By Mirele B. Goldsmith
Special to WJW
Scores of rabbis and Jewish youth were arrested recently as they engaged in civil disobedience to demonstrate their outrage and anguish that the United States is not doing enough to halt climate change. To the loud cry of the shofar, protesters at the White House demanded that Congress pass far-reaching climate solutions in the Build Back Better budget. In the next few weeks, as negotiations over the budget reach the endgame, we need many more Jews to make their voices heard.
In the past few months, the call of the shofar has sounded across the Washington area as Jews demanded passage of climate measures in the Build Back Better budget. Temple Rodef Shalom’s Dayenu Circle raised the alarm by blowing the shofar outside Sen. Mark Warner’s (D) office in Vienna. In Rockville, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich addressed a Sukkot climate rally at the offices of Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D).
Participants caravanned to Capitol Hill following the rally, which was supported by Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community, Jewish Earth Alliance, The Shalom Center, Interfaith Power Light-DMV, Dayenu, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Aytzim, Fabrangen, Hazon, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Kehila Chadasha and Temple Shalom. Similar rallies were held across the nation as part of the “Hear the Call” campaign spearheaded by Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action.
The moral urgency of healing the climate unites people of faith across religious lines. Jewish leaders participated in the Faiths 4 Climate Justice multi-faith prayer vigil outside the Department of State. In November, an American delegation will attend the U.N. Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 26). At the prayer vigil, religious leaders read a letter spearheaded by Pope Francis and signed by religious leaders of many faiths, calling on governments to increase their level of ambition and commit to strengthen the Paris Agreement to accelerate the transition to clean energy. For the first time, a substantial Jewish delegation will participate in the COP.
This upsurge in Jewish activism is in response to the unprecedented opportunity for progress that the Build Back Better budget represents. If the climate measures in the bill are enacted, they will put the U.S. on the path to fulfill our commitment to reduce planet-warming emissions 50 percent by 2030. These measures include paying electric utilities to accelerate their transition to renewable energy, incentives for consumers to switch to electric cars, and elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels. Passing this budget will also make it possible for the Biden administration to credibly push for action by the other large emitters, including China, India and Russia, at COP 26. Led by Jewish Earth Alliance, 38 Jewish organizations signed a letter urging Congress to hold firm on including these measures in the budget and funding it at the full $3.5 trillion level.
More and more Jews are putting themselves on the front lines of the struggle to preserve a livable climate. We are answering the call of the shofar that echoes the cries of our neighbors’ suffering from the devastating effects of weather disasters made worse by climate change. We are taking action because we believe that it is immoral for a community commanded to preserve life, act with compassion and hold all of creation in awe, to ignore the suffering caused by the unstable and worsening climate here and around the world.
Like all people, we American Jews are directly impacted by the disasters wrought by climate change. In New York, Superstorm Sandy shuttered essential Jewish institutions for months. Two-thousand Jewish families lost their homes when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston. And in California, Jewish summer camps burned to the ground in out-of-control wildfires. However, it is crystal clear that the risks are greatest to Black, Indigenous, People of Color and low-wealth communities.
Will Jewish communities use the political credibility and relationships we have built to protect the most vulnerable from the dangers of the changing climate? Although we are small in number, American Jews can make a difference. We know from experience that when Jews stand together, as we have done on civil rights, poverty and, of course, the security of Israel, politicians listen. The call of the shofar is a call to action. Call or write your members of Congress now. There is no time to lose for Jews to speak up for big, bold climate solutions in the Build Back Better budget.
Mirele B. Goldsmith, co-chairperson of
Jewish Earth Alliance, was one of the organizers of the Sukkot Climate Caravan on Sept. 23.