Jewcology: A Clearinghouse for Jewish Environmental Awareness

A Collaborative Effort That Expands the Range of Information for Activists

By Michael Kaminer

Published April 12, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The website Jewcology.com launched late last year with guns blazing. A statement from 135 alt-Jewish heavyweights, from foundation executives to academics, supported its creation. A $50,000 grant from the Jerusalem-based ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators funded its development. The global press trumpeted its debut.

But the site, which calls itself a “transformational Web portal [that] promotes and advances Jewish environmental awareness and action to the international Jewish community,” has gotten off to a slow start. Nearly five months after its November 30 debut, Jewcology has attracted just 305 registered users. While its Idea Box section promises “resources shared by Jewish environmentalists around the world,” some of the contributed content dates to 2008. And its Communities pages, billed as “a space where you can gather like-minded Jewish environmentalists to discuss issues and collaborate on issues of common concern,” are sparsely populated.

Idea Exchange: Evonne Marzouk is Jewcology’s executive director.
Courtesy of Evonne Marzouk
Idea Exchange: Evonne Marzouk is Jewcology’s executive director.

“I’d like to get 1,000 registered users by the end of the year,” founder and executive director Evonne Marzouk told the Forward from Silver Spring, Md., where she works as a Web administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International Affairs. “Once we reach a certain number, the momentum will start building on its own.”

The project sprouted from the high-powered annual networking summit that ROI hosts for 120 young Jewish leaders who apply for a coveted spot — and an expense-paid trip — to Jerusalem. Established by Tulsa-based philanthropist Lynn Schusterman in 2005, ROI encourages “projects carried out within local Jewish communities and universal initiatives based on Jewish values,” according to its website. Nineteen ROI members teamed up for Jewcology’s launch; the crew included activists from Israel; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; Miami; San Francisco; Charlottesville, Va.; New Jersey; Vancouver, British Columbia; Shanghai, and Santiago, Chile. The project won ROI’s first-ever grant for such a collaborative effort.

“ROI told us they appreciated the collaborative nature of it,” said Marzouk, who’s also founder and executive director of Canfei Nesharim, an organization that provides a “Torah-based” approach to understanding environmental issues. “I’ve read studies that found young, Jewish environmental activists had no function for training or networking among themselves. That’s part of what Jewcology addresses.” Canfei Nesharim has posted a significant portion of Jewcology’s content. Partner organizations — the Jewish environmental group Hazon, “peace and justice” advocates the Shalom Center, the Green Zionist Alliance, and the umbrella group Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life ­— supply the rest.

“All of the content on the site has been shared by organizations that created it. The site is, in effect, owned by the Jewish environmental community,” Marzouk said. “People aren’t creating content for Jewcology, Jewcology’s just a place to read all of it.” The point is to create a clearinghouse that expands the range of information that Jewish activists can access. “Material from a Reform Jewish organization, for example, will never get to an Orthodox Jew who’s concerned about the environment unless the information’s in a common space,” she said. But Jewcology is “in the process of creating new and original content” of its own, Marzouk added.

For Sybil Sanchez, COEJL’s director, Jewcology’s potential lies in “cross-fertilization among movements, among organizations and with engagement by individuals that want to be involved.” COEJL maintains its own blog on Jewcology.

But Sanchez admits that Jewcology “does still need a lot of development, it’s obvious. This is only the first phase of the site. As more people us it and provide feedback, it’ll become more useful.”

Sanchez said she also thinks that “there has to be a clear way for involved groups to provide feedback and direction, and an easier way for us to use it for best practices” for the site to serve its purpose. Jewcology “has potential, but hasn’t reached it fully,” she said. “It remains to be seen how it’s going to develop, but I have high expectations.”

Funders at ROI, in the meantime, say they are pleased by Jewcology’s rollout. “We see Jewcology as a long-term project which will become a household name among Jewish educators and Jewish communities,” No’a Gorlin, ROI’s grants manager, told the Forward in an e-mail. “It has the potential of really becoming a central resource, a one-stop-shop for anything that is Jewish and environmental.”

And Marzouk is equally sanguine about Jewcology’s future. The project’s mandate from ROI includes creating “regional leadership summits” that will attract at least 100 participants each; the training emphasizes “public narrative” and “using stories of our lives” as a way of engaging audiences. The first such training took place at an annual gathering in March on the grounds of Kayam Farm in Baltimore, which provides agricultural education through a Jewish lens. Jewcology will offer its second workshop June 2 at the 17th annual Teva Seminar on Jewish Environmental Education, which takes place in Cold Spring, N.Y.

But a Community page dedicated to the Kayam Beit Midrash, as the training was called, has just five members, including Marzouk. And a “Baltimore/D.C. Connections at Kayam Beit Midrash 2011” page is empty.

Marzouk is unfazed. “There’s the organized Jewish environmental world, and then there’s a whole bunch of people doing great stuff,” Marzouk said. “There needs to be a better way for us to talk to each other.”

Michael Kaminer is a frequent Forward contributor whose writing also has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.