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COEJL Starts Jewish Discussion on Environmental Financial Advocacy

The fossil fuel divestment movement is a growing. More major universities, endowments, and faith denominations,are choosing to move their money out of coal and oil industries. They see the move as a commitment to mitigating climate change with their dollars as well as their votes. This week, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life Manager Liya Rechtman ran a workshop titled “Financial Advocacy: The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement” at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Conference.

Neither the Union for Reform Judaism nor the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has any official policy on fossil fuel divestment. The workshop was not intended to advocate for fossil fuel divestment, but instead to educate congregational and national leadership on the issue. Regardless of their views, our Jewish leadership must be prepared to engage in civil conversation with all stakeholders on this issue.

Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz joined the workshop to advocate for fossil fuel divestment from an Israeli and solar industry perspective. Mr. Abramowitz talked about the importance of considering fossil fuel divestment on it’s own terms. The Jewish community has a rich history of divestment, particularly in response to the South African apartheid. Many historical leaders credit the South African divestment movement with being critical for standing in solidarity with the South African people and moving towards the end of apartheid. Further, Mr. Abramowitz argued, moving away from fossil fuels allows for a move into a booming renewable energy sector, which is particularly strong in Israel.

Eric Packer from Progressive Asset Management followed Mr. Abramowitz to explain how fossil fuel divestment was possible for individuals, congregations, and endowments. At a moment when oil prices are falling, moving money out of the industry is not only ethically responsible, but also financially sound according to his analysis.

The group was then able to read some voices in opposition to the issue, from the President of Harvard University to global health and anti-poverty advocates to Jewish leadership. Finally, in small groups, participants engaged in text study to examine issues of our Jewish values on climate change, but also financial responsibility, and redemption as an avenue through which to understand stakeholder engagement.

The workshop was, of course, not the end of the conversation on the issue. Participants were given a space to air their views, and learn more about the argument for and against divestment. COEJL was proud to be there for the beginning of this critical juncture in the Jewish community.

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