in recognition of his contribution to cinema, his philanthropic works and his efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.
“America is facing a crisis, and our responsibility is to act now,” Spielberg said in a statement, adding that Judaism and Jewish history provide “the ethical precepts commanding us to work for a more just and equitable world.”
Spielberg will donate to Avodah, Black Voters Matter, Collaborative for Jewish Organizing, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, Jews of Color Initiative, Justice for Migrant Women, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Native American Rights Fund, One Fair Wage and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
“We admire these organizations for their honesty and moral imagination and urge all those who share this vision to join us, so that the work of these non-profits may continue and grow,” Spielberg said in a statement.
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Dayenu’s founder and CEO, said the group was honored by the donation.
“This grant is a timely recognition that climate justice is a Jewish issue, and that confronting the climate crisis requires addressing racial and economic injustice,” Rosenn said in a statement.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is fighting climate change one vegan meal at a time.
Veganism transforms an individual and the whole family unit, Yanklowitz said, because it makes people more thoughtful about what they are eating and why. It also heightens their awareness of the impact they are having on the environment.
“I’m very grateful for those working on political revolutions, but I want to be on the side of a spiritual revolution that starts person by person, home by home,” he said.
From changing an individual’s diet to garnering community support for legislative changes, Jewish leaders across the country gathered to discuss the best ways to take on climate change.. Yanklowitz was one of five activists who addressed the relationship between Judaism and environmental activism during the Judaism, Science and Medicine Group’s annual conference hosted by Arizona State University via Zoom on Feb. 28, 2021.
In 2014, a Public Religion Research Institute survey found 78% of American Jews consider climate change either “a crisis” or “a major problem” — the highest proportion of any religious group in America.
But that sentiment doesn’t necessarily translate to action.
“There was amazing work happening, there continues to be great work happening and we need more — for the Jewish community to fully show up in all of our people and power and play a critical role in the larger national climate movement, and in turn, the global climate movement,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, founder and CEO of Dayenu. She launched the organization last April to mobilize the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis.
As the Biden administration gears up to combat climate change, I’d like to see the leaders of my religious community at the forefront of those rallying to the cause.
It’s not as if the Jewish rank and file are unconcerned. Back in 2014, a PRRI survey found that fully 78% of us consider climate change either “a crisis” or “a major problem” — the highest proportion of any religious group in America. And there’s no shortage of Jews involved in large secular environmental organizations, to say nothing of a number of small Jewish ones.
But the leadership of the communal umbrella organizations has pretty much been missing in action.
The question was posed at the opening panel of the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, an online agglomeration of discussions, performances, presentations, rituals and workshops that took place at the end of January around Tu B’shvat, the festival known as the “New Year of the Trees” that has become the annual focus of Jewish environmentalism.
“Why isn’t climate change high on the communal agenda?” asked organizer Lisa Colton.
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