This year Jews across the country spent the days leading to Tisha B’av lobbying US Senators to pass legislation for solutions to threats from climate change.
Concerned about health impacts of wildfire smoke, heat waves that disproportionately kill the poor and elderly, and the disappearance of wildlife, 200 Jews signed up to participate in 28 meetings with United States Senate offices to lobby for climate solutions.
The Tisha B’av Lobby Day for Climate Solutions was organized by Jewish Earth Alliance. “Our ancestors viewed the Temple as a microcosm of Earth,” says co-chair Rabbi Devorah Lynn, “When the Temples were destroyed, so were the lives built around them. Today it’s the Earth itself, and our civilization, that is facing destruction. We must not add the planet itself to the catastrophes we mourn on Tisha B’av.”
Jewish Earth Alliance, a grassroots network founded in 2019, focuses on proactive climate solutions aligned with Jewish ethics. The Tisha B’av Lobby Day participants from 16 states advocated for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to send over a billion dollars to states and tribes to protect species threatened by changes in the climate. They also asked their Senators to support climate solutions in the Farm Bill and measures to ensure that changes in permitting rules for energy infrastructure will put in place master planning that prioritizes renewable energy while protecting communities.
Interest in advocacy has grown as Jews recognize the urgency of turning climate change around. Rabbi Melanie Aron of Washington, DC, who took the lead in organizing the Tisha B’av Lobby Day, has stepped up her activism. She is excited that Congress is finally getting serious about climate change. “The Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act are directing billions of dollars to the transition to renewable energy,” she says, “but this is just the beginning of what we need. We send out action alerts every month, but face to face meetings are the most powerful way to raise our voices. We’re planning to do lobby days at least twice a year to keep the pressure on Congress.”
Participants in the Lobby Day were a mix of Jews new to climate activism and experienced activists. David Chack, from Louisville, Kentucky, met with staff of Senator Mitch McConnell. The last time he lobbied was for Soviet Jewry. David said that “Climate change is impacting my daily life. It’s an issue we have in common with people on all sides of the political spectrum and all around the world impacted by food insecurity and migration. I want to make things happen. I can do it by telling my story to decision-makers like my Senator.”
In a change from just a few of years ago, more Jewish organizations are adding climate change to their priorities. Sponsors of Tisha B’av Lobby Day included national organizations like the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, as well as local groups like Climate Action Sea Turtles: Jewish Floridians for Climate Solutions. Yonatan Malin of Boulder, a volunteer from Colorado, leads the Jewish Action Team for Citizens Climate Lobby. Yonatan said “I love how Jewish Earth Alliance is focused on building relationships with lawmakers. That’s how you open lines of communication and convey a strong message on climate from the Jewish community.”
Jewish Earth Alliance is just one of the Jewish groups devoted to climate action that are seeing a rise in interest among Jews. Adamah runs the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition to help Jewish organizations adopt climate action plans and Dayenu organizes activist circles across the country, among others.
Whether or not a Senator is committed to addressing the climate crisis, they need to hear the concerns of Jewish constituents. “Members of Congress hear from fossil fuel lobbyists all the time. They need to hear from people who feel commanded to speak out for people and planet by Jewish teachings,” says Judy Berlfein an advocate from Encintas, California.
Although we still mourn what was lost when the Temple was destroyed, we also know that thanks to the dedication and creativity of our ancestors, Judaism was transformed and thrived. That’s a message Jews will need to deliver again and again until everyone is safe from climate catastrophes.