Turning intentions into action

Climate change is here: It’s time for Jews to take action

In Short

Now is the time to make climate action a central moral priority of the Jewish community. It is not enough to dedicate one Tu B’Shevat sermon to this topic. Now it’s time to turn good intentions into meaningful action.

As American Jews, we have long played active roles in our world’s most pressing challenges and crises. This was true of the Black-led Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and efforts to end the genocide in Darfur in the 2000s. Our current climate crisis demands our attention, our action and our voice. We are facing an existential threat at a scale unlike anything humans have faced in history; the Jewish community must bring all of its people and power to ensure a livable and sustainable planet for generations to come. 

Last year we collaborated to produce the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest as a call to make climate action a central moral priority of the Jewish community. Over 6,000 people responded and came to be inspired, learn and act. In the last 12 months, more than a third of Americans have experienced climate impacts, whether from fires, storms, flooding, drought or other threats to our communities. While the crisis seems overwhelming, the groundswell of awareness is encouraging. 

Now it’s time to turn good intentions into meaningful action. We’d like to suggest three very practical areas where Jewish leaders and communities can focus to make meaningful impacts.

First, we need to use our own communal organizations to take action where we can. We can green our facilities, shift endowments and retirement funds to responsible investments, and donors (whether individuals, giving circles or foundations) can contribute to organizations doing this important work year-around. As Yossi Abramowitz, president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital and co-founder of the Arava Power Company, said at last year’s Fest, “It should be treyf to invest a rabbi’s retirement fund in fossil fuels.”  We must align our values with our actions and local and national Jewish organizations taking these steps is a critical step.

Second, faith communities are powerful voices in our elected leaders’ decision making, and the Jewish community plays a critical role in helping our country and our world shift away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy. The science has been clear for decades, but the people, power and spirit that Jews bring can help advance local and state-level investments in communities most impacted by climate change, such as New York’s Climate Change Investment Act, and Build Back Better, which, if passed, would represent the largest investment in clean energy and environmental justice in history. So many local, state and national leaders say that they know what is needed, but they need to hear their constituents ask for it. Our collective voice matters.

And third, we need to invest in the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of Jews who are facing the climate crisis. Young people in particular feel anxious and angry about the world they are inheriting. Our community should be a source of inspiration and spiritual support, while modeling how our values compel us to act, building hope for a healthier future. As we seek to engage younger generations with Judaism, there is no more meaningful and relevant area to invest in than climate.

We must actively be part of the solution. We cannot sit on the sidelines.

It is not enough to dedicate one Tu B’Shevat sermon to this topic. It is time for action: Federations are organizing community solar programs for their communities; synagogues are forming climate action teams; Jewish organizations are moving their endowments and retirement funds into responsible investments and Jews across the country are demanding elected leaders take urgent action.

We invite you to learn more from people who are making real, practical change. Join us for the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, free and online January 10-14, to learn from leaders who are taking action. Leave inspired and empowered, with replicable models and case studies to inform your next steps and take back to your communities, including: 

  • How the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego is engaging issue-based younger donors;
  • How Federations in Rhode Island, Baltimore and Vancouver are catalyzing change across their communities;
  • How synagogues are decarbonizing and engaging new leaders through the process;
  • Why greening your endowment is important, and how organizations have aligned their values and investments, while maintaining their returns;
  • Why the money pipeline to fossil fuel companies is perpetuating the problem, and how banks and investors can use their influence to support system change;
  • How Jewish communities across the country are pushing elected officials to pass meaningful climate legislation;
  • Plus a whole track for youth and college students, including organizing on campus, effective use of media and storytelling and processing climate grief.

Whether you’re a rabbi, board president, finance committee member, congregant, student, parent, child, investor, voter … you have a role to play. Register for free at https://www.jewishclimatefest.org/register and learn how to make a difference with your voice, your vote, your investments and your leadership.  

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is the founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Jakir Manela is the CEO of Hazon: The Jewish Lab for Sustainability.