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Jews are voting on climate like our lives depend on it

In this election, American Jews are voting on climate like our lives depend on it — because they do.

Over the past eight weeks, we — together with more than 800 other Jews and in partnership with more than 40 Jewish organizations — have been reaching out to voters across the country as part of Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2020 campaign.

Jews young and old, from across the country, have been gathering (virtually) twice a week to contact voters in key states, especially those experiencing immediate impacts of the climate crisis like triple-digit heat in Arizona, flooding in Michigan and frequent hurricanes in Florida.

We identified voters who are “climate-concerned” using research from Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication and matched this data to voters who are Jewish, as well as those who are infrequent voters. We contacted them to boost voter turnout and urge leaders to have the chutzpah to take bold action on climate change.

Dayenu volunteers, ranging in age from middle school students to baby boomers, have reached out by phone and text to voters across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

We set out with a goal to reach 200,000 voters. By election day, we have reached more than three quarters of a million voters.

By mobilizing both Jewish voters and infrequent climate-concerned voters, we are urging candidates and elected leaders to take climate seriously.

Why such an enthusiastic response to engage in Chutzpah 2020?

One reason is that Jews, confronting the painful truth of climate change, want to do something. Polls show 80% of American Jews are concerned about the climate crisis. We’ve seen this alarm and hunger in the Jewish voters we spoke with around the country. Jews responded to our message in record numbers, with double-digit response rates to text messages and calls asking Jewish voters to take action on climate in this election. Tens of thousands of people have committed to vote, to remind three friends to vote, and many have signed up to join the Jewish climate movement for the long haul.

Another reason Jews are voting with climate on their minds: many are feeling firsthand the impacts of the climate crisis. We’ve heard from Jewish volunteers and voters alike how climate-fueled heatwaves, fires, floods and storms are threatening their lives and livelihoods.

For me, Ava – a committed Dayenu volunteer and member of Jewish Youth for Community Action – motivation to act on climate comes from both my Jewish values and experience living in Berkeley. The recent fires make me really angry. My family went to Oregon to try to get away, but as we were driving, we got caught in other fires. We were wearing masks in the car with thick black smoke all around us. It was terrifying.

Being 16, I can’t vote, but I can encourage people who can. I’ve connected with 1500 people over text messages, which gives me a sense of my power and the impact of this kind of work. To anyone who is reading this, no matter your age, you have the power to take action.

Jews are also voting with climate as a top issue in part because we are a people primed to face hard truths, and we know that denying threats does not make them go away.

Furthermore, the pandemic has demonstrated how inadequate government responses can result in devastating outcomes. It has also revealed the deep inequity in how crises impact communities. Like the coronavirus, climate change will affect everyone, but its impacts are disproportionately experienced by Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. We understand that recovery from the pandemic must center justice and equity.

Regardless of who garners more votes, our elected leaders must respond to these crises not by turning away, but by recognizing the opportunity to envision and build a new, more sustainable, and equitable world.

Rather than sit on their hands or squabble as these existential crises tear through our communities, our leaders can respond to the pandemic and the climate crisis simultaneously by committing to 100% clean energy by 2030, holding polluters accountable for the environmental injustice they have wrought and investing in millions of well-paying clean energy jobs.

As Jews, we have faced existential threat before and each time we have survived by reenvisioning and rebuilding a different kind of future. Our journey out of Egypt, the destruction of the Temple, the Spanish Inquisition, life after the Holocaust — the list is long.

But most important is the concept of l’dor v’dor — the continuity of life, from generation to generation — which is central to Judaism. This foundational value is under threat, so Jewish climate voters are going to the polls to vote to ensure our collective future.

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is the Founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Dayenu is a national movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold action.

Ava Murakami is a high school student, climate activist, and member of Jewish Youth For Community Action (JYCA). She has volunteered with Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2020 campaign making calls and sending text messages to voters in key states.

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