As a Jewish environmental educator, people often ask me if my work more Jewish or more environmental. I usually refuse to answer the question in the simplistic form in which it’s asked, and instead offer an answer about the complete interconnectedness of the material… But, today, just for you, Jewcology readers, I will answer the original question with a little secret.
While at my core, the cause I am working toward is environmental sustainability, the work is primarily Jewish education. Nature, ecology, environmental responsibility, are all tools to teach a Jewish value of responsibility for self, people, humanity and all Creation. Fortunately, environmental ethics are also a way to teach responsibility for self, community, humanity and all species. So the two really are in complete alignment and my conscience is clear.
So today, instead of focussing on my environmental work, I will focus on Jewish education and what inspired me to remain connected to my Judaism.
In my role as a Jewish educator, I am faced daily by the challenge of what excites people and connects them to Klal Yisrael, the community of Israel, and Jewish practice. I work to encourage Jewish identity and practice by exploring how Judaism is relevant in the lives of my peers. To do that I use the tools that have so successfully worked for me, in my Jewish journey.
My personal path to Jewish identity has been infused by a strong sense of community, past, present and future, and by ethics and personal practice. I grew up in a spiritually supportive Jewish Renewal home and attending summer camp and youth group. Both environments fostered in me a true sense of community, personal action and dedication to tikkun olam (repairing the world.)
Community – Being part of a larger community of passionate Jews who care about the same things that motivate me, and who share spirit and learning, has always provided me with the tools to connect to my Jewish identity. As I grew, my sense of community grew to include all of humanity and Creation, and it was exciting to see that there was always a community of Jews dedicated to these issues for me to work with.
Jewish ethics and morality – The lessons of Gimilut Chasadim and Tzedakah (acts of loving kindness and righteousness), tikkun olam, environmental responsibility and more, which permeate the bible and Rabbinic literature guide me in my struggle to find a proper moral compass. Though I am not a halachic Jew, I believe in these ancient teachings and using them as guides to find answers to the litany of challenges facing humankind and all of Creation.
Personal practice – Judaism provides me with a structure and community in which to find personal spiritual and ethical practice. For example, the holidays provide me with an opportunity for reflection and action structure throughout the year on a variety of important themes, and the act of saying a blessing before I eat provides me with the tools to connect the act of eating to the structure of Creation.
The face of the Jewish community is changing. For many, Jewish identity is not about synagogue or belief. It is about community and action. My current Jewish motivation is to help others see the beauty in Jewish ethics and morality, create their own personal practices, and help them find or found a community of likeminded caring individuals to mutually nurture their Jewish practice and identity for the betterment of themselves, their communities, humanity and all Creation.