Rabbi Diana Miller
Rabbi Diana's Shabbos MessageNovember 22, 2013
I look forward to seeing some of you this evening at the Mishpacha dinner and service, and some of you tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate Shabbat and study contemplative Torah with Abraham Liebson.
The late Nelson Mandela taught, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” The world has lost a courageous and moral leader. Mandela’s example and his actions have forever changed our world, and will continue to be a blessing and an inspiration even as he has left this world on the physical plane. At our Chanukah gathering on Wednesday evening, I gave the following words which I will repeat here, because they are in invitation for us as a community to engage in or deepen our connection to how we treat our planet:
On the Shabbat of Chanukah, we read an amazing passage from the Prophet Zechariah in the Haftorah. He is talking in the period of Babylonian Captivity, and imagining a Great Menorah when the Holy Temple is rebuilt. Yet this is no ordinary menorah but rather, a living Menorah, a tree that bears sacred Light. The original menorah was part of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This future Menorah is gold, with a bowl on top, seven lamps, and seven pipes leading to the seven lamps. By it, are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on the left side. Zechariah goes on to explain that the two olives trees are feeding their oil directly into the Menorah with no help from human intervention. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, activist, author and founder of the Shalom Center, reminds us that the Torah’s original description of the Menorah in the desert shrine has branches, cups shaped like almond blossoms, petals and calyxes. Waskow calls this Menorah, the one Zechariah is referring to a Tree of Light, a Green Menorah, because it is self-sustaining. Waskow and other rabbinic leaders want to re-fashion Chanukah into a festival of sustainablity modeled on the core rabbinic legend of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days. Waskow sees the Rabbinic and the Prophetic visions of the Green Menorah becoming a symbol of a covenant to renew the miracle of Chanukah in our own generation by cutting oil consumption and learning to rely more on renewable, sustainable sources of energy. There is so much darkness in the world right now around sustainability. Our earth, our waters, animals, and we humans are in jeopardy due to climate changes and an addiction to consumer goods that use up energy. Just recently the Warsaw Climate Change Conference ended without any meaningful action on climate change, even as a deadly typhoon hit the Philippines and tornadoes blasted through America.
According to the Earth Institute, today Americans discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5 percent of it is recycled and 7.7 percent is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, which create electricity or heat from garbage. The rest ends up in landfills where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water. It’s estimated that there are also 100 millions tons of plastic debris floating around in the oceans threatening the health and safety of marine life. Across the globe, 2 out of 10 people do not have access to safe drinking water, and even in the U.S., many states face water shortages and droughts. Meanwhile, Americans use 24 gallons of water each day to flush their toilets—approximately 5.8 billion gallons. As the global population continues to grow and climate change results in more water crises, where will we find enough water to meet our needs? In the U.S., we spend billions of dollars treating water to drinking water quality when we use only 10% of it for drinking and cooking, then flush most of the rest down the toilet or drain or we buy other water in plastic bottles. These are just a few of the examples in the United States, the leading consumer of energy.
According to a piece in the Jerusalem Post by Yosef Abramowitz, this Chanukah, a record 2.8 million cars clogged Israeli roads and filled up on more than 4 billion liters of gasoline since the last Festival of Lights. This means that the descendants of the Maccabees spent about NIS 30 billion on oil for transportation, with a chunk of it going to regimes that don’t exactly appreciate the idea of religious freedom – especially for Jews. He said, “It’s as if the Maccabees decided to buy their oil from the Greeks.” Abramowitz, a brilliant entrepreneur who is working to harness solar energies in Israel and around the developing world said, “If Judah Maccabee were alive today, he would be driving from Modi’in to the Western Wall in a Better Place car charged with solar power.” Existing mechanisms for global environmental change worldwide are not keeping pace with climate change and biodiversity loss.
Let’s look to our tradition for some wisdom. Ba'al Taschit is the Torah's prohibition on wasteful or pointless destruction of property or resources. The Talmud elucidates this principal and gives examples of using less energy when possible. As for Chanukah itself, early scholars wanted to know, should one start with eight lights and work down to one? Or, start with one and work your way up? Kit Kennedy points out, “If you’ve ever lit Chanukah candles, you know the answer: Start with one and work up. The reason is meant not just literally but metaphorically: During a dark time, such as the one we face now with climate change, it’s best to increase the amount of light in the world. Chanukah comes at a dark time of year to remind us, perhaps, that miracles are possible. They require some dedication—in fact, the word Hanukah is derived from a Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate”—and perhaps a bit of Divine spark, too.” Where can we find light right now in this disastrous time of wasteful consumption? We are looking for the light in this darkness. Here are three examples of organization that are shining and nourishing people and the Earth.
1) Energiya Global was co-founded by American immigrant Yosef Abramowitz and got its start after Abramowitz and colleagues built the first utility-scale solar array in Israel in 2011. That event sparked lots of international press, and Abramowitz’s original company, Arava Power, was inundated with inquiries and requests from around the world. Energiya Global calls itself “a for-profit company with a non-profit soul.” Kit Kennedy describes Energiyah as follows: “EG’s think-big idea is this: By 2020, to bring as much as 10,000 megawatts of pollution-free solar power to developing countries. EG is planning clean electricity for up to 50 million people who currently go without, or, instead, depend on high-polluting fossil fuel systems such as dirty diesel generators or kerosene cook stoves or lamps. In the process, Energiya Global hopes to help lift many of these people out of poverty and address the darkness that global warming increasingly presents.”
2) Some American public schools are beginning to use sustainable, compostable plates and cutlery. The NY Times reported, “With any uneaten food, the plates, made from sugar cane, can be thrown away and turned into a product prized by gardeners and farmers everywhere: compost. If all goes as planned, compostable plates will replace plastic foam lunch trays by September not just for the 345,000 students in the Miami-Dade County school system, but also for more than 2.6 million others nationwide. That would be some 271 million plates a year, replacing enough foam trays to create a stack of plastic several hundred miles tall. Urban Food School Alliance, a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies. The alliance members — the public school systems in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, Fla. — are betting that by combining their purchasing power, they can persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier and more environment-friendly products at prices no system could negotiate alone.” Where else can we find the light?
3) The Teva Learning Center works to fundamentally transform Jewish education through experiential learning that fosters Jewish, ecological, and food sustainability, protecting the earth, and being mindful of waste. According to its website, “Teva was founded in 1994 with the philosophy of immersing participants in the natural world and providing structured activities to sensitize participants to nature's rhythms, help them develop a more meaningful relationship with nature, and deepen their own connection to Jewish practices and traditions. This process also facilitates personal growth, community building, and a genuine commitment to Tikkun Olam, healing the world. A decade later, Teva's focus expanded to include additional attention to issues of food sustainability as an aspect of the natural world. Teva programs are designed for children ages 2 - 17 years old and educators of children. More than 100,000 individuals who have benefited from our direct programs cover the spectrum of religious affiliation and age.”
As we can see from the three models above, when people come together with a vision for change, real transformation can take place. I would like to form a Green Team at KHN, one that has its pulse on what is happening in the larger Jewish Environmental movement, inspired by eco-theology. We can understand what we can do to make KHN, our own homes and our daily habits more ‘green’, and then try to work at a larger scale, perhaps finding out who to contact in government, who to lobby, who to partner with, where to give our energies, where to invest our resources and where to divest. For example, in North America alone, the Jewish Federation endowments hold $15 billion of investments in the oil sector overshadowing investments in Israel and in alternative energy.
As we heard before, the rabbis debated how to light the Menorah, and this debate could be instructive to us. Shammai argued for the first night to have the full nine candles burning, reducing a candle each night. In other words, start off the holiday bright, and end in darkness. Hillel, however, won, arguing that our mission is to celebrate the increasing of the light. Abramowitz said, “…just as Judah the Maccabee successfully led a small group against a world power, it would be nice to see an enlightened Israel –[and I would add the United States] - take on Big Oil by swapping oil for light or other natural modes in transportation and energy. Now that is a miracle worth fighting for and hopefully celebrating.” Please join me on the KHN Green Team, as we raise our awareness and find ways to contribute to the healing of the Earth. ***Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 215-804-6626 if you have ideas for our KHN Green Team or would like to attend a meeting to brainstorm ideas. I have already received some great ideas from those who came to the Chanukah celebration.