Teshuvah and Environmental Sustainability

By Nigel Savage, President and CEO, Hazon

What does it mean that Hazon is the Jewish lab for sustainability? What does it mean to strengthen Jewish communities by turning Jewish life outwards to address the challenging environmental issues of our time?

As one of the hottest summers in history draws to a close, it’s worth focusing some of our teshuva on issues of environmental sustainability.

In the 18 years since Hazon began, we’ve been at pains not to bang people over the head. I felt that this was both arrogant and pedagogically ineffective. As an organization we rarely seek to tell anyone what to do or not do. And yet the range and seriousness of the environmental issues (read: crises) we now face requires of us clarity and new determination.

The “environmental” issues are intertwined and complex. They require something that is exceptionally hard for us to accept: an acknowledgment of our own insignificance. In the face of great hubris, of all sorts, across the western world and the Jewish world, this is not a bad place to start doing teshuva. My own behavior and yours won’t fix our problems. But none of us is free to abstain from doing the right thing.

As we stand in synagogue and apologize for our behavior and promise to do better this year, that has to start with our own actions, both practical and symbolic. We need to stop using disposable plastic bottles. We need to quit eating industrial meat. We need to drive and fly less and cycle and walk more. These are the sorts of actions that (a) reduce our own environmental footprint; (b) signal proper behavior to ourselves and to others; and (c) will make us healthier and save money to boot.

Our initial actions don’t have to be huge. It’s ok to acknowledge that we have limited time, or limited money. What’s most vital is that we start.

The process of teshuva is ongoing.  We don’t say, oh, I won’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year – I don’t have anything to fix. I won’t go to shul on Yom Kippur; I have nothing to repent for. We know that’s not how it works. As individuals we step forwards and back, we make good decisions, we falter. This is human nature.

Hazon has been at the forefront of this work for nearly two decades. We’ve grown strongly, over that time, thanks to your support and that of so many others. And yet – truly – what we’ve done thus far barely scratches the surface. There’s so much that we should do and that we can do.

So may 5779 mark a turning point in our determination to address the greatest issues of our era.

Shana tova – wishing you a happy, healthy, peaceful and more sustainable year.

About Becky O'Brien

Hazon is America's largest Jewish environmental organization. We create healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond. Hazon in Colorado is led by Becky O'Brien, Boulder Director and Sarah Kornhauser, Denver Director.

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