Reaction to Keystone pipeline proposal mixed in Jewish community

Green Team leaders at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, including Karen Menichelli and Lawrence MacDonald, participated together in the Tar Sands Action. Courtesy of Karen Menichelli
Green Team leaders at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, including Karen Menichelli and Lawrence MacDonald, participated together in the Tar Sands Action.
Courtesy of Karen Menichelli

Is the Keystone XL pipeline “good for the Jews”?

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb sides with former NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s dire “game over” prediction for the planet if Alberta tar sands oil starts flowing south to be exported to market via KXL.

“The calculus of how we define what is ‘good for the Jews’ has to shift into a long-term framework. With climate change impacting the Middle East in disturbing and growing ways, Israel’s security and our own has to rely not on short-term infusions of oil but on a long-term transition to a clean energy future,” said Dobb, who chairs the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

Members of the Washington area Jewish community, including Dobb, were arrested outside of the White House at a 2011 protest against the pipeline. Among those arrested was Temple Rodef Shalom congregant and former Green Team co-chair Lawrence MacDonald of Falls Church.

He said that the protests were a chance to pair his knowledge about climate change with action.

The American Jewish Committee, however, stands in stark contrast to this grassroots activism. The organization supports building KXL.

AJC also accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is real and is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Its argument is that the tar sands will be developed regardless of KXL. And if the pipeline is not built, the oil will be transported by rail, which is a riskier option. Approving KXL would increase energy security, according to AJC, as the demand for petroleum in the transportation sector will be there for the future and Canada is a more stable supplier.

“We recognize the need for climate change to be dealt with as a matter of sound public policy, and we have called for attention to that as a matter of developing long-range policies,” said Richard Foltin, director of national and legislative affairs in AJC’s Office of Government and International Affairs. “The issue is not whether or not we need to deal with climate change; the question is dealing with the reality of the fact that we’re not yet ready in terms of the fuels we use for transportation to move off of fossil fuels.”

Other major Jewish organizations have not taken a stance on KXL. They include the Orthodox Union, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish National Fund and the National Jewish Democratic Council. The Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to inquiries by press time.

Joelle Novey, director of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light and a member of Tikkun Leil Shabbat, an independent Jewish community in Washington, said she is disappointed at the silence on KXL from major Jewish organizations — and especially AJC for supporting the pipeline.

“Even as many Jewish folks in this region oppose Keystone, the national Jewish organizations by and large are silent,” said Novey.

Through Interfaith Power & Light, Novey is working with the faith community on a campaign to double the renewable energy standard in Maryland to 40 percent by 2025. She also helps facilitate the Jewish Green Council, a monthly gathering of green team leaders from local Jewish communities where they share updates on environmental initiatives and advice on how to overcome challenges in adopting green practices, such as installing rooftop solar panels.

On a mild March evening at Temple Emanuel in Kensington, Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community Rabbi David Shneyer offered his thoughts on the KXL controversy after the Jewish Green Council meeting wrapped. Shneyer was also arrested in 2011 protesting the pipeline.

“This has been an issue that has been troubling me for a long time and is coming from our own Jewish tradition — we are supposed to be guardians of the Earth,” Shneyer said. “What happens to the Earth and its effect on other human beings and on animals, on plant life is something we need to be very aware of and feel a sense of responsibility for.”

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