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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Tisha B’Av & Climate Change: James Hansen, A Modern Day Jeremiah?

I joined a Progressive Reform Synagogue about a year and a half ago. I first wrote about an experience I had there in this diary. Last year I wasn’t too active beyond taking my daughter to Hebrew and Sunday School, a few Friday Night Services here and there and the High Holy Days. I really had no idea how involved the Social Justice and Food Justice committees were in educating and organizing the congregation. I only just became involved a couple weeks before NetrootsNation2013 when I received an email from the Rabbi about my protesting the Keystone Pipeline, would I like to join a meeting about incorporating Climate Change into a Friday Night Service? Um, yes.

I was one of a panel of three in which we were asked to bring awareness about Climate Change to our congregation in the context of the upcoming Tisha B’Av and to describe our personal connection to Climate Change. I learned about the association between Tisha B’Av and Climate Change initially from our Rabbi and then through reading the work of Rabbi Arthur Waskow. I am often amazed at the depth of knowledge and feeling that some people are capable of conveying, and these two Rabbi’s are no exception.

I experienced a lot of anxiety about writing this presentation, I felt lost, like an outsider trying to talk about something of which she really doesn’t understand. My original draft had nothing original in it. So I took a break and read some diaries on Daily Kos, and I found my inspiration.

Some things deserve the honor of our tears and our sadness.

was written in a comment in response to a writer’s grief. What I followed that sentence up with is block quoted below and was presented to the congregation.

Some things deserve the honor of our tears and our sadness. On Tisha B’Av, we recall and show respect for the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a strange coincidence that the burning of these Temples took place 655 years apart on the same Hebrew calendar date. On Tisha B’Av, we embrace the rituals and customs associated with mourning. We also reflect on later tragedies, regardless of their date, as they have in common with the destruction of the Temples, the loss of home, the loss of life, the shattering of Jewish communities and a collective sorrow that will give way to hope and finally nourishment of our souls and our world.

We can look at the burning of the temples as a metaphor for the burning of our Earth and we can look at the last 40 years in which we’ve done little to mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels as a warning period, similar to the failed warnings of the Prophet Jeremiah that resulted in the destruction of the First Temple. The people who were trying to bring awareness to us… to those who had never heard of Climate Change… to science deniers, new that if nothing changed, if we continued to burn oil at the same rate, our planet would begin to warm and the warming of the Earth would cause extreme weather, droughts, storms, extinction of animals and fires. Here we are now, at what NASA Scientist James Hansen calls our “tipping point” for the time of warning is nearly over.

Judith Plaskow writes in Metaphors of G-D:

       “Images of G-d as fountain, source, wellspring, or ground of life and being remind us that G-d loves and befriends us as one who brings forth all being and sustains it in existence…

       Metaphors of ground and source continue the reconceptualization of G-d’s power, shifting our sense of direction from a G-d in the high heavens who creates in the magical word to the very ground beneath our feet that nourishes and sustains us.

       As a tree draws up sustenance from the soil, so we are rooted in the source of our being that bears and maintains us even as it enables us to respond to it freely. Images of G-d as rock, tree of life, light, darkness, and myriad other metaphors drawn from nature teach us the intrinsic value of this wider web of being in which we dwell.”

Families across America, environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club and 350 dot org, and individual activists took it upon themselves to bring a message of need and hope to people who are watching, listening and learning, and to our President who has final say on authorizing the Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline is what compelled me to become an activist. Thousands of people marched at the White House last February and in solidarity, thousands more marched in San Francisco and in cities across America. The face of activism are the same faces that line our Sunday school classrooms here at Shir Hadash, that play in our parks, that become Bar and Bat Mitzvah… they don’t yet have a voice to tell the world what they wish for their future, but the future is theirs to inherit. It is our children who will suffer the effects of global warming and who will reap the rewards activism can elicit.

So let me take you back to the Keystone Pipeline and one of the reasons this issue has spurred me to activism. You may remember that in late March of this year an underground pipeline, the Pegasus Pipeline, originating in Alberta, Canada and routing through the residential town of Mayflower, Arkansas ruptured and spilled 1.1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil. The tar sands crude washed over the yards of people’s homes and spilled into Lake Conway an eighth of a mile away. Well, maybe you didn’t hear too much about this incident on the news or see photos of this catastrophe in the paper, no, we had to dig deeper for this information. Let me share with you something that I found. According to research documents shared by Greenpeace, elevated levels of Benzene and other contaminants were tested and found to be at dangerous levels. Benzene is a cancer-causing chemical found in oil, it is added to tar sands so it can flow more easily through the pipeline. The problem is that there are no safe levels of Benzene in which one should be exposed to. Residents of Mayflower have reported dead fish; oil tainted ducks, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. As Michael Brune of Sierra Club states, “the rejection of the carbon pollution (Keystone) pipeline will be a major disaster averted.”

Now let me take you to Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta, Canada, where the pipelines originate and where majestic, boreal forests were devastated to develop the tar sands. I can’t show you before and after pictures of the forests right now so I want you to imagine in your mind an image of a forest teaming with life, home to thousands of plants and animals, a forest that contains 35% of Canada’s wetlands and functions to store carbon, regulate climate and filter water, left untouched for thousands of years… now barren. The tar sands measure 54,ooo square miles and hold about 170 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Tar sands consists of heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay and bitumen. It is considered the worst type of oil for climate because it produces three times the green house gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. According to Rainforest Action Network, “processing tar sands oil will mean more asthma and respiratory disease, more cancer, and more cardiovascular problems.” In 2009 the Alberta Cancer Board reported an increase in cancer of 30% for those who live within a 100 miles radius.

Even as we embrace the phases of grief that symbolize Tisha B’Av, we allow ourselves to experience all that grief encompasses because we know we will come around again to hopefulness, and there is hope. We can support efforts to increase renewable energy and clean energy sources; we can embrace, as President Obama stated, “our moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted or damaged.”

Jeremiah emphasized that adhering to Jewish teachings would aid in preventing further tragedy and catastrophe. In this way we are reminded to be a ‘coworker with G-d’ to protect our environment; to guard the land and be ‘shomrei ha’adamah, guardians of our Earth;’ and to not waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value.’ If we can respond to “ayekah,” “Where art thou?” by answering “hineni,” “here I am” – then we are ready as a people to respond to the environmental threats that Climate Change poses to our health and the health of future generations.

As I look into my daughter’s eyes, I know that I am speaking for her, and her children, and clearing a path for the regeneration of our failing to protect our most sacred entities, our children and our Earth.

What a beautiful feeling I experienced standing on the Bima, presenting, with the stained glass windows and the Arch behind me; my husband, daughter, parents and friends to my left, the Rabbi’s and Cantor in the front row and the Congregation, listening intently. For the first time in my life, as I spoke out, my voice didn’t quiver, my hands didn’t shake, my stomach didn’t hurt and the room didn’t spin. There is something about this eco movement that has drawn me to a place of compelling need to DO something. Given the challenges we face as a people on our only Earth, we need to harness as much a collective power and energy as we can to defeat the unreasonable forces against us. Perhaps organizing along the spiritual route by inculcating ecology of religions into Climate Change can help move us forward on this difficult path.

Stained Glass Window

Marc Chagall

The United Nations Building

This Stained Glass Window is a memorial, 15 feet wide and 12 feet high… contains several symbols of peace and love, such as the young child in the center being kissed by an angelic face which emerges from a mass of flowers. On the left, below and above motherhood and the people who are struggling for peace are depicted. Musical symbols in the panel evoke thoughts of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Coalition on the Environment & Jewish Life

Today, COEJL’s priorities are to mobilize the Jewish community to address the climate crisis through advocacy for appropriate legislation as well as action to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. COEJL challenges and supports Jewish organizations to pursue sustainability in their facilities, operations and programs in order to protect the earth for future generations.

Interfaith Power and Light

A religious response to global warming.

Carbon Covenant

Connecting with faith communities on the front lines of Climate Change

Do you think there is a modern day Jeremiah? If so, who do you think it is?


  1. for us all to care for our Earth. We saw some of the natural beauty of Alberta last week. It’s so sad to imagine it desecrated by the oil development. There ARE better ways.

    YOU are powerful and have a strong voice. You need NO FEAR. I hope to hear your voice again on this soon.

    ALSO, I’m interested in your synogogue’s Food Justice committee. Do you have information to share on their mission and methods? GTP has my email address if there is anything you could mail.


  2. A few years ago, Bill McKibben, 350 founder, came to the U of IA to speak in a theater downtown. I went early to get a good seat. Wow. The place was packed already with students and locals. I ended up in the rafters. He was inspiring.

    The message of climate change is clear to those who are willing to open their eyes, ears, and heart. Our Earth is suffocating from our excesses. We have been terrible stewards. Not everyone, of course. But, mankind in general has not paid attention to the ways it has soiled the bed it sleeps in and the house it lives in.

    Efforts like this you write about, and many others around the world, give some hope that more people are paying attention. But, we are very late getting the words spoken and the protests made. That shouldn’t stop us.

    Thank you for the diary.  

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