‘Who by fire?’ isn’t just a metaphor this year — but we still have time to change course

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.