In the second line of the most sacred Jewish text, the Torah, God commands humankind in the Garden of Eden to act as God’s partner in environmental stewardship. Genesis 2:15 reads: “God took man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till and to tend it.” In the same way that humankind was obliged to till and tend the earth in the Garden of Eden, today as Jews we believe that we have a sacred obligation to be environmental stewards, not only “tilling” the earth, but also protecting it and “tending” to its needs.
As Reform Jews, this obligation found both in Genesis and throughout our text, is infused into all aspects of our social justice work. We act as environmental stewards along with our 900 Reform Movement congregations, our 2000 rabbis and our 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America in several different ways. As a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center, I work directly on ensuring that important policies to help reduce carbon emissions and provide support to those around the world dealing with the consequences of climate change pass in Congress. During our social justice seminars over the course of the winter, we educate over 2,000 Reform Jewish teens every year about renewable energy standards and throughout the year we work with our summer camps and youth movement to create environmental programming.
Climate change and social justice are important to me because I’m a Reform Jew, but I am not only attending the Teach-In for that reason. Alongside me at every Hill visit, next to the Religious Action Center on every sign-on letter, opinion article, action alert and briefing, stand leaders of other faith traditions in Washington, D.C. The Reform Movement does not work alone on climate change, but with Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and others from across the faith and denominational spectrum.
Combatting climate change is not something any one nation can do alone, nor is speaking out for emission reductions and adaptation any one moral voice can say alone. Part of why climate change is such a difficult issue to face is because it is so deeply trans-regional and international. Even if the United States reduced their carbon emissions by 100%, we would still struggle with overall rising global temperatures and sea levels, overall decreasing crop viability and diversity. In order to maintain the possibility of a habitable planet for our children and our children’s children, we must engage on the issue of climate change in partnership with other emitters around the world. So too must the faith community engage on this issue not as sole voices separated by distinct theologies, but unified in the common mission of protecting our earth.
For me, it is the interfaith element of climate justice work that makes the Religions for Peace USA Teach-In such an important and exciting opportunity.