October 26, 2012
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
Green is the color of today.
Our own Green Hevra, the green of trees and grasses, and the green of Islam in one of its great festivals.
Today, as many of us who are involved in the Green Hevra (there’s a description below) are both taking joy in and mulling over the excellent work we did in an intensive two-day retreat this week, we might also pause to take note of today’s beginning of the four-day Muslim Festival of Eid-al-Idha.
The festival remembers and honors a moment that Jews remember as well. Abraham / Ibrahim / Avraham prepared to obey God’s command to offer up his son as a sacrifice – and then at the last moment heard God calling on him to save his son and offer instead a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket. And obeyed.
Muslims honor his willingness to obey God, and they translate this honor into feeding the poor and the outcast. Drawing on Ibrahim’s offering of the ram, Muslims will take the meat of a ritually slaughtered lamb to share with their extended families and with the poor.
The Shalom Center says to the Muslim world — Eid Mubarak! May your festival be blessed!
May it help us all to make real the teaching of these days: “Do not kill your children; Feed the poor!”
May we deeply learn that our present mode of life is lifting the deadly “knife” of overburning fossil fuels — the knife that will kill our children and grandchildren. May we turn away, to make an offering of life, instead.
I’ve just returned from a two-day intensive retreat of the year-old Green Hevra, a network of about 15 Eco-Jewish organizations, ranging from Jewish organic farms and an eco-focused summer camp to an educational center for kids in Jewish schools for learning Torah of the Earth to groups focused on the hands-on physical greening of Jewish buildings to several organizations (including The Shalom Center) that fuse Jewish wisdom and practice with eco-policy activism.
The gathering was deeply joyful for me, both collectively and personally — because the Hevra took several important decisions to address the climate crisis, and because the Hevra honored me as a teacher in a circle of blessing.
The GREEN HEVRA decided to adopt “Growing a Sustainable Climate” as a focus for the work of the Hevra as a whole and as an important theme in much (not all) of the work of the member organizations.
We identified two special times for lifting up this work and reaching out to involve more people at the grass-roots of Jewish life:
§ Shabbat B’Har (May 4-5, 2013), when Jews read the Torah portion of Leviticus 25 about the shmitah (or “sabbatical”) seventh year of restfulness for society and the Earth;
§ and Tu B’Shvat, the Festival of Rebirthing Trees (January 14-15, 2014). Here there will be a special emphasis on involving decision makers (national, state, local, and corporate) in living and literally eating the fruits of Jewish wisdom about moving to a sustainable climate..
There was a strong sense that while the broad movement to address the onrush of climate change must include both “the against” and “the for,” the work of the Green Hevra would lean toward the “for.”
What does this mean? Facing climate crisis demands both opposition to the present structures of fossil-fuel dependency and the alternative shapes our society and culture would have to take in shaping a “sustainable climate.” The Green Hevra decided that our own best offering will be leaning toward creating and supporting alternatives.
The Hevra is especially interested in exploring the ancient sacred rhythms of work-and-rest, sowing/harvesting food and celebrating the harvest, Doing and Being that are deeply embedded In Biblical teaching and in Jewish practice. How do we apply this wisdom to a post-industrial cybernetic society?
Why should Jews and other religious communities be doing this work of social change to address the climate crisis? Right now, American society is paralyzed about this issue. Even though the scientists are increasingly worried – even frightened; even though we have just lived through a year of unprecedented droughts, fires, and floods that are rooted in the climate crisis — the issue was not even mentioned in four Presidential debates.
The silence in debates echoes paralysis in government. Paralysis in government echoes the paralysis of the American majority that gives verbal support to government action, but has not organized itself strongly enough to make change happen.
It will take the engagement of the grass-roots religious communities to move past the present stalemate on climate policy.
The religious communities bring two treasures as an offering to heal our planet and protect our children:
Numbers. Many religious leaders – Evangelical Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist – have addressed the climate crisis, but grass-roots communities have been far less forthright. Yet the numbers are there, and they need to become as activist as they were in the civil-rights crisis 50 years ago.
Depth: The climate crisis is the poisonous fruit of a distorted tree – a culture, society, economy, and politics suffused with domination and greed, not with caring and the knowledge that all life is intertwined. In that future, we will know — and in the present, we must learn — that “YHWH” does not stand for Lord, Boss, Judge, King – but (just as it sounds when you say it without vowels) the Interbreathing of all life.
That vision of an alternative society is what the Green Hevra has in mind when it seeks a “sustainable climate.”
Whether we succeed or not depends a great deal on whether the varied rainbow of our different organizations, our different skills and souls, can like the Rainbow cohere to light up into action the latent strength and vision of grass-roots Jewish communities.
May we all be blessed with the commitment to act to save our children and grandchildren, by saving and healing the Earth.
Shalom, salaam; Good shabbos, Eid Mubarak! — Arthur