- Program Bank
- Social Action Committee
- Global Climate Change
- Water Issues
” Lishmor v’la’asot u’lkayem, to guard and to do and to uphold…” – Ahavah Rabbah prayer in the Shacarit/ morning liturgy.
The Talmud argues as to which is more important, study or action. The final answer incorporates both halves of the equation: “study, because it leads to action.” This can also be translated as conditional: “study, when [and only when!] it leads to action.” The section of the COEJL website you are now looking at is all about action.
At or near the top of most synagogues’ agendas is Israel. Just as COEJL’s national program has recently expanded to include a more direct focus on Israel – , so can your congregation’s Israel program or committee incorporate environmental themes into its education about and support of our ancestral land, people, and nation.
Programs of all sorts, naturally, can be found at the COEJL Resources Page, which contains hundreds of programs within it. Many of these are purely educational (addressed in the next sections of this website), but some touch upon every aspect of synagogue life. Search using keywords like “social action” or “fundraising” or “Sukkot”, and you’ll find plenty of ready-to-go programs as well as ideas, texts, and activities which you can incorporate into your own programming.
In most synagogues, the group with direct responsibility for environmental programming would be the Social Action Committee. We strongly encourage that ecological concern should not be limited to one committee alone! Eco-Judaism should pervade every aspect of congregational life. Still, the social action committee is a logical locus of certain environmental programs, examples of which are given here.
HOLIDAYS! So much of congregational life centers around the cycle of the year and the seasons. While some festivals have obvious ecological significance (Sukkot, Tu B’Shvat), others might at first seem to have no environmental meaning whatsoever (Purim, Tisha B’Av). But in fact, every special day on the Jewish calendar is somehow connected to Earth and Earth-keeping. Look up sermons and text studies of the holidays in COEJL’s resources page.
Finally, around various environmental issues you can find a whole series of special programs which integrate adult and child activities, education for all levels, sermonic or liturgical elements, social action initiatives, and more. These bundles of programs-and-more are available around Global Climate Change, Water Issues, and Biodiversitty.
Libi b’mizrach, v’ani b’sof ma’arav — “my heart is in the East, yet I am in the uttermost West,” lamented medieval poet Yehuda HaLevi. To a greater or lesser extent, this describes all of American Jewry today — even as we go about our lives with our own community’s challenges to face, we also face east, looking toward our ancestral homeland which continues to tug at our heartstrings. Wherever we may fall along the Zionist spectrum, American Jews cannot turn away from the reality of, the challenges with, and the connection to Israel.
This is true for Jewish environmentalists in at least equal measure. In fact, given the centrality of Israel to Jewish conceptions about the sacredness of land — it was, after all, in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) where the Jewish ‘land ethic’ first took root — environmentalists are if anything more likely to feel the connection. So how do we act on it? As a posting on the COEJL website offers:
Top 5 actions you can take to help protect Israel’s environment
- Educate yourself and your community about the challenges facing Israel’s environment.
- Host a fundraiser. Grassroots Israeli environmental organizations need your support.
- Organize a synagogue or youth group environmental mission to Israel. Visit sites of environmental interest and concern, meet activists and learn about their campaigns. Brainstorm ways that you can join and support local programs.
- Volunteer your time. Before a visit to Israel, inquire about volunteer opportunities and internships. Or ask environmental groups how you can help from a distance.
- If you are a student, consider attending a semester or year at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
That’s a great start, and the list only continues to expand. Work with the folks on the Israel committee (if there is one; otherwise, with anyone who is interested in the subject) to incorporate environmental themes into your synagogue’s Israel programming, including the adult education component. Learn about the draining of the swamps, the planting of inappropriate species, and the overuse of water when studying Israel’s challenges and shortcomings; balance that with lessons on 1950’s successes in protecting wildflowers, and current successes in curbing pollution through legislative and judicial activism. When you study Jewish connections to Israel, start with the Eretz/ land itself; there’s a year’s worth or more of Talmud Torah curriculom on this subject alone. And once familiar with Israel and the environment in classical and modern times, get active! A whole host of Israeli environmental groups — and a new raft of trains-continental initiatives spanning both sides of the Atlantic — could use your involvement and support.
Some helpful resources include: The Flip Side of Zionism’s Success: Israel’s Environmental Woes. This article by movement-builder (and American immigrant) Alon Tal summarizes the ecological history of the Zionist enterprise; written a few years ago, it now also summarizes his important 2002 book on the subject, Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel, which is required reading for all eco-Zionists.
A huge number of links to Israeli environmental organizations can also be found on the COEJL website.
The Flip Side of Zionism’s Success: Israel’s Environmental Woes
by Alon Tal
Dr. Alon Tal is the director of the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura and the board chair of Adam Teva V’Din: The Israel Union for Environmental Defense.
Naomi Shemer’s 1967 song Jerusalem of Gold spoke of “mountain air as pure as wine.” Today, a thick haze hovers over the Holy City. Scientists predict that Jerusalem’s air will soon be as polluted as that of Mexico City.
Zionist farmers have made the desert bloom, and Israel has become an exporter of world-class produce. Yet pesticides now contaminate groundwater, taking a serious toll on the health of both wildlife and Israeli farmers.
The State of Israel has enabled the ingathering of millions of Jewish exiles. Yet urban sprawl threatens to pave over much of the promised “land of milk and honey.”
And when the bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed during last summer’s Maccabiah games, one athlete drowned – and three died of toxic poisoning. Today, many of the nation’s rivers are full of sewage and its wells draw upon a legacy of industrial pollution and excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides.
To understand Israel’s present environmental reality, one must dig even deeper than its 50 years of political independence. Israelis were the players who acted out the rebirth of a Third Jewish Commonwealth in the land of the patriarchs. One hundred years of unyielding Zionist determination and achievement unwittingly wrote an ecological script that is, unfortunately, in many ways a tragedy.
The story goes back to the days in which the modern Jewish state was envisioned by Theodore Herzl, who brought the inclinations and aesthetics of a lifetime in Vienna to his only visit to Palestine in 1900. After witnessing “the barrenness of the land” firsthand, Herzl called for the planting of 10 million trees in Palestine.
The “green” shades of Herzl’s vision were, however, overshadowed by other more pressing tasks of nationhood. He wrote of enormous water development projects that would tap the sources of the Jordan River, mining operations around the Dead Sea, and a “high-tech” industrial economy that would rival Switzerland’s watch trade. All of these predictions came to be. But even the prophetic Dr. Herzl did not grasp that the Zionist movement he spawned would also produce a severe environmental crisis.
Israel’s ecological reality reflects a curious hybrid of “third world” geometric population growth with “first world” industrial technologies. The country is small and, for geo-political reasons, will only grow smaller. Yet its citizens already live in one of the most crowded nations on Earth. Resource scarcity, in particular water, has always been a salient issue; massive pollution only makes it more acute. As development spills out of Israel’s major cities into the countryside, farmland and scenic vistas are supplanted by suburban neighborhoods and malls. Open space, perhaps the most valuable natural resource, is rapidly being destroyed.
Israel’s environmental crisis is particularly ironic because Zionism was born with an unusually strong naturalist inclination. Poets and pioneers waxed romantic about the new relationship between Jews and the natural world. Zionism began as a quest to redeem a land that showed the cumulative impact of two thousand years of foreign domination and neglect. Deforestation, erosion, and unregulated hunting left a landscape that was typically described as desolate.
European Jewish settlers brought with them a commitment to afforestation that made trees an integral part of national aspirations. The Jewish National Fund’s afforestation projects took on astonishing dimensions after independence. Today, ecologists are critical about the type of pine trees selected as well as the dense patterns of planting. But the ten percent of Israel’s territory designated as forests reflects a uniquely Zionist commitment to land reclamation and to “greening” the Jewish homeland.
Ironically, another JNF project, the draining of the Hula swamp, set the stage for Israel’s powerful conservation movement. Protests by a group of scientists and naturalists could not stop the draining of the remarkable wetlands and preserve its ecosystem. But the efforts led to the creation of a tiny Hula Nature Reserve (Israel’s first) and in 1953 galvanized the group to form the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
Israel’s 2,600 plant species (including 130 which are endemic to Israel) and almost 700 vertebrates (including 454 bird species) prompted Herbert Samuel, the first Commissioner of the British Mandate, to praise “the diversity of a continent within the area of a province.” The richness in flora and fauna reflects a unique biological juncture where Africa meets Europe and Asia.
By the 1960s, trends suggested that precious little would be left of Israel’s biodiversity. When the SPNI successfully lobbied the Knesset to establish a Nature Reserves Authority, its members were uncharacteristically pessimistic about successfully preserving the tiny nation’s diverse ecosystems.
Yet, through a far reaching effort, almost all extinctions have been stalled and some species are recovering. The Nature Reserves Authority’s first director, Avraham Yaffe, was a retired general. His “war” to save Israel’s wildlife became an extension of his previous battles to defend Israel’s borders. The Israeli public was highly supportive. They flocked to the nature reserves and heeded the calls to stop picking the wild flowers that had once blanketed the country’s meadows each spring. The flowers made an astonishing comeback as did several animals, such as the fallow deer and the oryx, which were reintroduced into a reserve system that now covers over twenty percent of the country’s land.
Alongside this success in creating nature reserves, Israel’s rapid population growth and industrialization led to severe ecological degradation. The millions of Jews who heeded the Zionist call to settle in Israel needed jobs, and the industrial infrastructure that met this challenge was given a carte blanche by government decision makers. Indeed, the largest (and often, most polluting) industries were government-owned, such as the electric company or oil refineries.
Despite obvious environmental problems, it would take until 1989 for Israel to establish a Ministry of Environment. Even then, it suffered from a paltry budget and inadequate statutory authority. While many of the larger polluters eventually began to ratchet down their emissions, the growing range of small sources was much more difficult to regulate. And as the economy became more privatized, it created powerful incentives that continue to drive ecologically destructive development.
Both grassroots and national organizations began to spring up during the 1990s to fight the scourge of urban pollution. Organizations like Adam Teva V’Din: The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, a public interest law group, sued polluters and lethargic government agencies with some success. But it will take more radical change in regulatory orientation, greater commitment of resources, and creative policies to reverse Israel’s unsustainable trends.
Zionism’s basic impulse to resettle the land of Israel and open it up to Jews everywhere was successful. It is time, therefore, for Zionism to face its ecological legacy. And just as international Jewry has been a partner in establishing the State, it too needs to play a part in the next stage of Zionist evolution.
Israel holds its valleys, seashores, mountains, and towns in trust, not only for Jews, but also Christians, Moslems, Bahai’i – indeed, for all humanity. The River Jordan, the hills and valleys of the Galilee, the Judean Desert and Jerusalem resonate with spiritual meaning for people around the world. While much of this landscape remains today, it faces increasing and unprecedented threats from rapid population growth, economic interests, and even development spurred by the peace process.
Jews around the world have always had a unique bond with the environment in the “Holy Land.” During the first half of this century, it was manifested in the “blue box” of the JNF. Planting trees was as much a vehicle for expressing solidarity with Zionist aspirations of stewardship as it was for the ingathering of exiles. Today, the same impulse endures. It should be expressed as solidarity for Israeli environmental efforts.
Just as Zionism is actively striving for a more mature, symmetrical relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, so too Zionism must also redefine its approach to the environment. Jewish individuals and communities throughout the world need to be part of this process-for they and their children are among the most important stakeholders in the Zionist dream and experiment to bring security, peace, and health to the Land of Israel and all of the people and creatures that dwell therein.
Whatever you may be looking for among Jewish environmental resources, the COEJL resources page is the best place to start. Here you will find literally hundreds of useful resources.
Since it’s all about programs, we can’t break it down any further here. We invite you to peruse the program bank, searching for what interests you by any of the means available.
Social Action Committees
Though we speak of social action committees, we mean social action programs — only some shuls have the former, but every synagogue with the interest and resources to do sustain tikkun olam will have the latter. Here we address how folks within your congregation might band together around environmental protection as a particular form of tikkun olam.
within But first, a definition and an aside. “Tikkun Olam” was a techincal phrase for most of Jewish life, meaning “peaceful coexistence with other peoples” in the talmudic era, when a form of it was enshrined in the third paragraph of the Aleinu prayer in the daily liturgy: “l’taken olam b’malkhut Shabbai,” that we pray for the time of fixing the world, under Divince sovereignty. In Isaac Luria’s imaginative 1570’s reconstruction of Kabbalah, tikkun olam came to symbolize human power and responsibility within the cosmos — the world is broken, and even Godself is in exile; it’s up to us, through right action and belief, to re-unify God, and in doing so perfect the world. Only in the latter part of the 20th century did the phrase come to be synonymous, in some circles at least, with social action — i.e., Jewish efforts to make the secular world a better place. This is background worth knowing, so that we can understand and explore the nuances and the authentic Jewish roots of our commitments. But it also helps us better appreciate that there is no more indigenous or oblivious implication of “tikkun olam” than literally “helping to fix/save the world.” Ecological consciousness and action flow naturally from a connection with this powerful, resonant strand of Jewish tradition.
So today, our social action or tikkun olam committees become one logical place for congregation-based environmental programs. But as with so much else in the social action arena, it is vitally important to try to root this commitment in the larger congregational culture and program, and not let it be ‘ghettoized’ as just a social action concern. Suggestion Number One for social action leaders is to work closely with other congregational committees and initiatives, and to present them with the relevant information to make meaningful action in their own departments (starting with the resources in this very section of the COEJL website for adult and younth education, Israel programs, rabbinic resources, finance perspectives, buildings-and-grounds concerns, etc). That does not at all rule out the Social Action Committee taking bold steps on its own, or even the creation of an Environment or “Green Shalon” (sub-)committee, but it does suggest a clear direction for your efforts.
This related to our second suggestion — pursue co-sponsorship of events, and joint programming, to help ge the message across. Make it easy for those whose hearts are in the right place, but who simply don’t have the time or inclination to do the research on their own. As was said in 1992 when the first Jewish-community-wide statement on the environment was issued, “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 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 and immediate, ongoing and pressing concern for our community.” So bring a speaker on the environment in the middle east to the Israel committee. Line up the Rabbi or a lay leader to teach a course for Adult Education on Judaism & Ecology. Show an eco-Jewish curriculum to the director of the Religious School. And so on…
Third, try to navigate the frequent division between direct service and social change, by doing both. Environmental programs are “safe” when it’s in the gemilut hasadim or ‘good deeds’ category: a bunch of congregants doing a park or streambank cleanup, or adopting a stretch of local highway and occasionally picking up litter, or going for a Jewish-themed hike (everything you’d need is in Spirit in Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail, by Matt Biers- Ariel, Deborah Newburn, and Michal Fox Smart; NY: Behrman House, 2000), or perhaps joining the local “weed warriors” through nearby parks or environmental groups, yanking out invasive non-native vegetation from local ecosystems. Such programs are important, and worthy, and may well constitute the majority of your environmental portfolio– but they do not address root causes, or lifestyle choices, which are creating our huge environmental problems in the first place.
“Intermediate” programs might include selling compact fluorescent bulbs at Hanukkah-time; creating a Tu B’Shvat “environmental pledge card” for members to commit to particular actions; or establishing a hazardous waste drop-off site or a “trade-in-your-toxic-mercury-thermometer” campaign at the shul before Pesach, while folks are busy with their spring cleaning and hametz-eliminating. And of course, there’s the realm of advocacy — getting involved as a shul or a committee therof in local issues (life better mass transit in the neighborhood of the shul, or siting of local industries or pollution sources); holding letter-writing or petition campaigns (perhaps to corporate leaders, asking for more environmentally sound options to choose from); and so on. While sometimes fraught, such actions can strenghten a community’s sense of purpose even as they represent a positive step toward environmental protection. All the major religious movements are on record supporting both general and specific environmental positions; consider getting involved in COEJL (and/or URJ, JRF, USCJ, and UOJC) initiatives around particular national concerns, as well.
Fourth, be unafraid to join in coalitions. Since so much of religious environmentalism happens on an interfaith basis, ecology can be the springboard for the coming together of congregations across the faith spectrum — visit the National Religious Partnership for the Environment among many other resources, for examples of such rich and rewarding work. This is also a good place to engage the larger secular and civic world — without becoming just the “Sierra Club at prayer,” we can work closely with local environmental groups and initiatives, offering our uniquely Jewish and spiritual and ethical approach even as each lends the other additional credibility in our joint efforts.
Finally, be patient. Whether true or not, many of a typical synagogue’s more cynically inclined members will see the “Social Action-niks” as the outside-oriented fringe of the congregation, or as liberal do-gooders, or other such stereotypes. Stay involved in all facets of synagogue life; be active in shul leadership; prove by example that you’re in this for all the right reasons. You may begin slowly, but once you have the confidence of key leaders within the community, the sky is the limit.
The holiday cycle presents a nearly infinite number of entry-points for Jewish environmental programming. In most synagogues, it is precisely the communical celebration of holiday where most ecologically-oriented programs find their hook. Among the most popular are taking up themes of sustainable (local, organic) agriculture at Sukkot; energy conservation at Hanukkah; general environmental concerns and awareness at Tu B’Shvat; and consumption issues (as well as hazardous materials, as a sort of eco-hametz) at Pesach. But in fact, all the Jewish holidays — and the Jewish calendar itself — have strong environmental connections, and could be the springboard for all kinds of eco-programs.
Resources abound; references to specific holdiays are found throughout the COEJL website, and far beyond. The COEJL resources page, contains a huge number of holiday-specific programs. Click HERE to view holiday-specific resources.
What you can do: In the Synagogue/School:
Programs and Projects for Congregations, Schools and other Jewish Institutions
Torah – Education
Study Jewish texts. This text study can be copied and used in the following settings:
- Shabbat Torah study.
- Youth group educational programs.
- Tu B’Shvat seder or programs.
- Religious school classes.
- Social action or environment committee meetings.
- Board Meetings before considering a plan to reduce an institution’s energy use.
Avodah – Jewish Observances
Hold a Tu B’Shvat seder. Click here to find a model Tu B’Shvat seder.
Organize a field trip to a local nature center, protected wildlife area, or threatened ecological site. Include study of texts and your favorite Jewish ecological readings.
Launch a new project at a Tu B’Shvat event, such as an Operation Noah project to protect a local habitat, a tree planting project, or an environmental evaluation of your synagogue or school.
Organize an Eco-Shabbat. Select a particular Shabbat in the Spring to make an “eco-Shabbat” with speakers, text study, meals with local organic produce, walks, and outdoor services.
Gemilut Chasadim – Taking Action
Become an ENERGY STAR CONGREGATION: The Environmental Protection Agency has created a program to help religious institutions become more energy efficient, reducing operating costs while helping to protect the environment. They can provide all of the information and technical assistance you need to become an energy-friendly place. 1-888-STAR-YES
Conduct an energy conservation evaluation (a great youth group project). Most synagogues, schools, community centers and other buildings use far more energy than necessary, providing numerous opportunities to both reduce carbon emissions and save money. The first step is to conduct a thorough energy evaluation, measuring the amount of energy and money wasted by your building and researching how much you can save by retrofitting the lighting, heating, insulation, etc. Contact the Interfaith Coalition on Energy for resources directed at religious institutions.
A comprehensive energy evaluation process for 7-10th graders can be found in Environmental Action: Energy Conservation (to order: 800.872.1100). And your local power company probably provides assistance to customers trying to reduce their use of electricity and gas.
Also helpful is The Green Shalom Guide: A How-To Manual for Greening Local Synagogues, Schools, and Offices produced by Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington.
Plant trees on synagogue or school grounds, along city streets, and in other appropriate areas. Use native species. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, provide habitat for animals, and provide shade to keep buildings cool. Contact your local parks department and TreePeople, which offers resources for tree-planting programs, including The Simple Act of Planting a Tree: Healing Your Neighborhood, Your City, and Your World.
Advocate for change. Involve your city in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign.
Mayim Chayim: The Living Waters
Programs and Projects for Congregations, Schools, Other Jewish Institutions, and Families
Torah – Education
Study the texts listed under “water” in Garden of Choice Fruit and other Jewish environmental sources.
Explore your habitat. Organize a tour to a local river, stream, or wetland. Invite your rabbi to lead a text study before, during, or after the hike.
Avodah – Jewish Observances
Tashlich/Rosh Hashanah: On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah many Jews participate in a Tashlich service, when we cast bread crumbs, representing our sins, into a flowing body of water. As the crumbs are washed downstream, we imagine that so too are our sins. Use Tashlich as an opportunity to reflect as a community on “environmental sins” and renew commitments to ensuring that only wastes as benign as break crumbs are cast into our waters.
Write your own prayers for Tashlich, Sukkot, or any other occasion. Express your connection to God through creation, your hopes for ecological healing, and/or your intentions to help heal the world.
Organize a Sukkot program on organic agriculture. Educate your community about the ecological and health effects of conventional agriculture and introduce local organic farmers to your community. Consult with your county agricultural extension office.
Have a party modeled on the ancient custom of Simchat Beit ha’Soei’vah (literally, “the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing”) at a lake, river, or reservoir. Include singing, dancing, eating, and learning about how to protect your local water resources.
You can even do the well-known dance to “Mayim,” from the Prophet Isaiah (12:3), which translates as “and you shall draw water in joy from the wells of salvation – hey, water, joyfully.”
U-shavtem mayim b’sasson, mi’ma’ayan’ei ha-yeshuah (x2)
Mayim mayim mayim mayim – hey mayim b’sasson (x2)
hey hey hey hey –
mayim mayim mayim mayim mayim mayim b’sasson (x2)
Gemilut Chasadim – Taking Action
Adopt a river, lake, or stream. Organize regular clean-up opportunities and monitor water quality. Contact your local watershed association (or state department of environmental conservation).
Organize a “clean sweep” operation to rid homes, schools, and synagogues of toxic chemicals. Pick a convenient Sunday in the Spring or Fall when people are involved in cleanup projects. Provide information about non-toxic alternatives. Contact your local wastewater treatment facility, department of public works, sanitation district or the Water Environment Federation.
Organize a group letter writing effort on a specific water issue. Set up a permanent “advocacy center” in your synagogue or organizational headquarters which includes materials needed for letters, fact sheets on the issues you wish people to address, important contacts, and letter-writing tips. Contact COEJL’s Washington Representative for help.
Organize coalitions with local conservation groups and other congregations to address water pollution, wetlands protection, or drinking water issues. Support wetlands and watershed conservation by participating in local land use decisions and advocating for the maintenance of wetlands as open space. Contact the National Wildlife Federation to get started.
Operation Noah Program Ideas
Endangered Species are God’s creatures.
Millions of Species are in danger of becoming extinct
in the next half century.
Noah was a righteous person in his generation.
Shouldn’t we be in ours?
COEJL INVITES EVERY JEWISH INSTITUTION TO
JOIN OPERATION NOAH
“And of every living being of all flesh, two of every sort shall you bring into the ark, to keep them alive with you…” — Gensis 6:19
Jewish tradition teaches us that as humans we are part of the created world, inextricably joined to the myriad other creatures which God created and called good. And the tradition also teaches us that we are unique among the creatures, created in the Divine image. The Jewish people has for millennia understood itself to be responsible for healing the fractures of our imperfect world, that we as Jews are called to serve as “partners in creation.”
What does it mean in this generation for us to be partners in creation? What fractures in the integrity of the world are we compelled to heal?
In this generation, the ecological integrity of God’s world is at risk. Wetlands, forests, rivers, lakes, coral reefs and many other whole ecosystems are threatened by pollution, human encroachment, and resource extraction. Such destruction threatens human health and well-being. And many species that depend upon these systems are in danger of being extinguished forever from the face of the earth. Unless we change our course, humankind will destroy millions of species in the next half century.
The Torah tells us that when God inundated the earth with a flood, Noah and his family protected at least two of every animal species, enabling all of God’s creatures to make safe passage from one era to the next. In this generation, we too must ensure safe passage of God’s creatures from one era to the next by protecting their habitats. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) invites every Jewish institution to join Operation Noah. Let it not be said of the generation of the late Twentieth Century that we allowed Creation to unravel. Join us in serving as God’s partners in the fulfillment of the first covenant::
Behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you,
and with every living creature that is with you,
of the birds, of the cattle, and of every wild animal of the earth with you…
TORAH, AVODAH, GEMILUT CHASADIM
Upon three things the world stands: on Torah, on Avodah (Divine Service), and on Gemilut Chasadim (Deeds of Lovingkindness).
Pirke Avot 1:
LEARNING TORAH AND THE WAYS OF CREATION
- Study the story of Noah and the lessons we might learn from it about our responsibility to all creatures, particularly endangered species.
- Study Genesis chapters 1 and 2, Job chapters 38-40, and/or Psalms 104, 105, 147, and 148, focusing on what the Bible teaches us about Creation, the relationship between creatures, and the role of humanity in creation.
- Study the Torah portions of Bereshit, Noah, Beshallah/Shabbat Shira, Mishpatim, Shmini, and Behar considering what these Torah portions teach us about our relationships to and responsibility for other creatures and ecosystems.
- Get acquainted with your habitat! Organize field trips for your synagogue and/or school to local nature centers and museums to learn about local ecosystems and species.
- Learn about which animals, plants, and ecosystems in your area are endangered.
AVODAH: SPIRITUALITY AND PRAYER
CELEBRATING THE CREATOR AND GOD’S CREATION
- Dedicate one Shabbat or holiday to the theme of endangered species and habitat (Parshat Noah, another Parshah, Tu B’Shvat or Passover).
- Hold a Tu B’Shvat seder during which you learn about endangered species, especially those that live in forests.
- Include readings in your Passover seder on the plagues human action is now bringing to creatures and habitats around the world.
- Hold services outdoors. Study Psalms 104, 105, 147, and 148. Experience the songs of creation.
GEMILUT CHASADIM: TAKING ACTION
BUILDING AN ARK
- Adopt an endangered habitat, such as a local forest, wetland, or river. Volunteer as a youth group, synagogue, social action committee, etc. to clean up an impacted area, plant native species, and restore habitat for birds or other native creatures. Make an annual contribution to a nature reserve or a habitat conservation organization.
- Adopt a threatened or endangered species. Educate your members and the larger community about the species. Take actions to protect the species, such as changing institutional practices, protecting habitat, and engaging in advocacy to protect the species’ habitat.
- Educate members about what they can do at home to protect habitats (e.g. products to avoid and alternatives which don’t harm lakes, rivers, and other habitats.)
- Create habitat. Plant native plants on the grounds of your synagogue, school, JCC, or your own home.
- Make a commitment as a synagogue, youth group, classroom, sister/brotherhood, etc. to make the week of Passover a “Week of Simple Living.” Take on one thing during that week that will enable you to “take up less space” in the world and leave more space for other creatures.
- Join or create local coalitions to protect endangered habitats by getting involved in local, state, and national planning which affects habitat protection. For information on local churches involved in environmental efforts, contact the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE).