Environment and Social Justice Conversation Launched

Although the pursuit of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam is galvanizing increased numbers of young Jews worldwide, few opportunities exist for meaningful communication and collaboration between Israeli environment and social justice professionals and their colleagues around the globe. Until now.

Thanks to a multi-year investment by the UJA Federation of NY, totaling $415K, three leading Jewish nonprofit organizations – Bema’aglei Tzedek in Israel, Hazon in the United States and the Jewish Social Action Forum in the UK – have launched Siach: An Environment and Social Justice Conversation, a brand-new, global network of experienced Jewish environment and social justice professionals, as well as highly dedicated lay leaders, from Israel, North America and Europe.

Siach will be anchored in a series of conferences, the first to take place on May 12-15, 2011 at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut and the second in May 2012 in Israel. Approximately 120 participants, roughly 40% from Israel, 40% from North America, and 20% from Europe, will attend the first conference.

Siach targets experienced professionals and lay leaders in nonprofit organizations or Jewish communal institutions (synagogues, JCCs, youth movements, rabbinical schools, etc.), which possess both an overt Jewish agenda as well as an environment and/or social justice agenda, and, in particular, individuals with the organizational mandate to initiate and carry out collaborative ventures with other participants in the network.

Dyonna Ginsburg, Executive Director of Bema’aglei Tzedek, explains: “Siach attempts to solve a serious problem in the Jewish environment and social justice community. Some of the leading Jewish social justice organizations outside of Israel have a policy – in some cases board-driven and fairly public, in other cases de facto and unspoken – not to collaborate with Israeli organizations, since Israel is considered to be too divisive and politically-sensitive. Although some Israeli organizations have tried to partner with their counterparts abroad, others have expressed little interest in doing so. Feeling minimal connection to Jews outside of Israel and/or alienated from Jewish discourse, they see little value in collaborating with Jewish communities in North America and Europe. All of this is to the detriment of the global Jewish community and to the pursuit of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam worldwide.”

The first conference, and the ensuing network, will enable Jewish environment and social justice activists to establish relationships and partnerships cross-border, foster a more nuanced understanding of environment and social justice work in Israel and in the Jewish community around the world, and create an international movement of North American, European and Israeli Jews working together on environment and social justice issues.

The conferences will feature sessions showcasing successful examples of existing collaboration between Jewish environment and social justice organizations worldwide, as well as sessions on areas of shared content – i.e., immigration, refugees, and foreign workers; consumption and consumerism; international development; CSAs, land use, and farming; sustainability, etc. – and shared methods of operation – i.e., synagogue mobilization, Jewish text study, community organizing, etc.

The primary organizers of Siach are: Bema’aglei Tzedek in Israel, Hazon in the United States and the Jewish Social Action Forum in the UK. In addition, an international steering committee comprised of individuals representing a broad coalition of organizations, including BINA, The Board of Deputies, Canfei Nesharim, The Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, Kehillot Tzedek, The Movement for Reform Judaism, The New Israel Fund, Pursue, Teva Ivri, Tevel B’Tzedek, Tzedek and Uri L’Tzedek, is playing a critical role in shaping the content of the first conference and the network. Members of the international advisory committee also include: Yonatan Ariel, the Executive Director of MAKOM; Leonie Lewis, Director of The Jewish Volunteering Network; Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Knesset member and founder of the Green-Meimad Party; Amy Philip, Deputy Director of the Pears Foundation; Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World; and Naomi Tsur, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and founding Director of Sustainable Jerusalem.

For more information or to apply, visit the Siach website.

Application deadline: January 16, 2011.