When I was a teenager, my grandfather would set aside mailings from the Sierra Club to give to me when I visited. He knew I cared about nature, and that I identified as an environmentalist. (I never quite knew what to do with the mailings. I think I cut out a few photos from a calendar to hang on my wall.)
As I grew older, Pa – a first generation Jewish immigrant, who went from rags to riches in a generation – asked me how I could make a living from environmental work. I remember saying something vague, because I really didn’t know the answer.
I went to college and majored in Environmental Studies. On visits to my grandparents, I was able to answer more of Pa’s questions. He began to see the potential for me to support myself. And he began to see the consciousness of our country around air, water, conservation, and climate take on new depth. When I told him I wanted to be a rabbi, Pa sat me down and asked me to explain why it was important to me. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what he said. “I understand. You’re a humanist with a Jewish spirit.”
It’s a phrase that has guided me in my rabbinate since that moment, and as I reflect this Elul it is particularly poignant. Pa died in 2010, 33 days before my Nana, and four years before I was ordained. I am now in a fulfilling pulpit position, and I am making a living in a meaningful and joyful job. I am also working as a person, a Jew, and a rabbi to mobilize voices of faith on the climate crisis. They would have loved to see this.
And they would have loved to witness this moment in human history, as finally, finally, the concerns of the environmental movement begin to move into mainstream political and social spheres. We have so far to go, but we have also made great strides.
May we move from strength to strength in our work for a better world, inspired by those who came before and loving those with whom we walk.
Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi at Temple Sinai of Brookline. She was ordained by Hebrew College in Newton, MA, and is a leader in the interfaith climate movement in Boston.