Monday, April 22, 2013

"Interfaith Power and Light" group connects religion and ecology to focus on Global Warming

by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom

(reprinted with permission from Rabbi Gershom's blog at

A religious ecology group called Interfaith Power and Light recently sponsored a nationwide "preach-in," focusing on global warming and climate change, and our religious responsibility as stewards of God's Creation. A very nice segment about this group aired on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly in connection with Earth Day this past weekend, called Religion and the Environment. Featured are members of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations that are focusing on this issue.

Extended interviews with some of the people in the episode are also available online at PBS:

Jewish: Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb,  leader of Adath Shalom synagogue in Washington D.C., a congregation that had become a model for green energy initiatives.

Christian: Reverend Sally Bingham, founder of Interfaith Power and Light.

Muslim: Sarah Jawaid  director of Green Muslims, a relatively new organization seeking to re-connect with Islamic teachings about caring for the environment.

Also mentioned in the PBS segment (to give both sides of the issue) is an anti-ecology video called Resisting the Green Dragon, put out by a  bunch of extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists.  I link to them here only because I think we need to know our enemy. "Know what to answer the unbeliever," says the Talmud.  In this case, the "unbelief" is outright denial that climate change exists or that we are responsible for taking care of God's Creation.  The group also claims that developing green energy is oppressive to the poor -- a stance that I find absurd.  Their full video is not free to view online, but believe me, the 12-minute preview is all you need to get the gist.  UGH!!!

I also find it really strange (or shall we say ignorant?) that they would call ecology a "Green Dragon," given that dragons are a positive symbol of wisdom in Chinese philosophy -- very different from the nasty dragons of Christian mythology that were slain by medieval knights.  One does not kill a Chinese dragon.  In fact, Chinese dragons were once believed to control the weather, and offending a dragon could result in droughts, floods, and famines -- definitely issues connected to global warming.

Now granted, that's just mythology, but such symbolism can be powerful.  So I have no problem with being labeled a Green Dragon -- let's turn the pejorative into a compliment!  And maybe this right-wing group should be called Green Ostriches, since they are putting their heads in the sand about a threat to our planet that affects everyone and everything living on it.

Unfortunately, right-wing Christians are not the only ones with their heads in the sand.  I have run across a lot of climate change denial in the Jewish community as well, especially among the Orthodox, who tend to lean to the Right politically.  I have more than once been told by fellow Hasidim that global warming is a hoax invented by Al Gore.  One of the reasons I founded this blog was to reach out to my fellow religious Jews and say, "Learning Torah includes ecology, too -- if 'the Earth is the Lord's' (Psalm 24:1), then we are offending God by polluting and destroying it."

And so, for my part in Earth Day today, here is the link to my short video "Saving Our Imperiled Planet: Part 1, Earth and Torah,  which deals with why Jews today are often so disconnected from nature and the environment, and my own journey toward reconnecting with the Earth.  There are both historical and spiritual reasons for this disconnect, as well as the very practical reason that most Orthodox Jews nowadays live in urban environments where there is little contact with the outdoors.

I encourage you to check out all these links, and give some serious thought today as to how you are relating to nature within your own spiritual practice.  Let's make every day Earth Day!

(Yonassan Gershom)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nature Knows No Political Parties

By Rabbi Yonassan Gershom

(Re-posted here with permission from Rabbi Gershom's blog at

There is a saying in the Talmud that "Once the sword is let loose in the land, it does not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty."  Perhaps a corollary to this should be:  Once a storm is let loose in the land, it does not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats.
Radar map of areas
 affected by Hurricane Sandy,
October 29, 2012
I am referring to the hypocrisy of  the 36 Republican Senators who voted against federal aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy,  yet previously voted for -- even demanded! -- similar aid for disasters in their own states. (See a list of who they are and what they previously voted for).  In Jewish numerology, the number 36 is "double life," but theirs was hardly a humanitarian decision.

To me this vote was the height of hypocrisy.  It makes me wonder why anybody would vote against helping their fellow Americans recover from the worst storm system to hit the East Coast since we have been recording the weather.  Was this in retaliation for New York City Mayor Bloomberg's support of Obama and acknowledgement that global warming is real?

If that sounds like some sort of paranoid conspiracy theory, consider the fact that in 2011 the Republicans on the House Energy Committee voted unanimously to deny the existence of climate change. This was part of a concerted campaign on the part of  the Tea Party to de-legitimize global warming in the minds of the public, starting right after Al Gore won the Nobel Prize for "An Inconvenient Truth." (Watch the PBS documentary "Climate of Doubt")  And they came close to succeeding -- until Hurricane Sandy hit and demonstrated what the scientists have been predicting all along:  Manhattan was going to end up under water.  Suddenly climate change seems very real after all.

This time the water receded, but if the polar ice caps continue to melt, the flooding of the Coast could  become permanent.  2012 marked a new low in the amount of polar ice since the advent of the satellite era (when we could observe the Earth from space.)  And no amount of denial is going to stop the big meltdown if we don't stop pouring CO2 into the atmosphere.

You can't vote science out of existence.  The universe is not a democracy, it simply is what it is.  Nature is no respecter of party politics.  Had we listened to the warnings that scientists have been sounding for decades, we might not be having these devastating (and very expensive!) super-storms now.  I have argued before that climate change -- not Obamacare or Medicare or whatever -- is the biggest threat to our economy.  Those who resist aid to storm victims are often the same people who have been trying to convince us that global warming is a hoax.  But nature does not listen to votes on congressional committees.  Nature just marches on.

It's not too late to begin changing our polluting ways, although turning the situation around is going to take a long time -- if it is even possible at this stage.  Meanwhile, the very least we can do is to help those who are in the path of the storms.

Shame on those 36 Republican Senators!