Every day, hundreds of Jewish environment and social justice activists work tirelessly to make the world a more just and sustainable place.
We talk of Tikkun Olam, highlighting the Jewish People’s responsibility to the entire world. We use phrases like “Think global, act local.” We speak the language of globalization, raising awareness about the realities of a ‘flat’ world in which the clothing we wear were produced by sweatshops in far-off countries, in which one nation’s environmental policies affect the quality of life in a different continent, in which the internet brings the suffering of people thousands of miles away into our own homes.
And yet, few, if any, opportunities exist for global conversations among these activists.
The world is getting smaller and yet the miles – geographical, cultural, political, and otherwise – separating Jewish environment and social justice activists in Jerusalem from those in New York or London don’t seem to be getting any shorter.
All the while, we are missing precious opportunities for sharing information and best practices, we are duplicating efforts instead of maximizing them, and failing to articulate global visions for Jewishly-inspired social change – visions that have the power to inspire and galvanize the international Jewish community and the world at large.
Why have these kinds of conversations so rarely happened? What is the significance of having Jewishly-rich conversations? Can we move beyond the geographical, cultural, and political differences that divide us to work towards a common purpose and, if so, how? What can we learn from colleagues and organizations half-way across the globe? What models of successful international collaboration already exist?
These are the kinds of questions that Siach: An Environment and Social Justice Conversation is seeking to explore.
The Siach network aims to create:
- Conversation: an open dialogue about points of similarity and difference facing Jewish environment and social justice activists from around the world, and a nuanced understanding of Jewish Peoplehood and Israel engagement with those for whom the pursuit of social and environmental justice is a defining characteristic of their identities
- Connection: meaningful, long-term relationships among Jewish environment and social justice activists
- Cooperation: ongoing, year-long collaboration and partnership
The Hebrew word “siach” refers primarily to “discourse” and is used in the Bible to describe conversations of anger, intimacy, bitter complaint, and sweet praise. By engaging in honest discussion and exchanging ideas, resources, and best practices with colleagues located half way around the globe, we can find new and surprising ways to approach familiar issues in our own backyards.
Yet, Siach also has a secondary meaning: a small bush or shrub. This alludes not only to the environmental aspect of this network, but also to the fact that conversations initiated at the conferences will remain grounded in the small details of the world, while grappling with the big questions of social change.
The Siach gathering in 2015 was focused on Shmita – the Biblical Sabbatical year – as a frame to explore parallel, overlapping conversations around social justice around the world. We aimed to capitalize upon the Siach network to involve both people and organizations, across borders, in a wide range of events and programs that taught about the shmita year as part of the shared cultural heritage of the Jewish people and engender a conversation – and concrete action – about implications of shmita for the world today.
Visit the Shmita Project to learn more about the radical challenges of the Shmita year and to download resources including primary sources, program ideas, and the Hazon Shmita Sourcebook.
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