The Jewish High Holiday of Rosh HaShanah is fast approaching. It celebrates what Jews consider to be the birth of the world. Soon after is Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and judgement. During Yom Kippur Jews around the world recite a prayer that commemorates the day God writes into a book of life “who shall live and who shall die…who by water and who by fire… who by famine and who by thirst.”
During this High Holiday season, more than ever before, Jews are taking a hard look at human-made climate catastrophes – including fires and floods — around the world. In fact, numerous polls show that climate change is the top issue for American Jewish voters.
Hundreds of Jewish organizations including synagogues to Day Schools, camps, community centers and other groups have joined the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition — a network of Jewish community organizations who recognize the existential threat and moral urgency of climate change and commit to take action.
The Jewish Funders Network, the umbrella organization for Jewish philanthropy, has formed a Green Funders Forum which quickly became its largest affinity group.
Members of the Jewish community, with a wide variety of backgrounds, skills, interests, and networks, are contributing to the efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Their efforts and impacts range from helping bring solar power to Africa, to cleaning up and protecting the oceans, to innovations in agriculture, food, energy, infrastructure and more.
In an effort to share practical knowledge, I have started to publish a series of interviews with Jews and Jewish organizations who are making big impacts on fighting climate change. So far two dozen climate pieces have been published. The interviews go through their motivations, methods, results and even how they handle roadblocks and failures.
In one of the interviews, Lianna Levine Reisner, President and Network Director of Plant Powered Metro New York, talks about her twin goals of stopping climate change and improving human health. She is actively working to reduce greenhouse gas impact of meat and dairy consumption. She acknowledges that there are many challenges, saying, “Our largest obstacle in society, and definitely in the Jewish community, is how normalized we all are to eating animals…We idolize dairy foods on Shavuot, brisket on Passover, and meat consumption year-round. One could say that the Jewish people’s success was made possible in part due to domestication of animals. That way of life may have been reasonable long ago, but it is no longer sustainable.”
In another interview in the series, Nigel Savage, one of the pioneers of recent Jewish climate leadership and the founder of what is now called “Adamah,” says “If every person leaves shul (synagogue) at the end of Yom Kippur saying, “Ok, as well as whatever else I’m going to do, I’m going to put this on the agenda at my organization, we’re going to reduce our impact, we’ll start to raise our voices, and we’ll give some money – that’s how change begins. That’s how we’ll strengthen Jewish life. And that’s how we’ll look ourselves in the mirror and feel that we’re part of the solution.”
Climate heroes interviewed in the series include State Senator Feldman, Marla Stein, Andreas Weil, Yonatan Malin, Yossi Abramowitz, Nigel Savage, Sonia Cummings, Rob Levinson, Liana Levine Reisner, Rachel Scheinbein, David Miron-Wapner, Larry Shapiro, as well as rabbis Jennie Rosenn and Fred Scherlinger Dobb.
Jewish and/or Israeli nonprofit organizations profiled include Adamah, Dayenu. Green Course, EcoOcean, COEJL, Jewish Earth Alliance and the Jewish Action Team of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
With more than 800 climate start-ups in Israel, the series also explores Israeli innovators and companies are creating, developing and delivering solutions that can help reduce the threat of climate change to people and our shared planet. This includes Groundwork Bio Ag’s breakthroughs in agriculture, promising developments from Carrar’s EV battery solutions, fusion from NT-Tao, Bioplasmar’s work to eliminate the need for plastic pots while improving agricultural growth, and animal-free Remilk.
Our family is doing what we can. We are supporting a number of climate causes and trying to live in ways that are substantially less harmful to the planet. My husband, Victor Mizrahi PhD, is also spending a lot of time advising and investing in climate related start-ups. I am a full time volunteer on climate related solutions, especially in our home state of Maryland. But we need help from everyone.
Every person, regardless of their faith, skills or interests can make a difference to help stop climate change. For the Jewish community, our high holidays are a time of reflection, renewal, and tikkun olam, making new plans to mend the world. This year that starts with making sure there is a world to mend.