This past Shabbat, we read the last chapter of Bereishit, the book of Genesis. On Sunday and Monday, we celebrated MLK weekend. And this coming Shabbat, we start the book of Shmot, the book of Exodus.
Bereishit is a story of individuals – a person, a family, a heritage.
With Shmot, we begin the story of a people.
We make this journey – from an individual to a family to a community – every year. It’s core to the Jewish narrative and to the human process – born into a family, individuating and figuring out our own unique journeys, then binding our own lives with those of others, in multiple ways.
Each of our organizations has its own history, its own foundation myth, its own mission and vision. We have separate boards and staffs and CEOs. Yet we support each other in multiple ways, and we share many common values. We’re each involved in one or more of the elements that in acronym we summarize as JOFEE – Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Education.
That’s why in this week in which we transition from Bereishit to Shmot, we wanted to send out an email together. We share values, we support each other’s work – and we share a common concern for our world. And it’s why we’re launching a new website – JOFEE.org – which is a homepage for the work that we are doing.
We each are significantly involved in educational work. We touch people’s lives directly. We frame the Jewish calendar with reverence and with the intuition that its many gifts are relevant to our lives today. We publish educational curricula. And we encourage action; the changes in behavior that derive from encounters with Jewish tradition and with the world that sustains us.
This coming weekend, the call of parshat Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) summons us in a slightly different way. What is our shared voice? What is our communal vision? What is our national vision? How together can we make a difference in the coming months and years?
The weekend of parshat Shmot sees a new administration begin in Washington, D.C. Like all people of goodwill, we wish the new administration well. Since the days of the Talmud, Jewish communities have inserted prayers into our Shabbat morning services for the welfare of the government – that it be just; that it treat minorities well (Jews amongst them); that it ensure peace within the nation. We share those hopes and prayers in all of our communities.
But we’re a generation that doesn’t just believe in prayer by itself. MLK weekend reminds us of how prayer, action and advocacy are interwoven. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., taught us to pray with our feet. So as America sets out on a new journey, we want to suggest a few steps to take in the next three months:
- Celebrate Tu b’shvat. It’s Tu b’shvat, the new year for trees, in 24 days – the Friday night and Shabbat day of February 10th and 11th. Tu b’shvat is a time that we think about Jewish tradition as eitz chayim hi, the tree of life that sustains us. Tu b’shvat leads to Purim and thence to Pesach, on successive full moons. Let Tu b’shvat this year be the start of a ten-week period devoted to thinking about the world that sustains us and asking critical questions.
- Observe the Shabbat of Earth Day. This year, right after Pesach, Earth Day falls on Shabbat. We’re inviting every synagogue in America, every JCC, every day school, every camp, every Federation, every Jewish institution and every Jewish family to celebrate the Shabbat of Earth Day. Visit JOFEE.org/education
And then don’t just celebrate. Take the learning and the celebration and act:
- Start greening your home or community. Host a sustainable Shabbat, take an energy audit, or build a garden. Visit JOFEE.org/action for first steps.
- Stand up. There is a major climate mobilization In Washington, DC on the Shabbat after Earth Day, April 29th. For some people it’s too far to travel, and for some people Shabbat is not a time for marching. If you can’t come to the march, we encourage you to visit Congressional offices in your home districts. But we invite you to sign up if you are interested in learning more about the mobilization.
The start of Parshat Shmot sees Moshe Rabeinu, our teacher Moses, in the quintessential beginnings of a leader’s journey. He sees injustice – a Hebrew slave being struck by a taskmaster. He wonders what to do. He looks left and right – which is to say, he doesn’t just dive into action; he is cautious and thoughtful, and he wants to figure out both if it is safe to act and if others are willing to act.
And then he acts decisively.
So as this week unfolds, as we begin a new book of the Torah and as our new national narrative gets under way, may we act thoughtfully and decisively. May we celebrate. May we live in peace. And may we genuinely help to create a more sustainable world for all.
Nigel Savage, Hazon
Adam Berman, Urban Adamah
Zelig Golden, Wilderness Torah
Jakir Manela, Pearlstone Center