Returning Asiyah (Physicality) to Tu B'Shvat

Barak Gale


Launching a new Declaration of Interdependence and holding our leaders accountable

By Barak Gale

Take a survey of Jewish environmentalists. Ask how many consider themselves educators versus activists, and I would wager the educators would far outnumber the activists. I remember one year noticing that Tu B'Shevat seders were proliferating in the Bay Area. We always had an action piece, some letter campaign, as part of our San Francisco seder, and no one to my knowledge objected to it. I asked leaders of two other seders in the area to consider including our action piece, and my colleagues readily agreed. But in the end, it fell through the cracks. It seemed the priority was to ensure that everyone had a good time, and that an action might be regarded as an imposition. Another colleague of mine, editor of the newsletter of a large congregation in Dallas, tried including a similar action at their seder. His rabbis were against it. He was told to keep the decorum to that of a fine wine tasting.

Tu B'Shevat in the redwoods — a compelling action

Given this seeming reluctance to engage in activism, what then motivated some 250 Jews and friends to travel hundreds of miles to attend a Tu B'Shevat seder at a small redwood grove in a remote corner of northern California in 1986? What motivated so many to risk traveling in stormy weather, on flooded roads, to risk arrest for participating in an act of civil disobedience — planting redwood saplings on a denuded stream bank? Imagine the chutzpah of the "redwood rabbis" and the many participants to believe that such an event might be compelling and that it could make a difference. The story had reverberations throughout the country. I personally shared the story with then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and our delegation from the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation.

Stakes have become much greater

Certainly the tale of Headwaters was compelling: trees hundreds and even thousands of years old, a magnificent ecosystem, being destroyed for decking and trim and to pay off junk bonds, and the whole sordid massacre of the forest being executed by a Jewish man. But if this is compelling, how much more so is the plight of the entire earth, subjected to an ongoing stealth assault by this Administration and Congress, who are systematically dismantling thirty years of environmental safeguards that protect our citizens, and have abandoned promises to mitigate the scourge of global warming, endangering the lives of millions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of severe impacts on humanity.

Yet we seem to be stuck in thinking that the most we can do is write letters. Some of us might wonder — if 1.6 million letters demanding the preservation of our roadless areas were so easily dismissed by the current Aministration, and if a letter demanding a responsible energy bill and signed by over 1200 clergy and the leaders of every major religious organization went unheeded by our Senators, of what use are more letters?

Declaration of Interdependence

The premise of faith is that such actions as letter writing do have merit in ways that may not be readily apparent. But the grave danger to the earth and future generations demands that we also try new ideas — and that we hold our leaders accountable for their misguided actions and inactions that are causing irreparable harm to creation. The "Declaration of Interdependence" emerged from some brainstorming of a small group of activists in Seattle having lunch with Rabbi Waskow. The Declaration is modeled closely on the Declaration of Independence. It is a declaration "by American citizens of faith demanding responsible stewardship of God's creation."

Today the choice between blessing and curse has unprecedented meaning. We are told by such preeminent bodies as the Union of Concerned Scientists that every life system on the planet is in decline, and the very ability of God's creation to sustain life is being undermined


The Declaration asks about the rights to life, liberty and happiness, among people who are afflicted by environmental degradation. The Declaration lists abuses of power this last year alone. It holds hope for an America that can be different. It suggests that we do not abide by the far right holding claim to their uncaring notion of patriotism. Our founding fathers spoke of truths that we and our leaders need to hear again.

We hope this Declaration will be posted on the doors of our legislators' offices, on our own doors, at workplaces, lunch rooms, and everywhere in the public eye. We hope such a Declaration can be disseminated far and wide, and serve as a catalyst for conversation, articles, letters to the editor, meetings with legislators, and ultimately to help turn the tide away from exploitation to living in harmony with creation. We hope this Declaration will be coupled with a statement that documents the record of your legislator. Yes, we have a lot of chutzpah! We even hope that you will speak of this Declaration in your celebration of Tu B'Shevat, whether at Shabbat services or at a seder. That is what we are doing at Congregation Eitz Or in Seattle. We are also inviting honored guests — interfaith clergy who co-sign the Declaration. Please don't let tikkun olam "fall through the cracks" this year. Let this Tu B'Shevat be more than a "wine tasting"!

In returning Assiyah to Tu B'Shevat, the amazing thing is that the other worlds become restored as well. My prevailing memory of the seder in the redwoods was of the spirit that seemed to soar as high as the towering trees. Driving home, I recall Rabbi Dan Goldblatt saying that this truly was a congregation from the "olam habah (world to come, paradise)". May your celebration of Tu B'Shevat bring the Four Worlds together in a manner that will be a blessing for the four corners of the earth, and as the original P'ri Etz Hadar seder of the 17th century says, "May shefa, favor, and compassion be bestowed upon us."

For more information on the Declaration of Interdependence, and how you can use it for an activist Tu B'Shvat, please see the full Declaration posted at under Seasons/ Tu B'Shvat and under "Healing the Earth."

Gale has been an eco-Jewish activist on the West Coast for a dozen years, and is now living in Seattle.

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: