A Year of Environmental Teshuva

ראש חודש אלול תשע״ט  ——–  Rosh Chodesh Elul 5779, August 29th, 2019

Dear Rabbis and Clergy,

Hazon is entering into a year of Environmental Teshuva. The backdrop is that:
  1. We really are in a climate crisis, and this year, and even this summer, feels like a tipping point of sorts – not only in terms of extreme weather events – this past July was the hottest month on record – ever, but also in relation to people’s consciousness of them.
  2. A growing number of people in the Jewish community feel strongly that we ought to be “doing something” about this – but what exactly we do and how we make an impact is sometimes less clear.
  3. This is why at Hazon we intend to raise our game in the coming months and years. We’re here to catalyze and support Jewish institutions and Jewish leaders, as Jewish tradition compels us to respond to this crisis.
  4. In addition: most people have some sense that food is central to Jewish life and Jewish tradition. But they’re far less aware that food choices – especially in relation to industrial meat, industrial dairy, and food waste – are one of the top two anthropogenic drivers of climate change.

And so we’re not only encouraging Jewish people to start to change how they – we – eat, we’re also encouraging Jewish institutions to join the Hazon Seal of Sustainability, to commit to future change, and as part of that to develop a food policy for the institution and not just a kashrut policy, narrowly construed.

And we invite you to join the Hazon Rabbinical Council. When you join you will receive a free copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book We are the Weather. It is a superb and readable and very Jewish explication of how and why and in what ways our food choices matter.

We want to help you to prepare for the chagim, and to connect the chagim with what amounts to a planetary tza’akah, a crying-out, in relation to the climate crisis. Here’s the timing:

Sept 19th
We are the Weather is published – and there’ll be lots of press about it.

Sept 20th
The global climate strike. There will be events around the world, and accompanying headlines, and in many places a significant Jewish presence.

Sept 21st

Sept 29th
Rosh Hashanah (as you know!) and the start of the chagim.

This period of course runs all the way through Yom Kippur to Sukkot (with its agricultural themes) and then the prayer for rain, at the end; and then it’s parshat noach….


So we invite you to read the book, and then respond both in the short term (i.e., from now through to the end of the chagim or parshat noach) and in the medium-term (i.e., after the chagim).

In the short term

  • Become a member of the Hazon Rabbinical Council and receive a free copy of We are the Weather;
  • Request a book from us and read it;
  • Encourage your community to attend or participate in the climate strike events, and to do so as members of the Jewish community;
  • We’re particularly encouraging people to use signs and slogans with the hashtag #EnvironmentalTeshuva – because this year indeed needs to be the year of environmental teshuva;
  • We strongly invite/encourage you to use the book and/or these wider issues to give one or more sermons over the yamim nora’im on the topic of environmental teshuva (and if you do so, we invite you to share it with us so that we can share it with others as part of our resource bank for rabbis and spiritual leaders;
  • Action points include:
    • Jewish tradition teaches that learning leads to action. Learn about what’s going on.  
    • Commit to personal changes of behavior; and 
    • get involved in your synagogue or school or JCC and help to found or strengthen a Green Team;
    • If there are teenagers or young adults in your community – encourage them to follow in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, and go ahead and take leadership – make clear to them that you welcome and invite them to do so;
    • Feel free also to encourage people to get involved with Hazon and to go to our website for more information or resources.
    • Finally – suggest that people read We Are The Weather – and invite them to join a book club, after the chagim, to discuss it with you.


In the medium term

  • We hope you’ll be in touch, after the chagim, and talk with us if you’d like to launch the Hazon Seal of Sustainability in your community;
  • If you’d like to do that book club on We Are The Weather, let us know. We’ll send you a discussion guide next month;
  • Please support Hazon’s work: please send us a gift, or indeed a further gift. A growing number of rabbis are supporting our work and indeed are proud and excited to do so, and we hope that you will want to be one of them, as we strive to grow our impact quite substantially;
  • Join our High Holiday Sermon Swap and Learning Webinar on September 9th;
  • Please pencil in May 15-18, 2020 – that’s the date of our Rabbis’ Retreat at Isabella Freedman, and you’re warmly invited.

Relating to our efforts, feel free to be in touch with Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, who’s our Rabbi-in-residence here in NY; Becky O’Brien, based in Boulder, CO, who as of this fall will be our new Director of Food & Climate; and Rabbi Nate DeGroot, who’s our Spiritual and Program Director in Detroit.

I also want to welcome and thank rabbis Robin Damsky and Aaron Philmas who have become the new chairs of our Rabbinical Advisory Board. (To clarify: rabbis who give us a donation are part of our Rabbinical Council and we warmly thank you for that. The Rabbinical Advisory Board comprises rabbis who, in addition, are involved in helping us to advance this work. If you’re in any way interested, please be in touch with Isaiah.) 

Feel free to be in touch with any of them, as well as with me, if you have questions or need help with anything. 

If you write a sermon feel free to send it to us; we’d love to see that. (If you’re interested in having us share it, either publicly or for other rabbis, let us know too.)

I want to end with a line from Jonathan Safran Foer:

“One of the things that has made me most proud of being Jewish is our people’s emphasis on action. More than our thoughts and our feelings, we are defined by our choices… We must not be content with words. We must change our behaviors, as individuals and as a community.” 

And so Hazon is here to support you and your community in taking action.

With all best wishes – chodesh tov, and shana tova.


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