A Sustainable Jewish Nation

This week we celebrated Lag B’Omer, the Jewish “bonfire” holiday. Many of my environmentalist friends oppose Lag B’Omer celebrations due to the heavy air pollution caused by the large and numerous bonfires. Yet I actually like this holiday, despite its negative environmental impact. I find great value in sitting together under the stars, around the fire, sharing song, food, and conversation. Perhaps it’s the proximity to natural warmth, or maybe it’s the essence of sitting together in a circle…but time after time, when I sit by a bonfire, I feel like my heart opens

I experienced this kind of heart-opening by the fire at closing of the Siach conference in the United States.

The Siach Inititiative, on whose steering committee I serve, is leading a series of conferences that bring together environmental and social justice leaders from Israel and Jewish communities around the world. The aim of the Initiative, which is isupported by the Jewish Federation of New York and operated by three organizations representing Israel, the US, and Europe, is to create an active global Jewish social-environmental network. At the first conference, which took place earlier this month, Evonne Marzouk (Director of Canfei Nesharim) and I (Director of Teva Ivri) led the conference’s Sustainability track.

The first two days of the conference were, from my perspective, a visit to “la-la land” – or, as one of the participants put it, a visit to “Jewtopia.” We were a respectable group of activists, sitting together amiably, all agreeing with each other, dreaming of a better world, all with Jewish text study woven in and breathtakingly beautiful scenery in the background.

Then came Shabbat afternoon, and we began to discuss the place of Israel in the picture. And suddenly, “Jewtopia” began to crumble. Within a minute, we were divided into two camps, and I heard opinions that I had never encountered before.

It turns out that many Diaspora-based environmental and social justice organizations experience an emotional disconnect from Israel. This is sometimes due to our diplomatic position on certain issues. It can also result from a perceived taboo on thinking critically about Israel, due to fear of being seen by other Jews as “helping our enemies.”

At the same time, it became clear that many Israeli environmental and social justice activists don’t identify themselves as “Jews” – rather, they are “Israelis,” citing a sense of belonging to the State of Israel, and not the People of Israel, as the central ingredient in their identity.

During these heated discussions about national identity and priorities, it occurred to me: When each one of us is disconnected from what defines the other’s identity, we are essentially alone.

This understanding blew me away during that Shabbat conversation, and has stuck with me since then. At this point in history, we do not have the privilege of giving up on each other.

Jewish Sustainability – Think Globally, Act Locally

Teva Ivri works to promote a sustainable way of life that stems from our Jewish heritage. Our concept of Jewish Sustainability is based upon Israeli local culture, since sustainability must be a function of the natural climate and local culture. Our philosophy also includes the broad perspective of global Jewry – we believe that the rich heritage of Israel holds the key to establishing a sustainable way of life for the future. Teva Ivri works to identify the “codes” of sustainability within our complex tradition, to offer practical ideas for change, and to further the values of sustainability in Israel.

In light of the Siach conference, I understand that Teva Ivri’s concept of “Jewish Sustainability” must hold within it an additional meaning – the continuity of the Jewish people.

The relationship between sustainability and continuity is a significant one. The concept of sustainability deals with fundamental questions of how we should live in our world, in the realms of society, environment, and economy. The Jewish people have dealt for generations with precisely these question, which lie at the core of its existence.

Perhaps the time has come to step back for a moment from our separate worlds of environmental and social action and return to the fundamental discussion of what it means, Jewishly, to “think globally, act locally.” Or, to use the terminology of HaRav Soloveitchik, what is the nature of our “Brit Hagoral” (covenant of Abraham)? How does our common Jewish history link us, and how do we forge a common Jewish destiny (Brit Yeud) as agents of environmental and social change in our respective Jewish communities?

The end of that Shabbat was optimistic. After we talked, listened, and felt sad and hurt (at least in my case), we sat together under the stars, around a fire built by the Israelis, and regrouped. Perhaps it was the proximity of the natural warmth, or maybe it was the essence of sitting together in a circle…but there, sitting by the bonfire, among my people, my heart once again opened.

Blessing us to do and succeed, together – Einat Kramer, Teva Ivri

1 Reply to " A Sustainable Jewish Nation "

  • Mirele Goldsmith
    May 30, 2011 (3:07 pm)

    Einat, you have captured the essence of Siach in this post. I too feel that I need to recommit myself to strengthening the relationship between our communities. Sustainability and continuity are two sides of the same coin, and I believe that Judaism provides us with the tools to achieve both. I look forward to continuing our work together.

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