These past few days, we have dipped our apples in honey, heard the Shofar blow, and perhaps taken a moment to contemplate the Jewish year of 5776 that lies ahead of us. This past year, we had the opportunity to celebrate the Jewish Jubilee Year (also called Shmita). During a Jubilee Year, which marks every seventh year in the Jewish calendar, we are commanded, according to Parshat B’Har in Leviticus to “let the land rest.”
Over the course of the last year, many of us have done just that, perhaps by engaging in Catholic-Jewish dialogue about the importance of interfaith climate action or by letting Congress know that we support the Clean Power Plan. This coming year, as we again begin to “till and tend” in keeping with the responsibility that God commanded humankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), our opportunities to act as environmental stewards will grow.
This is my first week as policy advisor for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and coordinator of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. So at the beginning of my tenure and at the beginning of the new Jewish year, here a few blessings for 5776:
- May the Jewish community continue to strengthen their connection to the earth that is so fully engrained in our sacred text. When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are how excellent! For your sake I created them all” (Ecclesiastes 7:13). May we remember how beautiful the world around us is and work to preserve that beauty.
- In the face of rising sea levels, decreasing crop vitality, and increasing frequency of extreme weather events that are all evidence of climate disruption, may the Jewish community continue to pursue environmental justice, as they have always done. Proverbs tells us “Champion the poor and the needy.” May the Jewish community continue to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from the worst effects of climate change.
- May the Jewish community come together and strengthen their connection with one another, with Jews, with people of other faiths and with people of no faith. Jewish environmentalism is about more than appreciating the beauty and power of God’s earth and more than recognizing our historic origins as farmers, tillers and tenders of the land. Jewish environmentalism is about, more than any else, the care for people. Therefore it must be to people, to one another, that we turn in the face and what at times may seem like overwhelming problems. Climate change and environmental degradation are not issues that any of us can face alone or even as just the Jewish community. These global issues require global support, interfaith action, and international decision-making. It is for this reason that Jewish clergy are coming together to thank Pope Francis for his work on climate change when he arrives in the United States later this month. Clergy can sign the letter thanking Pope Francis here.
I write this first note to you all, COEJL friends, supporters, newcomers, and veteran environmental activists alike, in the hopes that over the course of these special, holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you will reflect on what the coming year will look like and consider our planet.
Here’s to a sweet, happy, and healthy new year – Shana Tova!