Opinion: I am a Jewish Educator and Climate Activist. This Passover, It’s Time Our Leaders in New York Take Action.

by Rachel Landsberg

Rachel Landsberg is a Jewish educator, co-chair of Shomrei Ha’Adamah Dayenu Circle, and an active member of Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN) NYC.

In preparing for Passover this year, I found myself thinking about two climate bills that remain stalled in the State Assembly: the NY HEAT and Climate Change Superfund Acts. Passover centers on the story of overcoming oppression and moving towards liberation; it is a narrative whose broad strokes have repeated themselves throughout time and place.

Here in New York state now, climate change is wreaking havoc on all of us — but it is disproportionately hitting marginalized communities that are more exposed to pollution and risk from climate catastrophes. As we transition to new energy sources, we must center and support these disadvantaged communities. We need to hold polluters accountable for the harm they have brought to our state generally and to these communities specifically. We must move towards liberation as we solve the climate crisis.

Yet that isn’t what’s happened in Albany recently. Instead, leaders in the State Assembly and the Governor’s office failed to prioritize climate by refusing to include either the NY HEAT or Climate Change Superfund Acts in the final budget that was passed. 

How did this happen? Our leaders made a choice, and it is one that will have serious repercussions for every community in New York State if we do not act to change it.

The NY HEAT Act, if passed in its entirety, would cap utilities at 6% for middle and low income families, helping limit the cost of energy bills to those who need it the most as we transition away from dirty fossil fuels.  The Climate Change Superfund Act, meanwhile, would hold major corporate polluters accountable for the damage they have done. It would give our state the resources to invest in climate resilience and adaptation projects, paving the way for a sustainable and livable New York for all New Yorkers.

Rather than making the clear decision to include these bills and support marginalized communities, our leaders turned away at a crucial juncture.

Our leaders’ failure feels particularly palpable to me given that we are amidst Passover. The two pieces of legislation build on the values of Passover: they offer a path forward that moves away from outdated systems and towards a more just society that leaves no one behind and that embraces opportunity.

While the Senate, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, successfully passed the NY HEAT act in late March, Governor Kathy Hochul and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie must now take action to prioritize climate and environmental justice. It is particularly surprising that Speaker Heastie has declined to support these bills, given their disproportionate benefits to his district in the Bronx, a community at the forefront of the climate crisis in the United States. 

I wish that our leaders could see how Passover can serve as a guide for our actions at this moment. Throughout the Exodus story, Moses confronts his own feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, challenges the existing power structures, and works to convince the people that change is possible. As New Yorkers, we must follow in the footsteps of Moses, who persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We cannot give up on demanding that our leaders pass these bills. It is not too late.

The urgency for our state to act is high, but I know that the payoff will be great. In doing this work, I have seen how my own capacity to care – about the future of my family, my neighborhood, my city, and my state – has grown. But there are still some days when I wake up feeling discouraged about our ability to bring about change.

On those days, I remember how Moses faced his own feelings of inefficacy and hopelessness, and then rose to meet the challenges before him. It is time that our leaders meet the challenge that is before them now. Passover asks each participant at the Seder to see themselves as if they too have left Egypt. This Passover, may our leaders in Albany find the strength, wisdom, and ability to pass the NY HEAT and Superfund Acts and lead us to a more livable future. 

Rachel Landsberg is a Jewish educator, co-chair of Shomrei Ha’Adamah Dayenu Circle, and an active member of Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN) NYC.

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