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Report from the GA: Jewish Environmental Session

On November 13, I had the honor of participating in a Jewish environmental session at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (JFNA-GA) in Baltimore. The breakout session was called “How to Transform Your Community through Jewish Environmentalism.” It was sponsored by the Green Hevra, the new collaborative network of Jewish environmental organizations in the United States. The Green Hevra had begun conversations about having “a session at the GA” months before, but it was Jakir Manela of the Pearlstone Center who finally got the event on the agenda and organized participating Jewish environmentalists to participate.

The structure of the conversation was intended to help audience members hear about the exciting new successes of the Jewish environmental movement in the Federation space. So, the panel included presentations about the Jewish Greening Fellowship (a program of the UJA-New York), the Associated Sustainability Initiative (Baltimore), and federation based activities in Cleveland. The panel also included a presentation by Rafi Rone of the Meyerhoff Family Foundation in Baltimore, explaining what motivates funders to invest in Jewish environmental organizations and activities. The session also included an unexpected visit from Michael Siegel, new chair of the JFNA, and brief breakout discussions on Jewish Environmental Education and Greening Your Jewish Community.

Other Jewish environmental leaders at the session included David Krantz of the Green Zionist Alliance, Jonathan Lane of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and Nati Passow of the Jewish Farm School.

My role in the session was to lead the breakout session on “Greening Your Jewish Community.” During that session, many participants expressed a common theme: I want my community/Hillel/synagogue to go green, but where do I start? What tools can I use? Several Jewish environmental organizations had provided suggestions to address these questions, and I had the opportunity to share about several resources from the field, including:

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) is focusing on energy with the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign. The goal of the campaign is for Jewish institutions to reduce their energy use 14% by 2014, which is the beginning of the next Shemittah year in the Jewish calendar. COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network is cultivating a team of Jewish energy champions that will lead energy reduction and advocacy initiatves in synagogues and Jewish organizations throughout the country. COEJL’s Jewish Energy Guide will provide a comprehensive approach to the challenges of climate change and energy independence, with policy, communal action, Jewish teachings, and tips for reducing your energy use. COEJL is providing webinar briefings and a community organizing training, March 13-14 in Washington, DC, in partnership with JOIN for Justice.

Hazon uses food as a platform to create innovative Jewish educational programs. The Jewish Food Education Network (JFEN) is a way for educators from around the world to connect with, share and learn from each other with the help Hazon. JFEN Membership is open to all, whether you’re a full time Jewish educator or an individual looking to connect to a larger community. Currently, there are over 160 members of this growing network. JFEN members have access to training and networking opportunities with other educators in their field, and have the first access to Hazon educational resources.

Canfei Nesharim has been coordinating a Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment, with comprehensive learning materials (articles, study guides, videos and podcasts) on a wide range of topics where Jewish wisdom can inform today’s environmental challenges. Fourteen materials have been released to date. The project will conclude on Tu b’Shevat 2013, when Canfei Nesharim/Jewcology will launch a Year of Action, focusing on the mitzvah of bal tashchit and the actions of saving energy and reducing food waste. Jewcology also offers a Public Narrative Training to empower Jewish environmental leaders to educate their communities.

The Jewish Farm School is developing Feast Forward, a web video series that raises awareness around important food and environmental issues. The series promotes Sustainable Agriculture, Eco-friendly Recipes, Environmental Action and Delicious Jewish Traditions. Through downloadable online resources for individuals and educators, Feast Forward provides additional Jewish and environmental content connected to the theme of each video. The first video, “A Prayer for Rain,” has already been released, and future videos will be available soon. The target audience is young adults interested in food related issues.

On behalf of Jewcology and On1Foot, I also had the opportunity to announce the launch of the new Online Jewish Environmental Source Library at On1Foot! Jewcology and On1Foot have collaborated to create a comprehensive library of more than 400 Jewish source texts, along with ready-made source sheets and divrei Torah, to empower Jews to learn about Torah and the environment. This is one of the many resources granted to the entire Jewish environmental field through our Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment. The new resource was launched on that day, timed for the JFNA-GA.

This session was also one of my first opportunities to try “live-tweeting” from an event. Using the Jewcology twitter account, I reported on the conversation, scrambling with my fingers to capture the most salient thoughts and engage the twitter audience. Here is the Storify with some of the tweets and retweets from this activity.

For me personally, the opportunity to be part of a GA session on Jewish Environmentalism was a great opportunity to meet new people, promote my work, and launch the new Online Jewish Environmental Source Library in the context of the JFNA-GA. I also got to learn new things, like how to live-tweet and how to use Storify!

I want to offer my huge thank you to the ROI Community for making my participation in this session possible via a “Go Speak” Microgrant. It was great to participate – thank you ROI, for making this possible!

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