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Want to Save the World? Start with Teens

Contributed by COEJL Intern Kate York

The passing of knowledge from one generation to the next is a core philosophy of Judaism. We rarely get the opportunity to engage in this work hands-on, so we were especially excited to host a group of teens for a camp-style program.

Recently, a group from Camp Judaea joined us for an afternoon program as part of their “From Dreams to Reality” week-long trip to Washington, DC. Our program was designed to introduce the campers to environmentalism and the Jewish values that inform our work combating climate change. The participants rotated through four stations: a Jewish environmentalists’ scavenger hunt, a simulation of the impacts of climate change-induced flooding on Washington, DC, and Jewish environmental values matching game. The activities culminated in a discussion of takeaways and actions each of us can take to make a difference in our everyday lives.

Participant responses were heartwarming. When asked to compose a faux environmental advocacy tweet, one group created “Roses are red, violets are blue, take care of the Earth, because it takes care of you.” Another group created a poster that read “Just because you don’t litter doesn’t mean the Earth isn’t treated like trash” paired with a picture of the Earth in a trash can. Several participants cited that they learned the Four Laws of Ecology (popularized by Jewish ecologist Barry Commoner). A couple of campers said they were going to encourage everyone at their camp to recycle. One even stated he would start composting at his house.

The program’s message most intensely resonated with the many participants from the Miami area. For the debriefing of the DC flooding simulation, we asked the campers to extrapolate their learnings and brainstorm other cities that would be negatively affected. Participants were stunned that areas in Miami would be submerged in their lifetimes. They responded by committing to take action.

We were greatly touched by the participants’ willingness to listen, think, and act. Amidst a world too often filled with setbacks and frustration, these receptive campers indicate a strong future for the Jewish environmental movement, and in turn, our world.

Want to take action to combat climate change at your summer camp or at home? Check out these Jewish and interfaith climate resources!

Kate is a recent graduate of South Lakes High School, in Reston, VA. She will be attending Case Western Reserve University, where she plans to study the intersection of Civil Engineering, public policy, and theatre.

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