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.
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.
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.
Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a new national Jewish organization dedicated to confronting the climate crisis, is preparing to launch in early 2020. Founded by Rabbi Jennie Rosenn in partnership with social justice and environmental leaders in the field, and with nearly a million dollars of seed funding secured, Dayenu will be an intergenerational organization mobilizing the Jewish community to take bold political action and wrestle with the deep questions that surface as we face the climate crisis.
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