(Originally published in the Jewish Advocate at http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/news/2017-02-17/Editorials/Why_Jewish_communities_need_to_join_the_Peoples_Cl.html)
Over my years of volunteer work for the Jewish Climate Action Network in the Boston area, I have witnessed a groundswell of concern and activity among Jews about climate disruption. On this coming April 29, a march by the People's Climate Movement in Washington, DC is hoped to exceed the 400,000 to 500,000 people who attended the last such march in 2014.
These marches go to core of the Jewish theology, with its appreciation for the Earth and compassion for all. According to Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13, Adam and Eve were told, "See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."
There is no time for the standard political process to unfurl itself over climate disruption. Communities are drowning now. Melting tundra is releasing methane that will put the Earth beyond healing. Physics does not know the art of the deal. If you drive an electric car, use solar panels, or reduce your intake of meat, that's wonderful--but you also need to change the structural barriers in society that prevent everyone from taking such climate-saving measures.
Another specifically Jewish concern attaches to climate disruption. The land of Israel and its neighbors, like the rest of the world, are vulnerable to the water shortages, degredation of biodiversity, and increasing health problems resulting from climate change. These will have economic and political effects as well, as seen in the rural to urban migrations in Syria that many observers say contributed to the outbreak of civil war. Although no one can predict the exact effects of rising sea waters and other climate disruption, Israeli leaders would be well advised to pursue clean energy (where Israel's technical sector is already a world player) instead of trying to achieve energy independence by developing Mediterranean gas fields.
One religious dictum in support of marching this April comes from Leviticus 19:17: "Reprove your kinsman and do not take sin on yourself." At the People's Climate March, we reprove our leaders because they fail to nurture the Earth we have been given; because they have cut themselves off from the peoples who suffer from climate-induced droughts and floods; because they have cut themselves off from the other plants and animals of the world that make the world livable for us. Kabbalistic sources (quoted in "Kabbalah and Ecology" by Rabbi David Seidenberg) reveal that the creator invited the heavens and Earth, including all the beings created during the first five days, to join in creating human beings: "Let us make mankind in our image" (Genesis 1:26). We must not abandon the Earth. It is incumbent on all of us to remake these connections.
The 2014 People's Climate March was a spectacle of immense diversity. Musicians ranging from steel drum bands to folksingers filled the streets. A mechanical dinosaur, driven by a fleet of bicyclists, bobbed its head and flaunted a sign heralding the end of fossil fuels. Political and religious diversity flourished as well, with activists of many faiths mingling with militant atheists with leftist denunciations of the fossil-fuel based economy. The racial diversity was also encouraging. And just the sheer excitement of being with hundreds of thousands of people sharing a vision for a bright future. The next People's Climate March April 29 in Washington DC promises to be an event you won't want to miss.
Why should Jewish institutions endorse the march? Because it is the most pressing issue of our time, of course. But also because they can help to provide a Jewish context for understanding the issue, as I try to do in this article. And because these institutions want to remain relevant in the eyes of their constituents--particularly among younger generations, who worry about climate disruption every day.
A grassroots group of Jewish activists across the nation are preparing a visible Jewish presence and a Jewish voice at the march. We are also looking for ways to make the march a "Jewish Climate Shabbat" for those observing the Sabbath in a variety of ways. We are seeking housing near the site of the march. For those who do not want to march or can't get to Washington, we are preparing materials and guidelines for Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night and Shacharit Shabbat services on Saturday morning. We are also looking for a place to hold Kabbalat Shabbat services on April 28 for those who come to Washington.
We need everyone to recognize the evil of climate disruption and respond in some way on April 29. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 is often quoted: whoever saves a life has saved an entire world. How often can you act to literally save an entire world, as you can at the People's Climate March!
Biblical commentators have suggested (with a nod to Psalm 104:7) that on the second day of creation, the creator had to reprove the waters because they wanted to rush in and flood the Earth. If we reprove our kinsmen who make life-and-death decision about the future of our climate, perhaps our creator will once again reprove the waters and save the Earth from calamity.
You can sign up with the Jewish Climate Action Network to march at https://peoplesclimate.org/?source=jcan
Andrew Oram is clerk pro tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network. In his work for computer information provider O'Reilly Media, he writes and edits content on a variety of computer-related topics. He is also a member of Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester, Massachusetts, where has been active in tikkun olam and helped found its Acting to Reverse Climate Change (ARCC) committee.