by Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith
~ This year, as the sun sets on Yom Kippur, our prayers will reach a pinnacle of intensity as we recite the UnetanehTokef prayer: “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before; who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by a wild beast; who by famine and who by thirst… But repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, can remove the severity of the decree.”
The Unetaneh Tokef was written ages ago, perhaps as early as the first century, but it is eerily contemporary in the way in which it describes the life and death consequences of climate change. Although climate change is a new cause of death, the ways in which human beings are vulnerable, suffer, and die, are timeless. Death comes by water when floods result from devastating storms and rising seas. Death comes by wildfire when drought is worsened by climate change. Death comes by famine when rising temperatures turn farmland into desert.
The solution is in our hands. “Repentance, prayer, and deeds of kindness can remove the severity of the decree.” The Gates of Mercy are never closed. It is up to us as human beings to exercise our free will to change the course of history. The call to repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, is a personal challenge to every Jew.
Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist. Mirele created the Tikkun Mayim, a ceremony of repair for our relationship with water, and founded Jews Against Hydrofracking. She directed the Jewish Greening Fellowship, a network of 55 organizations committed to sustainability. She attended the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen and was a leader in the Jewish mobilization for the People’s Climate March in New York City. Mirele’s writings on Judaism and sustainability have been published in the Jerusalem Report, Jewish Week, Forward, Shma, and Huffington Post.