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In the spring of 1992 at the invitation of Al Gore and Carl Sagan, the leadership of the major organizations in American Jewish life, eminent rabbis, denominational presidents, and Jewish U.S. senators gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss the creation of a Jewish response to the mounting environmental crisis. Those present agreed that the Jewish community had a responsibility to address the crisis.

In 1993, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life was created and charged with catalyzing a distinctively Jewish programmatic and policy response to the environmental crisis. COEJL was initially envisioned as a time-limited project to “jump start” environmental programs that would become permanently integrated into Jewish institutions.

Established by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (then NJCRAC), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, COEJL became part of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment to enact a distinctively Jewish programmatic and policy response to the environmental crisis.

The Founding Statement of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Issued by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Washington, D.C. March 10, 1992

We, American Jews of every denomination, from diverse organizations and differing political perspectives, are united in deep concern that the quality of human life and the earth we inhabit are in danger, afflicted by rapidly increasing ecological threats. Among the most pressing of these threats are: depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, massive deforestation, the extinction of species and loss of biodiversity, poisonous deposits of toxic chemicals and nuclear wastes, and exponential population growth. We here affirm our responsibility to address this planetary crisis in our personal and communal lives.

For Jews, the environmental crisis is a religious challenge. As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and that teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of Creation, we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood. Where we are despoiling our air, land, and water, it is our sacred duty as Jews to acknowledge our God-given responsibility and take action to alleviate environmental degradation and the pain and suffering that it causes. We must reaffirm and bequeath the tradition we have inherited which calls upon us to safeguard humanity’s home.

We have convened this unprecedented consultation in Washington, D.C. to inaugurate a unified Jewish response to the environmental crisis. We pledge to carry to our homes, communities, congregations, and workplaces the urgent message that air, land, water and living creatures are endangered. We will draw our people’s attention to the timeless texts that speak to us of God’s gifts and expectations. This consultation represents a major step towards:

  • mobilizing our community towards energy efficiency, the reduction and recycling of wastes, and other practices which promote environmental sustainability;
  • initiating environmental education programs in settings where Jews gather
  • to learn, particularly among young people;
  • pressing for appropriate environmental legislation at every level of government and in international forums;
  • convening business and labor leaders to explore specific opportunities for exercising environmental leadership;
  • working closely in these endeavors with scientists, educators, representatives of environmental groups, Israelis, and leaders from other religious communities.

Our agenda is already overflowing. Israel’s safety, the resettlement of Soviet Jewry, anti-Semitism, the welfare of our people in many nations, the continuing problems of poverty, unemployment, hunger, health care and education, as well as assimilation and intermarriage — all these and more have engaged us and must engage us still.

But the ecological crisis hovers over all Jewish concerns, for the threat is global, advancing, and ultimately jeopardizes ecological balance and the quality of life. It is imperative, then, that environmental issues also become an immediate, ongoing and pressing concern for our community.

Signatories:

Rabbi Marc D. Angel

President, Rabbinical Council of America

Shoshana S. Cardin

Chairperson, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Rabbi Jerome K. Davidson

President, Synagogue Council of America

Dr. Alfred Gottschalk

President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of

Dr. Arthur Green

President, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Irwin Groner

President, The Rabbinical Assembly

Walter Jacob

President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

The Honorable Frank R. Lautenberg

United States Senate

Marvin Lender

President, United Jewish Appeal

The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman

United States Senate

Sheldon Rudoff

President, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler

President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Dr. Ismar Schorsch

Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Arden Shenker

Chairman, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council

The Honorable Arlen Specter

United States Senate

Alan J. Tichnor

President, United Synagogue of America

Ten Year Anniversary Report: “What’s Jewish About Protecting the Environment?”