In the weekly Torah portion of Noah, God promises never to destroy humanity again. However, God never said anything about humanity destroying itself. That's part of the premise behind a new initiative this year to imbue environmental action and awareness with a grounding in Jewish tradition.
Jews will read the portion of Noah on Saturday, October 24, and new Jewish environmental organization Teva Ivri has been creating a program of lectures, study and awareness raising activities around that weekend. Several Jewish religious leaders abroad have made a similar call to recognize the modern-day applicability of the Noah story.
Coincidentally, US environment activist Bill McKibben and his "350" organization have chosen that same day to hold events all across the globe highlighting the need to begin a long haul away from a fossil-fuel-based consumer culture. He has been racing around the world getting people to hold events on the same day, ahead of global climate change negotiations to be held in Copenhagen in December.
While this is the first such Sustainability Shabbat, Teva Ivri hopes to turn the weekend into an annual occurrence.
"The environmental, social and financial crises all stem from the same cause - consumer culture," Teva Ivri founder and director Einat Kramer told The Jerusalem Post last week.
To combat such a pervasive culture, Kramer believes that environmental activism needs to have roots within the Jewish tradition that flavors Israeli culture.
"[Judaism] is the root culture, it's local, it stems from the basic identity of Israel's citizens," she said.
A veteran activist who began her environmental work young, Kramer believes that the environmental communities and faith-based communities are both mature enough now to combine their efforts.
"I grew up in a mainstream national religious household. Ten years ago, I saw two great communities [the environmental and the religious] doing great things, but not talking to each other. All of the groups are now much riper to make the connection between earth and heaven," she told the Post.
Kramer founded Teva Ivri a year ago after completing the Environmental Fellows Program at the Tel Aviv-based Heschel Center for Environmental Thinking and Leadership. She is also an alumnus of the pluralist Kolot Beit Midrash Tehuda leadership program in Beit Shemesh and a former activist with the university student group Green Course. When Rabbi Michael Melchior lost his bid to return to the Knesset in February, he agreed to become honorary president of Teva Ivri.
"He [Melchior] has been supportive and involved from the very beginning," Kramer said.
The organization provides educational consulting for those interested in exploring the junction of Judaism and environmental activism. It specializes in helping communities achieve environmental goals.
Two weeks from now, more than 50 communities will mark the Shabbat with lectures, study sessions, sermons and other events. Teva Ivri has created a source packet to enable communities and individuals to study on that Shabbat and will offer a free daylong workshop on Tuesday at the Nature Museum in Jerusalem to help prepare for Sustainability Shabbat.
There will also be main events in Jerusalem featuring Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur and others. While many events will be in Hebrew, there will be simultaneous events in English, Kramer said. In addition to lectures, there will be tours and a fair, she added.
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"These days, it's not enough for one person to be Noah, everyone needs to become Noah," Kramer declared.