We had a chance to catch up with Moshe Kornfeld, the Founder and Director of Colorado Jewish Climate Action, who is excited to talk about the upcoming Colorado Jewish Climate Summit on February 5, 2023 at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 S. Ivanhoe Street, in Denver.
Question: Hi Moshe. For starters, what is Colorado Jewish Climate Action’s mission?
Moshe Kornfeld: Colorado Jewish Climate Action seeks to transform Colorado Jewish life by bringing climate action to the forefront of the Jewish communal agenda. Working with secular, interfaith, and frontline allies, we pursue just solutions to the climate crisis. We are closely aligned with Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a national organization that works to “secure a just, livable and sustainable world for all people for generations to come by building a multi-generational Jewish movement that confronts the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.”
Question: So, what are the goals of the Climate Summit on February 5th?
Moshe Kornfeld: We selected Action, Justice, and Community as our key terms for the climate summit.
We know that American Jews take the climate crisis seriously. In a recent survey of Jewish voters, climate change was selected most often as a top priority issue. We seek to inspire individuals and communities to get off the sidelines, to translate that concern into concrete action through education, advocacy, and community greening initiatives. CJCA is focused on systemic change, on achieving bold climate action at the scale that science and justice require.
Jews are commanded to care for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow—that is, for all those who suffer the burdens of social and political marginalization. With this commitment in mind, the Climate Summit program will emphasize the role that social justice must play in the climate movement. While we all suffer from the climate crisis, historically marginalized communities suffer disproportionately. For example, Colorado has notoriously bad ozone pollution, which is worsened by higher temperatures. Communities with majority populations who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or have high concentrations of recent immigrants are often located closer to industrial zones and experience much more severe consequences of ozone and other forms of air pollution than communities that are located farther away. As Jewish climate activists, it is incumbent upon us to work in partnership and dialogue with those communities and to emphasize social justice in our education and advocacy work.
Lastly, it was important for us to bring people together, to create a space for people to connect with one another around this critical topic. The Summit is a multigenerational event and includes a teen track that is being led by the Jewish Youth Climate Movement as well as robust programming for kids ages three and up. We hope that this gathering is generative and that participants share ideas with one another and seek out opportunities to collaborate. We want to create community around a shared commitment to a just and sustainable future.
Question: Let me ask, why is Tu Bishvat a great opportunity to gather?
Moshe Kornfeld: Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday that has taken on layers of significance over time. Beginning with a brief mention in the Mishna (a second century CE Jewish legal text) as the new year for the trees, essentially a tax holiday indicating when tree-tithing should occur, the holiday has been reimagined throughout Jewish history. Medieval kabbalists developed a mystical liturgy, the Tu Bishvat seder, that continues to be celebrated today. Zionists embraced Tu Bishvat as a day to celebrate the cultivation of the land through tree planting ceremonies. Jewish environmentalists have gravitated toward Tu Bishvat as an ecological holiday and as an opportunity to highlight Judaism’s deep ecological wisdom and our shared responsibility for Creation. In light of that history, Tu Bishvat seemed like a great time to convene the Summit.
Question: Finally, why is CJCA an important priority for you?
Moshe Kornfeld: I am deeply concerned by the ways in which we are spoiling our beautiful, life-sustaining planet. Colorado Jewish Climate Action emerged from a desire to create a just and livable world for my children and for all children for generations to come. I am often asked, what is the value of a specifically Jewish climate action group? My answer to this question is both personal and practical. Throughout my life, I have participated in diverse Jewish communities, worked for Jewish institutions, and studied Jewish cultures. When I began exploring ways to get involved in climate action, Jewish climate activism was a natural extension of my previous experiences. Additionally, I felt that I could be most effective working within the community I know best.
I believe that every community needs to respond to the climate crisis. We need a broad-based mobilization of society to do the hard work that lies ahead. As a deeply engaged Jew who also cares deeply for justice and for our natural world, I feel privileged that I get to do this work with Colorado Jews and with our secular and interfaith partners.
For more information about Colorado Jewish Climate Action, or details about the upcoming Summit, here are some links to follow: