By Liya Rechtman, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Last week, I stood with a Catholic sister, a Unitarian pastor, and a Muslim oceans scientist among many other women of faith in the middle of the civil society “Green Zone” of the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Together, each afternoon of the first week of the negotiations, we joined in prayer. We recited “Hal’lu” from my Jewish tradition, meditated, and listened to Qu’aranic verse, Unitarian praise, and Presbyterian reflections. Across lines of difference in faith and background, we united as women at the Conference of Parties to bring forth an alternative to the stalemate of the negotiations and to demand a hard line on hope and justice.
Faith offers a counter-narrative. Today marks the 5th day of Hanukah and the 8th day of negotiations in Paris. One of the crucial lessons that we can learn from our Jewish faith and apply to the international climate talks is this counter-narrative to the dominant political story.
The Maccabees were an oppressed people, small in numbers and poor in resources. However, bound together with other Jewish factions in the area, they were able to overcome their oppressors and return to rededicate their temple. Their faith offered them hope and the pursuit of justice, themes otherwise lacking from their political reality. In this same way, our interfaith prayer vigils brought to the conference hope for an ambitious agreement and joy. Our interfaith song brought to the conference a celebration of human life and a belief in the capacity for change, especially in the face of daunting obstacles to maintaining a climate by allowing only a below-2-degrees-Celsius increase in temperature.
For these same reasons, we stood as women leaders. If you’ve been watching footage of the conference, you may have noticed a (perhaps unsurprising) lack of women in leadership at the table and in the negotiating rooms. The Conference of Parties has vastly disproportionate male representation.
As people of faith, we aim to work towards justice and equity, giving voice to the needs of marginalized peoples, both in international policy and in our own communities. We chose to convene a space run by women, who, in the context of the negotiations, are not heard. This second component of counter narrative parallels and overlaps with the firs: the inclusion of people of faith in the climate negotiations space.
We hope that together, marginalized communities, women, people of faith, and justice seekers can pray, sing, and speak loudly enough that we will be heard and ambitious targets for emissions will be set this Hanukah.