Broad Jewish Leadership Signs Eco-Covenant

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Yesterday (February 6, 2012, two days before Tu B’Shvat), The Shalom Center and I joined with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) in a formal signing of the “Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative” declaration, part of its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign.

Leaders from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community set the community-wide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.  (September 2014 is the beginning of a Jewish "sabbatical" or Shmittah year, when the Earth was intended to rest.)

Before reporting my own talk and naming the other speakers,  I want to note that over the last two years, COEJL has come back from the brink of the grave, mostly owing to the work of three people: Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (under whose umbrella COEJL operates); Rabbi David Saperstein, the Jewish community’s designated prophetic voice in Washington as head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Sybil Sanchez, the exec of COEJL, who breathed active life into the newly raised-up body.
 (Rabbi Saperstein's remarks are also on our Website; click here.)

This is what I said:

"We have just been reading the Torah passages about the ecological disasters that Pharaoh --  a top-down, unaccountable, arrogant ruler -– brought upon his own country: undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and lice and locusts, unprecedented hailstorms: what we call the Ten Plagues. 

"Today our own Pharaohs –-  the top-down, unaccountable, arrogant giant corporations of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas, and their allies in and out of government -– are bringing terrible plagues upon our planet:   unprecedented droughts and fires in Russia; droughts and famines in Africa; floods in Pakistan; oceans encroaching on the shores of island nations and Bangladesh, endangering their very existence; vanishing snow-caps in the Himalayas that for centuries have provided water to billions of human beings. 

"And these are not just foreign events. Those who think that we Americans will be safe if we stop using “foreign” oil must face the truth:

•    The oil-well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico –-- a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for “American” oil. 

•    Drinking water on the farms of Pennsylvania, so poisoned by the fracking industry that when farmers touch a match to their kitchen faucets, chemicals in the water flame up into torches -- a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for 'American' gas.  If these pharaohs get their way, the plague will engulf the drinking water of millions in the cities whose water comes from the shale rock regions.

•    The worst drought in the history of Texas,  the destruction of whole mountains in West Virginia, the epidemic of asthma among our children –- all plagues brought on by modern corporate pharaohs.  Brought upon Americans by corporate obsession with profits from exploiting 'American' oil, coal, and gas. Supported by some, including even some in the Jewish community,  in the name of US 'energy security.'

"We can halt these modern pharaohs, as we halted the Tar Sands pipeline when thousands of protesters surrounded the White House and about a thousand were arrested there. 

"For The Shalom Center, the Covenant we are about to sign means that in order to reduce emissions of CO2,  we must dissolve the arrogant pharaohs of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas  -- no matter whether they bear a “made in America” label or not." 

Others who spoke were Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, exec of the Rabbinical Assembly; NY City Councilman David Garodnick; Nancy Kaufman, exec of the National Council of Jewish Women; Joe Laur, exec of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the program on the rabbi as social activist at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (and president emeritus of the board of The Shalom Center); and Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield, exec of the Jewish Greening Fellowship at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

For the full text of the Declaration, see

Meanwhile, including but reaching beyond COEJL, there has emerged an amalgam of Eco-Jewish organizations called the Green Chevra, which has recently received an important grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Among its fifteen active and activist members are groups committed to one or more of four ways of dealing with our planetary crisis in Jewish terms:  hands-on greening of synagogues, JCC’s, and Jewish households; the awakening of ecological themes in Jewish practices like the festivals and life-cycle events and the ”kosher” consumption of food and other fruits of the earth; the creation of alternative communities, especially Jewish organic farms; and public advocacy for change in public policy.

I am glad to report that The Shalom Center is not only a member of the Green Chevra but sits on its“stewardship committee,” coordinating its work.

For many years we have been doing this work to pioneer eco-commitment in many regions of the Jewish world. It is an aspect of what we call “Transformative Judaism” – a commitment to bring the fullest Jewish wisdom and action to address the present deep multidimensional earthquake (ecological, economic, military, political, familial, sexual) in the life of the human race and the rest of our planet.

To do this work costs money.  We ask your help to keep doing it by donating.