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The Power of Advocacy

By Rabbi Steve Gutow

Inside and outside the pages of this guide, you will read and continue to read about bad things happening — to our Earth, to our fellow people, to our collective spirit — and, though we may wish it away, bad things likely will continue to happen for a very long time to come. This, of course, is discouraging, leading many among us to give up and forget about addressing these problems. But that would be a mistake. After all, it is our Jewish responsibility to help repair the world. That is, indeed, why we, as Jews, are here — to try to make life better. And not just better for our friends and families, or for the 300 million Americans, but for the seven billion residents of Earth.

If we have no choice but to try to repair the world, the questions then become, can we succeed, and if so, how do we do it? From experience, I can tell you that yes, we can make a difference. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always fast, but if we work together — if we unite our voices, so that the sound we make is not that of a single person shouting a thousand times but that of thousands of voices shouting all at once, we will be heard. And if we do it right, the whole Earth can shake.

One of the hardest and most worthwhile fights that I helped lead was against genocide in Sudan. Yes, of course, the killings in Darfur lasted longer than they should have, and the threat of renewed conflict persists — but the genocide ended sooner because of our intervention. As a chair of the Save Darfur Coalition — a group with 200 member organizations from across the American political spectrum, from the Affiliation of Christian Engineers to Yeshiva University — I was part of the team that helped lead the way in pressuring the United States and the United Nations to take action in Darfur. Our work was part of the effort that led to multiple peace agreements and the formation of the world’s newest country, South Sudan. Without thousands of voices united — if we had all been quiet — then change may not have happened at all.

Today, we need to unite our voices again, to stand up for the most voiceless of all — the Earth. As far as we know it has not cried out since it cried out to God on behalf of Abel in Genesis. The home that God has given us to care for and to care for us is getting warmer at an alarming rate. As we say in my native Texas, soon it may be so hot that the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs. On a micro scale, we need to change our light bulbs and reduce our own personal carbon footprints. But we also have power on the macro scale — together we have the power to persuade governments to initiate larger programs and to make even bigger changes. That power is called advocacy. And by supporting the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, you are joining your voice with thousands of others. All of us are telling Washington: We need to take action on climate change.

The pillagers of the planet — those who would destroy our planet for profit without considering the consequences — spend millions on Washington lobbyists to ensure that nothing substantial is done on climate change. COEJL is part of the counterweight — bringing Jews together to share our voices for clean energy policy.

As our country’s founding fathers and mothers knew, we are stronger united than divided. By uniting with COEJL, we present a strong and loud voice on environmental issues. We want to answer Hillel’s question: “If not now, when?”

“Now,” we say with a loud, united, and organized voice.


Rabbi Steve Gutow is the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the co-chair of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. He has advocated that the government end the genocide in Darfur, reform immigration policy, support Israel, protect individual rights, maintain and enhance anti-poverty programs, and create a sustainable environment. Named by Newsweek as one of the country’s 20 most influential rabbis, Gutow founded the National Jewish Democratic Council and has served in leadership positions at the American Jewish Congress and Texas Civil Liberties Union. He served as rabbi of the Reconstructionist Minyan of St. Louis and he taught law at St. Louis University.

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.

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