This blog posting - by GreenFaith Fellows Rabbi Edward Bernstein - was originally published on The Huffington Post. Click here for the original posting.
The anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar on the Jewish calendar, observed this year May 9-10) has become a major holiday throughout the mainstream Jewish community in Israel and around the world. On Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day), many synagogues recite Hallel, the collection of Psalms of thanksgiving (Psalms 113-118) that are central to the liturgy of the major festivals throughout the year.
I'll leave it to numerous other bloggers, columnists and reporters to provide geo-political analysis regarding the relationship between Israel, the Palestinians and its neighbors. As my Blog's focus is on Judaism and the environment, I'd like to take the opportunity to note Israel's contributions to environmental awareness and sustainability.
For many centuries, Jews primarily dwelled in urban areas as they were barred from owning land in their host countries. The immigration of Jews to the historic land of Israel in the late 19th century and early 20th century revived a lost spiritual connection between Jews and the land. In fact, in antiquity, Jews in Israel had an agrarian economy that thrived on the relationship between humans and nature. The late visionary ecologist and Biblical scholar Nogah Hareuveni created the Neot Kedumim biblical garden that brings to life the lush natural images that are evoked throughout the Bible and early rabbinic literature.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews arriving to Palestine with no agricultural background suddenly had to become farmers. Their survival depended on their working the land with their own hands and figuring out how to live in mutually benficial relationship with it. The mythology and ethos of the early Zionist pioneers was that they would drain the swamps in the north and make the desert bloom in the south. The sentiment was right, even as recent Israeli environmental advocates and scientists have worked toward restoring some swamps and desert to its original natural state for the benefit of the natural foliage, fauna and earth.
Trees have played an important role in the Jewish reclamation of the land, particularly under the leadership of the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet. While Theodore Herzl and the early visionaries of the Jewish state may not have known all of the science of trees -- how they fill the atmosphere with oxygen, nourish the soil, prevent soil erosion -- they knew intuitively that the soul of the people was nourished by planting trees. They weren't perfect in their calculations. The Carmel fires last December raised questions about whether pine and eucalyptus trees are best for Israel's dry climate, and efforts are afoot to adjust tree planting to Israel's ecology (See: "After fire, what types of trees are best suited for Israel?"). What has not changed is the recognition that the soul of the people of Israel is dependent on a thriving symbiosis with nature, and trees are vital to this relationship.
Israel at 63 is a thriving, growing economy that is noted for its innovative ethos, as illustrated by Dan Senor and Saul Singer in Start-Up Nation. One of the most exciting business developments from the perspective of environmental sustainability is Shai Agassi's company Better Place. Responding to rising oil prices, dependence on oil produced largely by hostile, undemocratic nations and the environmental crisis created by fossil fuel dependency, Agassi's firm has begun to create an infrustructure to support electric vehicles throughout Israel. The technology of electric cars has been around for awhile, but Agassi is implementing a vision of economic viability for the electric vehicle. Better Place is building service stations around Israel where electric vehicles would get a "fill-up" of electric charge or trade out their spent batteries for a used one. In addition, the service stations will be powered by a revitalized smart grid that will draw largely upon renewable energy. As this system starts to come online in Israel, other countries are taking notice. Better Place has undertaken similar projects in Denmark, China, Japan and the American states of Hawaii, California and Oregon.
Every year at this time, Israelis and Jews around the world reflect on whether this will be the year in which, at last, Israel and its neighbors will find a lasting peace that will be mutually beneficial for both Jews and Arabs who live between the Jordan River and the Meditteranean Sea. While Israeli and Palestinian politicians wrestle with the details, the wills of their constituencies and with each other, some Jewish and Arab citizens have found ways to discuss regional cooperation on a grass-roots level. Not surprisingly, the areas of common interest revolve around their shared ecology. The Arava Institute brings together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to discuss and implement vital innovations in management of water resources, sustainable agriculture, sustainable development, energy conservation and ecological research. The future success of endeavors such as this will bring great benefit to the region and the world.
Jewish liturgy has incorporated the words of Isaiah (2:3): "From out of Zion shall come forth Torah." As the modern State of Israel marks its anniversary, my hope is that from out of Zion will come forth inspiration, innovation and regional collaboration that will pave the way toward environmental sustainability and peace.
GreenFaith Fellow Carole Caplan published this blog posting originally in the HUffington Post. Click here to read the original post.
It was in early 2008 that my Jewish community moved back into our new spiritual home. Our old building had long suffered from poor design, flooding and roofing issues and from a heating/cooling system that worked only parts of the building at any given time. After much research and discussion, it had become clear that doing nothing would no longer be an option. Although we sincerely explored both renovation and moving, we soon realized that the best option for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation would be to tear down and rebuild.
Sitting in the sanctuary today, with it's impressive ceiling overhead, you might not realize that only the bottom 7 feet of the room are being heated and cooled. And although the warm wooden cypress slats that line the walls will easily embrace you, you might not remember that they once lined mushroom houses in upstate New York. Similarly, the ceremonial doors that welcome you to the building remain impressive in size, but it might go unnoticed that they were fabricated from trees that were sadly removed from the property during our construction. In so many ways, it is precisely what you don't realize, what you might not remember and what is invisible to the eye that make our JRC building sacred. Stewardship has been woven into the fabric of our communal history and is now a foundation of our communal spiritual life.
I've been thinking a lot about sacred space lately, as Passover preparations one again urged me to ritually remove every crumb of bread from my house. This act of separating clean from unclean imbues a palpable sense of intention to a space that previously had none. Similarily, the secular ritual of spring cleaning separates my experience of Chicago's long winter from the possibilities of warmth and growth yet to come. In connecting to these ritual acts of separation, I find myself connected to a greater sense of order. I am reminded that in Hebrew the word for sacred is kadosh. Though most commonly translated as "holy," kadosh can also be translated as "to set apart, or make separate." Through these acts of separation, connecting with an order that is ordinarily forgotten and often unseen, I am somehow again made whole.
It was with study and discussion of Jewish values that JRC committed to set apart our building project from traditional building plans. Importantly, the process of building green allowed us to consider how our seemingly individual project might actually be connected to a greater whole.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg has taught that kadosh perhaps best translates as "intense," and certainly the intensity of our commitment toward stewardship of the earth and her resources contributed significantly to the sacredness of our space. Energy and water saving technologies were matched with the heartfelt desire to bring our values to life. The quality of the indoor air was discussed alongside the design of how our prayer space would look and function. Decision after decision was considered regarding the impact the building would have on the natural environment outside of us, as well as the impact this built environment would have on those who would soon dwell within. Bringing ancient teachings to life, we had the chance to do in community what we might not be able to do in our own homes. We watched with wonder as our values and dreams took shape hand-in-hand. Being neither the wealthiest nor greenest of congregations, I still find it extraordinary that a small congregation in the southwest corner of a Chicago suburb could become the first LEED-Platinum house of worship in the world. Ours was a journey grounded in values-based decision-making, and we courageously took action to make those decisions more than simply words. We are proud that the creation of our sacred space was undertaken in a sacred manner and joyous that we have been able to share our story with others seeking to do the same.
When I enter the sanctuary to pray, the large windows reveal the trees outside as they weather the changing seasons. As I witness them from this sacred space, my connection to them is unavoidable. Sacred space should touch you in a way that leaves you transformed, and at JRC this is most certainly true. Touched, I seek to connect with those around me. Transformed, I seek to act. I have come to realize that sacred space lies not in what I can see and touch in our building itself, but resides instead where we find ourselves coming together with intention and called to look beyond ourselves to serve a greater whole.
May the prayers of all of our hearts join together with the work of all of our hands so that we might soon bring a lasting sustainability into being.
GreenFaith Fellow Kurt Nelson originally delievered this statement at Dartmouth College's Sustainability and Social Justice Dinner during the college's Earth Week 2011 activities. Click here to read the original post.
I'm the religious one this evening.
So if you need to get more food or check your blitz (note: blitz = email).
this might be the best time.
My name is Kurt.
I'm a chaplain and an educator.
I use reusable mugs,
and carry around cloth napkins.
I'm a vegetarian (most of the time).
I take the bus to work.
I turn my heat way down.
I'm an ecological activist.
An inter-faith activist.
And I'm a Christian.
And for me, those things go all together.
It's holy week.
And it's Passover.
And I'm sure there's someplace I'm supposed to be this evening.
But instead I'm here,
with you all.
Because I think sustainability matters.
And I presume you do too,
or else you wouldn't be here.
And I've been asked,
like the others tonight,
to speak to why sustainability matters.
But that seems fairly evident to me.
If something is good,
it should be sustained.
And so instead, I think the essential question becomes,
sustainability of what,
and sustainability for whom?
And that's where I think things get interesting, and tricky, and wonderful.
Because it becomes not essentially a question of technology,
but a question of our basic values.
A question of what we hold to be really and truly good.
And I fear that we've gotten really bad at talking about such things.
Especially when we disagree.
And into that void has stepped our tacit, increasingly-universal values,
of wealth, economic growth, power, and comfort.
And that's why I think the conversation has to happen with religious folks of all kinds,
and non-religious folks, and naturalists, and pragmatists,
so that we can paint a brighter, deeper, more vivid,
and more multivalent picture of the good.
So for me, the conversation about sustainability must involve three things:
(I am indebted to the Rev. Fletcher Harper for this tripartite construction, executive director www.greenfaith.org)
These are big, unwieldy ideas,
but here's what I think I mean:
Stewardship means management.
It means taking care of things that we have some control over,
but not ownership of.
It seems obvious to me that we have issues with control.
We act as if we believe that there's an endless supply of
clean air and water. Of gas and coal and oil.
Of food and arable land.
And thus we have the right to do what we want.
To do what's easiest and cheapest.
Often we trace these issues,
rightly, to the idea of "Dominion" that we find in the book of Genesis.
You know, "be fruitful and multiply…have dominion over the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.." (Genesis 1:28)
It's a problem, no doubt.
And good-hearted people respond to me all the time,
that we ought not have "Dominion"
we should just be another animal
like ants, or birds or beavers or whatever.
We are, after all, evolved of the same stuff.
And while I appreciate that, and think it's partially true,
I think it misses the self-evident fact,
that we are not like ants and birds and beavers.
Because we're clearly far more capable of destruction.
The problem isn't Dominion,
I don't think,
It's bad dominion.
We do have some control.
And thus we're capable of destruction.
but also, I hope, more capable of preservation,
We are certainly evolved of the same stuff,
but we are immensely powerful beings.
And thus, we must be more responsible stewards..
With great power, comes great responsibility.
Yes, Spiderman said that. And so did Jesus (Luke 12:48)
This word might not resonate with all of you,
but it's, I think, the easiest to see of these three
in these bucolic green hills we call home.
Spirituality, for me, means a deep love and connection
in this case, to the land,
to the mountains and trees.
Spirituality is rooted in the basic experience,
I pray we've all had,
where we behold a vista,
or a stream,
or a flower pushing up through the snow,
and have simply thought, "wow."
Spirituality means treating food, and natural landscape,
and birth and life,
as the miracle that it is.
And loving it for that.
And finally justice.
Justice means reminding ourselves,
that sustainability isn't only,
and perhaps isn't even mostly,
about mountains and trees,
but about other people.
And about their and our connection to land and food
and clean air and water.
And it's especially about the poor,
The widows and orphans.
about native populations,
and kids and urban landscapes, and the list goes on.
Each year I've taken a group of students to the tenderloin district of San Francisco
to work and explore issues of poverty and homelessness.
And after spending about 10 minutes in the tenderloin,
full as it is, with homelessness,
you realize that you can find cigarettes and lottery tickets,
processed foods, and booze,
and indeed crack pretty much everywhere you turn.
But that you have to walk blocks and blocks toward affluence,
to find a stick of green,
or a piece of fresh healthy food.
It's a food desert,
amidst the wealthiest city,
of a state that exports 12% of its food
And you can't find a thing to eat,
other than alcohol, chips, or sugar.
And you realize that growing,
or even selling real food in such a place,
is an act of disobedience.
And it's as simple as that.
Fresh foods in the tenderloin,
Kids with asthma and heart disease from diesel Trucks.
blowing up mountains in Appalachia to get at coal more cheaply?
Finding work for all the people whose livelihood depends on blowing up those mountains?
And Justice is essential to sustainability.
Lest it become the purview only of the affluent.
Stewardship, Spirituality and Social Justice,
point us to the good.
And we need to get far more in touch with our joy and with our sense of good,
when it comes to what and whom we're sustaining,
than with our guilt.
Now, religion has been setting the bar for ineffective guilt,
for at least 2 thousand years.
But I want to congratulate you environmentalists,
for raising that bar even higher.
Guilt has its place,
but it's ultimately a fairly weak motivator.
Guilt tells us what's wrong.
But joy, and hope, and love,
they tell us what's good and move us forward.
And sustainability is about the good.
It's about what we do..
But it’s also about what we learn and teach and talk about.
We're losing an ideological battle right now,
by ceding the ground of the good to the corporate state.
Which tells us that all value, is monetary value.
And we need to push back together.
Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Spiritual Seekers, and the list goes on.
We need to paint a multi-faceted picture,
of the good.
I don't usually dispense advice,
but tonight, I have some.
If you're part of a religious organization that's not moving toward sustainability…
Pardon me, but get it together.
Preach about it, pray about it,
Pray about it outside. talk about it.
Do scripture studies on it.
Compost, plant a garden, teach the youth.
Do your own waste audit.
Go paper free for a week.
Take small steps.
Demand it of your leaders.
Tell them it will save money.
Tell them it will attract young people.
Tell them you will leave if they don't.
And then remind them that it's not about guilt,
it's about joy and the good.
If you're part of a religious organization that's doing well on this front,
then tell your story.
Blog it, preach it, tell your friends,
gather with other religious communities.
Gather with non-religious folks.
The job is not done until the story is told.
It's part of the work, my friends,
and we're not doing it very well.
And if you're not part of a religious community,
whatever your hang ups,
and I get them, believe me,
to get over it,
and reach out.
I'm not saying you have to be religious.
but build partnerships.
Talk and listen.
We are in this together,
and we need each other.
We all have things to learn,
and work to do.
And every step we take in congregations and communities,
even if small,
is a step for a hundred families, not just one.
So just, please, do it.
No matter why you care.
If it's about global warming or natural spaces,
or duty to the poor or native communities,
or Jesus or Muhammad,
Even, I guess, if you think it's the next great business venture,
(But I'm skeptical)
Ultimately, sustainability is about the good.
So let's talk about it,
do something about it,
and connect to it together. Okay?
GreenFaith Fellow and Catholic writer Doug Demeo's blog was originally published in the HUffington Post. Click here for the original posting.
A few years ago, when I first learned about Mountain Top Removal operations (MTR) during a cultural immersion experience in West Virginia, I became so numb and overwhelmed with disgust, I imagined myself incapable of doing anything constructive. A few months later, I found relief in composing a poem about the sheer destruction of our Appalachian Mountains. Each time I recite "King Coal" in front of people, there is a bit of emotional release. However, when I look around the earth, today, the weight of creation crucified seems too much to bear.
Increasingly, natural gas and the issue of "hydro-fracking" are holding people's attention. In making the documentary, GasLand, Josh Fox investigates what lies beneath the surface of "America's fuel." He begins describing the serenity of his home in the woods and the winding stream which feeds the Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania. Offered $100,000 for the sale of property, Josh chose instead to see just how under siege our national lands are to gas exploration. The same feelings that gripped my awakening to MTR returned as I watched the film. The immensity of ground water contamination and the apparent impunity in which industry operates is stunning. At hundreds of drilling sites from coast to coast, shale beds are injected with millions of gallons of water mixed with nearly 600 highly toxic chemicals. This activates mini tremors, which release natural gas from the bedrock. Among other public health problems, local supplies of drinking water are destroyed.
I grew up enjoying the woods around Lake Cochituate in Framingham, Mass. With pond hockey in the winter and baseball during summer months -- and a lot of swimming and sailing on the lake -- I relate to Josh's deep affection for his surroundings. I too found solace outdoors.
By the end of GasLand, Josh claims the Pennsylvania woods for everyone. People of all ages should be free to experience the pleasures of nature, which includes having access to fresh drinking water.
Today is Earth Day. It is also Good Friday. Could God be delivering a clearer message? Consider the characteristics of crucifixion, at least according to Mel Gibson's theology in The Passion of Christ. Four features stand out: 1) infliction of pain beyond measure; 2) innocence is the victim; 3) death is the result; and 4) all of us are complicit in some fashion.
In order to appreciate these characteristics, there is no way around a litany of environmental woes. Hundreds of square miles of the Appalachian Mountains: lost forever. A majority of colorful coral reefs: gone. Amazonian and Indonesian Rainforests: one or more of the planet's lungs, ripped out. Nuclear meltdown; a Gulf's gush of oil; concentrated animal feeding operations (C.A.F.O.s). We can certainly add to this, but the evidence is in. Innocence is being crushed at the hands of every means of torture, resulting in a swoon of death. And as far as I know, if there is any blame to go around, only one species is hooked on fossil energy and "the good life."
In faith, we can more fully open ourselves to nature's pain, which is Christ's pain. The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it (Psalm 24: 1). While we contemplate the great sorrow of earth and sky, we must acknowledge our role. Perhaps only then may we sense a transformative understanding of resurrection and what it means to share in "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21: 1).
We can live in harmony with nature. This is our industrial calling. The definition of economy is management of home; the prefix "eco," derived from the Greek word oikos, means home. Thus, if we care for life on this one planet, then we as economists, engineers, entrepreneurs and many other kinds of professionals, will develop our practical knowledge -- through the best of theory and trial -- that cities, buildings and factories must purify and replenish as surely as do wetlands, forests and oceans. Any industrial innovation or retrofit must look to the evolutionary rhythms of God's creation to enable the healing and regeneration amenable to a new heaven and a new earth. There is no Super Plan separate from our most inspired ecological and theological know-how. The emerging realities that John envisions in the Book of Revelation begin here and now. In welcoming and co-producing God's will, whether in economic, industrial or spiritual terms, we must conceive no less than oneness with all creation.
There are plentiful signs of commercial oneness with creation. Harmony is afoot in the sustainability movement across cultures and economies the world over. Yet, we just might not be able to perceive these signs until we share in the awareness of Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness: "the horror, the horror."
Good Friday is Earth Day, an especially opportune time to see and feel and repent of creation's pain -- which is ours.
GreenFaith Fellow Rabbi Edward C. Bernstein's blog posting was originally published in the Huffington Post. To see the original post, click here.
If ever a holiday was intended to have "spring in its step," it's Passover. As I noted in my last post, Passover is much more than a celebration of the Exodus. It is also a celebration of spring and is rooted in agricultural rites that demonstrate a clear link between the Jewish calendar and the earth. While contemporary Jewish culture tends to thrive in urban society, Judaism has much to contribute as a faith tradition to the global conversation on harnessing religious and moral values to save the planet from human destruction. Our current state of affairs demands that Jews revisit our ancient traditions and liturgy that remind us of humanities oneness with the earth and the divine Source of life.
One of my favorite Passover rituals is the reading in synagogue of the biblical book the Song of Songs during the Sabbath that falls during Passover. For one thing, the love poetry is bursting with pastoral images of pomegranate orchards, herds of goats, lilies and roses. The images evoke spring and are perfect for this season of rebirth. The Sages of the Talmud understood the love poetry to be composed by a youthful King Solomon who inherited his father King David's gift for composing religious verse. The Sages' canonization of the text reflected their belief that the text must have been not only divinely inspired but that it was to be understood as an allegory of the loving covenant between God and Israel. How else could this erotic poetry have made it into the Bible?
Rabbi Akiva (2nd century, C.E.) underscores the point by calling the book the "Holy of Holies" of Hebrew Scripture. I imagine vigorous debates in the ancient academy where rabbis considered by some in their day as prudish sought to censor this book to keep it out of the hands of their youthful students with their racing hormones. These rabbis were countered by Rabbi Akiva and his school who recognized the work as great literature that had to have been divinely inspired. An allegorical interpretation was attached to the text, but the text itself remained in its pristine, graphic beauty.
In certain respects, the debate over the Song of Songs' inclusion in the Jewish canon has raged throughout the ages until this day. In William Kolbrener's insightful new book, Open Minded Torah, his chapter "Eros and Translation" contrasts two very different translations of the Song of Songs. A scholar of English literature, Kolbrener cites the translation of the King James Bible, published in 1611, during what Kolbrener calls "the most Hebraic of periods in English literature." He notes the King James translation of Song of Songs 1:2: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." This translation is true to the plain sense of the original Hebrew text. Kolbrener contrasts the King James translation with the Artscroll translation, a contemporary Orthodox Jewish publication. Artscroll draws upon classical rabbinic texts, including Rashi, and incorporates their allegorical interpretations into the body of the text. Direct translations are relegated to footnotes. Thus, Artscroll renders 1:2: "Communicate your innermost wisdom to me again in loving closeness."
Kolbrener notes that the 1611 King James translation does "not shy away from presenting the physical, even the fleshy meaning of the original Hebrew, for they also understood that the tangible world serves to express the divine." At the same time, he laments that a contemporary Jewish text shies away from a direct translation. He notes that the allegory without the original text "presents a disembodied religion of passionless ideas, turning reading the Song of Songs into a cognitive exercise. Our relationship to God, however, is not merely intellectual. God wants not only our minds, but our desires as well."
In expanding on Kolbrener's critique, I believe that Judaism is rooted in finding the Divine in the natural world through the fullness of our sensual capabilities. This includes becoming more at one with nature in order to enhance our religious spirituality. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, decries what he describes as the growing trend of "Nature Deficit Disorder," a condition in which more and more people spend less and less time outdoors. When children grow up spending more time in front of a screen of pixels than on a see-saw in the playground, he posits that there are serious risks to our society's collective mental and physical health.
I can't speak to the science behind Louv's theories, but from a religious sensibility the concept of "Nature Deficit Disorder" makes a lot of sense. In my understanding of Jewish tradition, our religious experience is enhanced by oneness with the earth that leads one to a sense of awe of God's creation. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that "the beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living."
The Song of Songs enriches the springtime Passover festival with its poetry and sense of wonder towards Creation. This poetic religious spirit will sustain us in our quest to redeem our broken planet.
GreenFaith Fellow Rabbi Eddie Bernstein wrote this article for the Huffington Post, where it can also be found. See the link at the end of this posting.
"[God said], 'For the Land is Mine. You are but strangers and sojourners with Me" (Leviticus 25: 23).
"In every generation, each person is obligated to see him or herself as having gone out from Mitzraim (Egypt) [from slavery to freedom]." These words are central to the liturgy of the Passover seder, observed this year on the evenings of April 18 and 19. They are intended to invoke the central historical narrative of Passover, the Exodus, and its moral, eternal message that all human beings are created in the image of God and are all of equal dignity. While the Exodus narrative plays a central role in the Jewish observance of Passover, it doesn't tell the whole story.
The major Jewish festivals all have historical reasons for their celebration: Passover commemorates the Exodus; Shavuot, the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai; Sukkot, the booths in which the Israelites dwelt in the wilderness. At the same time, the Bible itself portrays the festivals as rooted in the agricultural cycle of the year. As Passover approaches, it's worthy to examine this nexus between the historical and agricultural origins of the holiday. I believe that their convergence speaks to our generation in a fresh, meaningful way with respect to our stewardship of the environment. Our physical and spiritual freedom today depends on our society rediscovering and appreciating the earth as a web of life of which humanity is a part.
The Hebrew Bible presents a deep connection between the spring time reawakening of the earth from its winter slumber and ancient Israelite rituals to mark the change of seasons. The festival takes place in the month of Aviv (spring), so the rituals associated with the festival are richly connected to the seasonal cycle of the year. The Biblical text describes the Lord's Passover that takes place at dusk on the 14th day of the first month at which time the Paschal lamb was sacrificed. The next day, the 15th of the month, is the Festival of Matzot/Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-6). It has been suggested by Biblical scholars that the Passover offering was an ancient Near Eastern spring time festival among shepherds offering thanks to a divinity for sustaining their flocks and allowing them to reproduce. The Festival of Matzot was a spring time observance marking the beginning of the grain harvest. The ancient Israelites took these disparate rites of spring and imbued them with greater significance as part of the annual commemoration of the Exodus.
As Judaism has evolved over the ages and as Jews in the modern world have adopted multiple levels of observance, Passover continues to capture the collective Jewish imagination and the Jewish communal yearning for freedom and respect for human dignity throughout society. At the same time, the rituals of the holiday are connected so deeply to the earth and its seasons. It is as if the earth is listening to our celebration of freedom and crying out, "Me too!"
When the liturgy of the seder calls on us to travel back in time to experience the transformation from slavery to freedom, we can also imagine a time when human beings were more at one with the land, the seasons and the entire natural world. If we take the wisdom of the ancient Israelites back into our own day, we might discover our society's collective transformation to a culture of consumption that is destroying our planet and destroying our souls from within. In upcoming postings of this blog, I hope to explore more in depth specific areas of concern in which the earth and human society are suffering as a result of human exploitation of the earth and ways in which contemporary readings of classical Jewish sources can enhance our communal conversation on creating more sustainable lifestyles.
Regarding Passover, let me conclude with some practical tips to create a more eco-friendly Passover:
• Donate to food pantries. In the season of spring cleaning, many Jewish households take seriously the observance ridding the home of chametz, leavened, grain-based food products. Don't waste it. Pass it on to those in need.
• Buy local, in-season, produce where possible. Minimize your carbon footprint and support farmers near your home community.
• Avoid disposable plates and cutlery. This environmentally unfriendly practice has crept into many traditional homes where year-round utensils are not used for the chametz-free holiday. This Passover, let's reduce waste while eliminating chametz. Consult a rabbi or published guides for kashering (making fit) utensils for Passover use, and/or consider purchasing Passover-only utensils.
Humanity is intended to be a guardian of the earth, not a plunderer of its resources that will enslave future generations to greed, consumption and waste. Passover calls on us to act sustainably toward each other and toward the earth. I look forward to our further explorations of Judaism and environmental stewardship.
Click here to view the Huffington Post version of this posting.
10 teachings on Judaism and the Environment, written by Rabbi Larry Troster.
This article, written by GreenFaith Fellow Sasha Adkins, is focused on grief and healing as it relates to the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
Take the GreenFaith Pledge!
GreenFaith was invited to EPA headquarters as Lisa Jackson signed an important rule on mercury pollution.
GreenFaith Fellow Jennifer Durant - a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary -preached the following sermon on Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Her sermon was based on Joel 2:1-2,12-17.
A little girl grew up walking, swimming, tanning, and playing on the five town beaches. She lived just a half-mile from the closest one, and she knew the beaches and the blue-green water with its regular tides, coming in and going out belonged to and came from God, the source of all living things.
The living ocean reached out to her when at 5, she reluctantly tiptoed in to take swimming lessons in the 65 degree, clear, seashell littered water. As she got older, she biked past one beach or another; down to the Harbor past the fishing pier, and over to the boat marina, where the boats bobbed on the living ocean. The sea gulls frequently accompanied her. God’s ocean filled with fish, coral, and crabs fed, entertained and sustained the girl.
Then one winter, the blizzard arrived with 27” of snow in less than 24 hours, a new moon and high winds, with gusts exceeding 100 miles per hour. The resulting extraordinarily high tides meant washed out roads and giant ocean waves rolled up so high and strong they broke right over the woefully inadequate sea walls. Mighty breakers washed over houses just 1/2 mile from the girls’, peeling roofs off houses like tops off tin cans, forcefully dividing houses in half, and collapsing walls and foundations like nuts in a food processor. Shingles, stoves, chimneys, china, stuffed animals, and one little girl were carried out to sea, never to be seen again.
As the wind howled outside and tree branches snapped, from the safety of her warm house just far enough away from the ocean, in her mind the girl saw the waves cresting over the housetops, and she wondered, could this wild, dangerous, destructive, life-taking ocean be of the same life-giving God? What kind of God is our God?
The Judeans Joel prophecies to might be wondering the same thing. What kind of God is our God?
The Judeans have a serious problem. They’ve broken the covenant. In less than forty days, they’ve broken their promise to be God’s people, to worship only God. And now, Joel tells them, “You better tremble in fear!” And darkness surrounds them.
From our view in 2011, the Judeans seem awfully far away. Moses hasn’t just brought us the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, and we certainly haven’t made a golden calf we’re worshipping...or have we?
Aren’t we just as guilty as the Judeans for worshipping golden calves under different names? Money, power, prestige, technology, politics, other human beings like athletes, movie stars, and musicians? Aren’t we just as guilty as the Judeans for breaking the covenant by not loving God with our whole heart, and mind, and strength, and by not loving our neighbors as ourselves, so as to displace all those golden calves?
What kind of God is our God?
God, calling the Judeans to “return to me with all your heart,” is also calling us. Return to me, says God. Return, after breaking covenant, after breaking your promise to me, like Adam and Eve thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden, like the Judeans did, less than forty days after the promise for them to be God’s people, and for God to be their God was established. We can take consolation in the human consistency, knowing we are not the first to break covenant, nor will we be the last.
But mere consolation is not what our God has in mind. Our God has in mind so much more than consolation. The very same God whose ocean feeds and sustains us, or whose ocean wildly destroys our homes and our lives offers the Judeans and every one of us the opportunity to repent and return to relationship. The very same God, in a wildly calculated and intentional move ultimately sends us Jesus, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, and to reconcile us to come to him; calls us to come. “Return to me with all your heart, mind, and soul...”
Sitting here tonight, you may not be feeling desperate to repent. The temperature in here is comfortable, we have light, we have one another; perhaps your relationships are all in a good place, and the Eucharist isn’t far behind. We’ll come to the table for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal, to be fed the body and blood of our savior.
But don’t forget we also come collectively and individually as ones who have broken covenant with God, and who will break covenant with God in a myriad of ways as our prayers reveal. In our humanity, we break our promises to God regularly. And we know the blizzards and high tides of our lives will come.
Mercifully Lent draws us from our sins and brokenness to turn our trembling Christian hearts and minds intentionally and with great focus toward God. Now is the acceptable time to repent and to turn to deepening relationship with God.
What’s your plan? How will you observe a holy Lent? How will you self-examine, and repent, pray, and from what will you fast? What will you read, whom will you serve, to bring you into deeper relationship with our God?
Walking along the ocean within a week of the blizzard, as the familiar, frigid February water curled in toward the girl on the sand, and then back out to sea again, she noticed the only remaining wall of a house, with the china cabinet and the china still in it, intact.
The same water where she swam destroyed homes, streets she biked on, and paid little notice to seawalls built to hold it back. The storm was the first time she’d been aware of the incredible power beyond, behind, or maybe within the living ocean, a wild power so gentle as to destroy entire homes and leave the china intact.
What kind of God is our God?
Our God is wild enough that like the Judeans, we ought to tremble; and just wild enough to keep asking us to return. Us.
In the wake of oceans of destruction, we are unscathed, intact as God’s precious sons and daughters, created from the dust to which we shall return. But until then, God wants us to return to him with our hearts.
I will love thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defense.
When I was eight or nine, I was playing outside on a hillside near the sea in Rhode Island, where my family spent time during the summer. It was overcast. The air was heavily damp, opaque with mist at a distance of 150 yards. The sound of a foghorn bleated from an offshore buoy like a blind person groping in darkness. I was running around with my brother and friends, barefoot. The stiff blades of crabgrass and the sandy soil were abrasive and cold on my feet. Slivers of moisture hit my cheek as I ran.
Then, my foot ran across a rock whose rough face stuck up above the surface of the ground. And suddenly, inwardly, I felt something very different, coming up through the rock.
An enormous depth opened up from the earth into my body and suffused the air around me. I felt a remarkable presence, eternity packed into a nanosecond, a fullness of time. It was loving and stern, beautiful and awesome, silent and strong, all at once. It stopped me in my tracks. Chronologically, the experience lasted less than an instant. But in a very real sense it has lasted over 40 years, because I remember it clearly today. It was an experience of the presence of God, and I am so grateful.
Because of a rock.
Years later, I am a Christian minister and I run a religious environmental group. Much of our work organizes religious groups to protect the environment. But I’ve found over the years that most people have powerful spiritual experiences outdoors, experiences which move them deeply and which connect them with the divine as powerfully as anything else. These stories – of God entering their lives through plants and animals and landscapes and storms and flowers and rocks – are spiritual touchstones, cornerstones in the foundation of their faith. These are often the most real experiences of God with which they are blessed. When I read in the New Testament about Jesus regularly heading for the hills to pray, I know exactly what he was doing, just as I understand why God called creation “good” day after day after day at the very beginning of Genesis. The earth reveals God to us and connects us to the Spirit.
And yet, people’s stories of their outdoor spiritual experiences rarely see the light of day. I’ve asked hundreds of people. Most of them have never shared their experiences with another person. They’re often embarrassed, reluctant or afraid. It’s not a compliment today to be called a tree-hugger, and too many Christians still believe that if you get too close to the earth you cease being a follower of Jesus.
This is sad. God offers so much through the earth. Look at what Jesus does at his last supper, taking the fruit of the earth and the vine, and calling them “my body” and “my blood.” (Matthew 26:26-29) Read Paul writing about the awe inspired by the fact that the whole universe holds together “in Christ” (Colossians 1:15-20). See how God reminds Job of God’s majesty by describing the near-infinite details of the characteristics of wild animals, all owing their complex beauty to their Creator (Job 39-42). Read the psalmist, who writes that “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork,” (Ps. 19:1) and who describes all creation – animals, plants, landscapes, weather, and people – giving praise to God (Ps. 148). The earth reveals and connects us to God. In the experiences of our lives and in the Bible, it’s right there. What are we so afraid of?
There are few sources of the knowledge of God more powerful than the earth. Christians have known this across the centuries. Augustine – a theological giant from the fourth century – described his classic, The City of God, the “two books” that people can read to find God. “Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? Why, heaven and earth shout to you: ‘God made me!’”
Every Sunday, as I start my sermon, I say a prayer aloud: “Lord God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations deep within our hearts be acceptable in your sight, because you are our rock and our redeemer.” I don’t think that most people realize that when I say “rock,” I mean it literally. Thanks to that rock forty years ago, thanks to the earth, I know God. And I am so grateful.
This blog posting first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Click here to read the original post.
Rabbi Marcus Burstein is a Congregational Representative for the Union for Reform Judaism's East District, and a leader in GreenFaith's partnership with the Union.
I work on a variety of projects in my position at the Union for Reform Judaism, but one of the most exciting is a pilot project called Greening Reform Judaism. This two-year program partners URJ congregations with GreenFaith, a national non-profit organization based in New Brunswick, NJ, that inspires, educates and mobilizes people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. I recently joined GreenFaith for an Environmental Justice tour in the Ironbound District of Newark, and the ports of Newark and Elizabeth. The trip was designed to educate religious and community leaders about the dangers and hazards of pollution in the area, and how it harms residents and visitors alike.
After meeting at a Baptist Church in Newark, worthy of its own tour for the outstanding social services they provide, we took a bus tour through Newark and Elizabeth, passing many familiar sights: the Amtrak station, Newark Airport, and the Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall. However, after passing those landmarks, we visited other nearby sights that I never knew existed, including:
- Passaic Valley Sewage Authority, which covers 172 acres and is one of the largest wastewater facilities in the Northeast. This facility serves 380,000 residential units, 360 large apartment buildings, 2025 large commercial institutions and 380 major industries in their area. They treat about 6.5 million gallons of liquid from sources outside their sewer service area each week.
- Diamond Alkali/Shamrock Superfund site, which contains the world's largest concentration of dioxin, an extremely toxic chemical which is used in the production of DDT and phenoxy herbicides (which were converted to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War). They have had to cement much of the chemical stock into the ground, but there are also barrels of dioxin still stored adjacent to the Passaic River. After many, long years of fighting and court cases, there is finally a process in place to clean up the dioxin in the river.
I learned that there are 10,000 truck trips each day in and out of the Port of Elizabeth, and I learned how difficult it is to get legislation passed to require the trucks to have clean engines and filters. One study showed that 175 trucks passed by an elementary school every hour. Imagine what that does to the air quality...
There were a few bright spots on our tour, too. The former Ballantine Brewery is leading an effort to redevelop and revitalize their 25-acre property as a green manufacturing area and a mixed-use sustainable site. The new Ironbound Pool and Recreation Center is on the site of a former plastics manufacturing site, even though it took 20 years to clean up the area. Last month, GreenFaith and the Ironbound Community Corporation scored a rare and important environmental justice victory, reaching a settlement with the operator of a garbage incinerator in the Ironbound. The incinerator operators will now take more steps to limit pollution, examine the effects of incinerator waste, and fund the protection of green space in the community. As the Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith explained, "All people should have a healthy environment, regardless of their race or income. Newark's Ironbound community suffers far more than its share of dangerous pollution. This settlement is a step in the right direction for the health of the community."
My friends teased me before I took the tour that they hoped I wouldn't return glowing (radioactively). That certainly wasn't the case, but the tour did inspire me to learn more about the problems I saw, and to try to energize the communities of which I am a part to advocate for those who don't have the means to do so. I hope that you will join me. Feel free to be in touch, and I will be happy to see if we can help make a positive difference in our world.
GreenFaith's Rabbi Lawrence Troster, GreenFaith's Fellowship Director and Rabbinic Scholar in Residence was featured today on a CNN's Faces of Faith in a segment on religion and the environment.
The show was filmed during the Temple of Understanding’s Interfaith Visionary Call To Action Conference on Sustainable Development on Tuesday, October 19 at The Pierre Hotel in New York City. In addition to Rabbi Troster, the segment featured
Karen Armstrong, a best-selling author and religion scholar
Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer and Senior Scholar, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University
Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey, Director, Human and Civil Rights Division, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
Fletcher Harper's blog posting on the religious mandate for chemical policy reforn was published recently on the Huffington Post. Click here to read the posting and to review over 150 comments on the article.
NEW YORK, NY, June 3, 2010 | 21st Sivan 5770 - Today the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and GreenFaith join together to launch the Greening Reform Judaism Pilot Program. Through the Pilot, eight Reform congregations in New Jersey will take part in the rigorous GreenFaith Certification Program, with the Union and GreenFaith underwriting the cost of their participation. The comprehensive Certification Program helps houses of worship across North America become environmental leaders through initiatives in facilities management, religious education and worship, and environmental justice. Upon completion, the synagogues will become certified as GreenFaith Sanctuaries and will be looked to as leaders in the Reform Movement's greening efforts.
The eight congregations participating in the Pilot Program are Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, Temple Shalom in Succasunna, and Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly. Although the Certification Program is national in scope, the Union chose New Jersey as the focus of its Pilot Program so that its New York-based staff can visit each of the participating congregations and see their efforts firsthand.
"I am thrilled to partner with GreenFaith to launch the Greening Reform Judaism Pilot, and look forward to working with these outstanding congregations to help them become leaders in the urgent moral challenge of protecting our environment," said Mark Pelavin, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. "Our Movement has focused intensely on our long-standing commitment to environmental issues in recent years and we are inspired by the enthusiasm of the congregations that jumped at the chance to participate in this Pilot Program."
The Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, said, "GreenFaith is excited to partner with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center to invest in this pilot effort, which is the first of its kind among North American denominations. We look forward to welcoming these eight outstanding congregations into the Certification Program's interfaith community and to helping them become exemplary environmental leaders in the coming two years."
Each participating synagogue has formed a "Green Team" and passed a Board Resolution endorsing the Certification Program. In addition to extensive support from GreenFaith and Union staff, the congregations will receive access to over 200 resources, six webinars and an online community - all organized by GreenFaith - where they can share questions, resources and events with fellow participants.
The Pilot Program congregations will take part in a wide variety of activities as part of the two year Certification Program. They will create an action plan based on a comprehensive audit, green their facilities' operations, conduct environmental justice education and advocacy, offer environmentally-themed worship services and education programs for all ages, and communicate their work to local media outlets. They will take on the additional responsibility of serving as mentors to other Reform Jewish communities nationwide seeking to deepen their engagement with environmentalism. Congregational leaders will attend Union social action programs to share their experiences with the Reform Movement.
As Pelavin adds, "Our Jewish tradition, beginning with the Book of Genesis, commands us 'to till and to tend' our earth, and our synagogue communities take this mitzvah seriously. I look forward to seeing our Pilot Program congregations put these words into action as they lead the way to a greener and stronger Reform Movement." Certification Program Director Stacey Kennealy said, "GreenFaith is encouraged to see the Reform Movement make such a strong public commitment to the protection of creation, and we are excited to see the many ways these synagogues will put their beliefs into action for the earth."
FH Blog entry May 7 2010