By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The first night of Hanukkah comes at the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, when the sun is at its darkest and the night at its longest.
It is during this time of darkness that we kindle a growing array of lights. Likewise, as we face the darkness of the current environmental crisis on our planet, it’s also the time to bring the power of our light to bear.
There are three levels of wisdom through which Hanukkah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis (a crisis some of us call “global scorching,” since “warming” sounds so pleasant and comforting). These are the deep teachings of Hanukkah:
- The Talmud’s legend about the one day of oil that miraculously met eight days of need is a reminder that if we have the courage to change our lifestyles to conserve energy, the miracle of our own creativity will sustain us.
- The prophet Zechariah, whose visionary passages we read on Shabbat Hanukkah, described the Temple menorah itself as a living being, uniting the worlds of nature and humanity. The menorah was not only fashioned in the shape of a Tree of Light, as the Torah teaches, but it was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it — truly a green menorah!
- We remember that a community of the powerless can overcome a great empire. The memory of the Maccabees’ victory over the elephantine Hellenistic Syrian Empire can give us courage to face our modern corporate empires of oil and coal when they defile our most sacred Temple: Earth itself.
On each of Hanukkah’s eight days, commit to taking personal, communal and political action to protect the Earth from the global climate crisis. After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, with minimal impact on our climate.
Day 1: Choose today, or one other day this week, to avoid using your car at all. The rest of the week, drive less by carpooling and clustering errands into one trip.
Day 2: Call your electric power utility and ask to switch to wind powered electricity. For the average home, switching to 100 percent wind power for one year reduces carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount as if you reduced your car travel by 20,000 miles.
Day 3: Urge your congregation and community organizations to switch to wind powered rather than coal powered electricity.
Day 4: Call on newspaper editors, real estate developers, architects, bankers and other community leaders to strengthen the green factor in all of their decisions and actions.
Day 5: Ask the top officials at your workplace or school to conduct an energy audit (your utility company may offer one for free or at low cost).
Day 6: Petition municipal officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level.
Day 7: Lobby state legislators to reduce subsidies for highways and increase them for mass transit. In states where fossil fuel companies are using hydraulic fracturing (a potentially environmentally destructive way of obtaining natural gas embedded in shale rock), demand a moratorium until we can get full information on what chemicals the gas and oil companies are using to shatter the shale, and the subsequent effects on our freshwater supply.
Day 8: Urge your senators and members of Congress to strengthen the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions from coal burning plants, oil refineries and vehicles. Not only would reducing these emissions help our planet’s climate, but it also would lessen pollution related asthma outbreaks among our children.
It’s true that no single individual or action will solve the global climate crisis. Yet acting together, a small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis, and — as in days of old — turn this time of darkness into one of light.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. He is also the author of numerous books, including the Freedom Seder; Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness Across Millennia; Godwrestling; Seasons of Our Joy; and Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought. A co-founder of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Waskow was named by Newsweek as one of the country’s 50 most-influential rabbis. In 1969, on the first anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Waskow convened the first Freedom Seder in Washington.
The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology’s Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy.The guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.