Tuesday, January 12, 2021 | 28th Tevet 5781
Tomorrow night it’s Rosh Chodesh Shvat. The beginning of the beginnings. Next week a new president, a new government. The week after it’s Tu B’Shvat and the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. The almond trees will start to bloom. Then longer days, more sunlight, vaccines… it’s a whole new world.
Well – not entirely. Of course we have lives lost, structural racism, pollution and environmental destruction, people still sick from long-Covid. The new president and vice-president are gonna have to clean up a heck of a mess. (Much of it, of course, predating these last four years; too much of it, of course, made worse these last four years.)
In any case – we live poised between fear and hope. That is always part of life; it’s just that this last year it has been more so.
But the whole point of this season – of all of our new beginnings – is that we actually believe in hope; in an almost theological sense we have the intuition that the first step to recovery, of any sort, is to imagine its possibility. “That’s why vision is so important. We need a big vision. And then practical next steps.”
So, first of all: a great big thank you to everyone who supported Hazon in 2020. All our staff, all our board members, every funder from major to minor, all the foundation staff and federation staff and the people who give to federations – each and all of you: thank you. We’re coming into 2021 with ideas and energy and determination – and we couldn’t have done it without you.
And so to the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. It grows out of last year’s Urgency Of Now, in Seattle – memorable for me not only because it was a superb event, and I was speaking in honor of my father, just before his yahrtzeit, but also because, unbeknownst to all of us, it was the last time I spoke at a public event before the world closed down.
Kudos to Lisa Colton and Rabbi Josh Weisman and friends, who organized Urgency of Now, and have been the backbone of this year’s Jewish Climate Fest, together with staffers at Hazon and at Dayenu, who have anchored it.
The Climate Fest is the logical culmination of at least three generations of work, tracing back to the first environmentally-themed seder the year after Earth Day in 1970. In parallel tracks, each year more people have observed Tu B’Shvat in some way; more people have become alarmed at the different ways that we are damaging life on this planet; and each year it has become clearer and clearer that Tu B’Shvat needs to symbolize not just new buds on the trees, but also new commitments to action, of multiple sorts.
So the festival brings together more than a hundred presenters, a huge range of sessions and people and organizations, each of us alarmed by what we see happening in the world, each of us responding in different ways. This year is going to be a breakthrough year for the world. The US will recommit – I believe – to the Paris Accords. We’ll have fresh legislation and executive orders to protect national lands. Whether the actual words “Green New Deal” are spoken, I hope and believe that that’s where we’re headed – a governmental commitment to attempt to put the United States on the right side of history.
Where will we be in this? Where will you be, where will I?
At the heart of Hazon’s work, going forwards – and a solid take home from the many events of the festival – is the need for each of us, as individuals, to commit to make some further change in our own behavior; to give money and time to organizations working on these issues; and to raise our views, within the Jewish community, and beyond.
As institutions – as we dig out from Covid – we must use the period from now until the end of the forthcoming shmita year to develop coherent and ambitious institutional commitments to environmental sustainability – to education, and action, and advocacy.
So… we’re here to help. We hope to see you at the festival. Let’s commit to hope as a value – and to the actions and commitments that bring that hope to life.