VISION SHMITA 2022: 7 Thoughts & 7 Proposals toward Healing Earth

Montefiore Windmill outside the Old City of Jerusalem

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[This  is a paper I gave for a gathering of about 36 eco-Jewish activists from the USA, Europe, and Israel. The meeting focused on planning toward the next Sabbatical/ Shmita Year seven years from now, when the Earth is entitled to a time of restfulness from human exploitation. The meeting, sponsored by Siach, Hazon, and the Heschel Institute, was held in Jerusalem  from November 3-5, 2015, in the Mishkenot Sha-ananim cultural center, in the shadow of the Windmill that Moses Montefiore paid for in 1857, to provide energy for the first modern settlement of Jews outside the Old City of Jerusalem. [For me, this Windmill as an energy source spoke as a reality and symbol of past Jewish creativity. It points toward the future of Jewish and multireligious creativity in working with the Ruach Ha'Olam -- the Breath, Wind, Spirit of the world -- to support the emplacement of many myriads of wind turbines to heal our planet fom the climate crisis of global scorching. To see the attached graphic of those turbines suffused by the Rainbow, click on the title of gthos article.  The Raiinbow is our symbol of determination that the Earth will not be consumed by a Flood of Fire,  will not be scorched by the burning of fossil fuels. The paper notes seven assertions about the present -- we  hold these truths to be affirmed by powerful evidence  -- and seven proposals for action to move us closer to a Sabbatical/ Shmita that can actually heal the Earth.--  AW] Seven Thoughts: Where We Are Now

1. The climate crisis is the greatest danger to face the human species since our emergence, and the greatest danger to the whole present web of life on the planet. 

2. Because Torah is rooted in an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers in close and sacred relationship with the Earth, the Jewish peopl has an extraordinary treasury of wisdom and tools to deal with that danger (e.g., Earth-related  festivals;  the sketches of an eco-kashrut applied not just to food but to all that we extract from the Earth; Shabbat and Shmita; etc.)

3. The USA is per capita the most intensive CO2/ methane emitting society in the world, and has one of the most recalcitrant governments in facing the danger. It also has some major cities especially vulnerable to rising oceans — some with large Jewish communities (New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore) and some regions already suffering unprecedented droughts. 4. In the USA, the Jewish community has won for ourselves greater organizational seichel and political capacity and clout than any other Jewish community in history.

5. Yet the major institutions of the Jewish people – and especially the American Jewish community -- are — at worst, opposing serious action to end CO2 and methane emissions; mostly, ignoring or straddling the issue;  at best, treating some aspects of the climate question seriously but as only about 7th on a priority list, and even at that not addressing  extreme extraction like tar sands and fracking and offshore & Arctic oil drilling.

6. In Israel, the truly “existential” threat to the existence of the State is the climate crisis. Israeli scientists have reported that if the present trajectory of CO2/ methane emission continues, by mid- or late 21st century most of Tel Aviv will be under water and the Negev desert will have swallowed up huge chunks of what is now arable and habitable Israel

7. Israel’s population is too small to make a dent in world CO2 emissions that is sufficient to protect Israel on its own. Israel’s national security and the future of Israeli society rests not in its own hands but in shifting the entire energy policy of such countries as the US, Europe, China, Brazil and India to end any use of oil, coal, and unnatural gas (no matter sourced from what country or region) , to be replaced by solar and wind energy. From a world Jewish standpoint, that reality again puts the American Jewish community in a crucial role to make crucial decisions about US energy policy. 

Seven Proposals: Where We Need to Be

I think the need is clear and the time is ripe for the world Jewish community, and especially the American Jewish community, to take as its highest priority vigorous action to limit the climate crisis before it becomes climate chaos.

1.  Beginning in 2016, synagogues in every stream of Jewish life spark the organizing of their membership & their neighborhood (with special attention in USA to nearby low-income & Black/ Hispanic neighborhoods), to set up energy conservation/solar energy neighborhood coops,withdraw from the coal-fired electrical grid , and actively oppose fossil-fuel addiction and the fossil-fuel drug lords. By Shmita 2022, at least 49 US synagogues have organized Solar/ Conservation Energy Coops among their members and nearby neighbors.

2..  By or before Shmita 2022, ALL Jewish seminaries & yeshivas require a course and support paid internships in Torah of the Earth (which includes not only reexamination of Torah in light of the eco-crisis, but also direct experience of nature, science of  present global crisis, social psychology of what bestirs movements to address the climate crisis & what stirs opposition to change). Completion of this course is required in order to be ordained, and seminaries raise the money to support paid internships for students in each seminary to spend two years in 20-hour-a-week internships working actively to end CO2 & methane emissions .  This work is appraised and if ably done receives course credit.

3.  By Hanukkah 2018,  the governing bodies of all Jewish denominations have committed themselves to work for national policies to ensure that by Hanukkah in Shmita 2028-2029, consumption of oil in the US has been reduced by 7/8: “One day’s oil to meet eight days' needs.”

4..  By Sukkot 2016, Hazon and other Jewish food-justice-oriented organizations have expanded their visions and actions to include “eco-kashrut” beyond food to the energy we eat: What is eco-kosher and what is eco-treyf about consuming fossil fuels, uranium, wind, sun? By Shmita 2022 there is a World Jewish Commission for Eco-Kashrut that is defining and labeling various products, uses, etc.  as EKO.

5.. By Rosh Hashanah 2017, there is in place a transdenominational Institute for Eco-Judaism that is deliberately fostering reinterpretation of Torah & prayeralong these lines  -- integrating science, evolution, & climate crisis into Torah, using midrash flowing from understanding Tanakh as the spiritual search of an indigenous people, understanding YHWH as Breath of Life that connects the breathing of trees and all animals, including humans,  applying 2d para Shma to our own crises in  rivers, rain, & atmosphere. By Shmita 2022, in every stream of Jewish religious life there is a Siddur and a Torah commentary  based on these principles.

6.  Beginning in 2017 with public campaigns and culminating by the end of Shmita 2022, the 20 largest Federations in the US have moved their investment money out of fossil fuelsand into stable, profitable, life-giving businesses, with special but not exclusive interest in renewable energy.

7.  Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 2017, a future Prime Minister of Israel speaks urgently before AIPAC and the US Congress, pressing for action by Congress to establish a tough and rising carbon tax, for the sake of protecting Israel from a disastrous threat to its existence. The US Jewish community takes a major role in a broad coalition demanding a carbon tax --  its income to be paid in public dividends benefiting all residents of the US, plus supporting a world-wide fund to assist countries and communities most vulnerable to climate crisis.  By or before the Rosh Hashanah 2021 that begins Shmita 2022,  the carbon tax-and-dividend law is passed.


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