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.
During Beth El Congregation’s virtual Tu B’Shevat Seder, Rabbi Dana Saroken invited Rabbi Jennie Rosenn (Founder and CEO of Dayenu) to discuss how we can confront the climate crisis with Jewish values and spirit.
After four tumultuous years, many Americans saw Inauguration Day as a turning point for our nation. The swearing-in of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and a new Congress marks a new chapter in U.S. history, but it should not — and can not — be seen as a “return to normalcy.” There is nothing normal about this moment.
In the last year, we’ve witnessed a deadly global pandemic, taken refuge from raging wildfires and destructive storms, participated in record-breaking mobilizations protesting police brutality and systemic racism, voted in a historic election and watched in horror as white supremacists attempted to stage a violent coup. These converging crises make clear what many of us have known for a long time: that our society is in need of a re-assessment.
Going back to “normal” is no longer an option. Addressing these existential crises will be the work of our lifetimes. As we enter the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “new year of the trees,” we reflect on what it means to be rooted in that work.
On Jan. 27, the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest kicked off five days of free virtual programming both celebrating Tu B’Shevat and calling for climate action. Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, founder and CEO of Dayenu, told viewers the time has come — even that the time is past — for the Jewish community to be passionately involved in climate justice.
“It’s about whether we believe that every human being is created in the image of God,” Rosenn said during one of the festival’s opening panels held live on YouTube.
David Machbitz, 18 and an engineering major at Arizona State University, shares Rosenn’s passion. He will be one of hundreds of presenters in the national festival.
When he first became interested in climate activism, it took him by surprise. He spent most of his time thinking about school and science, but in 2019 he suddenly became interested in social justice and political action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, he started thinking more deeply about climate change during his senior year in high school. He remembers watching Thunberg’s activities and thinking, “Whoa! This is something I should do something about.”
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.
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.