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We must approach the challenge of Tu B’Shvat with vision and strength

After four tumultuous years, many Americans saw Inauguration Day as a turning point for our nation. The swearing-in of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and a new Congress marks a new chapter in U.S. history, but it should not — and can not — be seen as a “return to normalcy.” There is nothing normal about this moment.

In the last year, we’ve witnessed a deadly global pandemic, taken refuge from raging wildfires and destructive storms, participated in record-breaking mobilizations protesting police brutality and systemic racism, voted in a historic election and watched in horror as white supremacists attempted to stage a violent coup. These converging crises make clear what many of us have known for a long time: that our society is in need of a re-assessment.

Going back to “normal” is no longer an option. Addressing these existential crises will be the work of our lifetimes. As we enter the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “new year of the trees,” we reflect on what it means to be rooted in that work.

Scientists say that we have less than 10 years to get the world on track to zero emissions, an effort that will require the wholesale transformation of our energy, transportation, agricultural and industrial systems. Cutting emissions while ensuring a just and equitable transition that leaves nobody behind will require action from every sector of society. That means making unprecedented investments in clean energy and transportation infrastructure, keeping fossil fuels underground and unburned and planning for a just, equitable transition to this new economy.

After years of inaction, a newly elected administration and Congress face perhaps the most crucial inflection point on climate in history. What we do as a country in the next two years could set us on the pathway to a livable, just, and equitable future for generations to come — if we do it right.

Fixing the destructive environmental rollbacks of the Trump era will be a gargantuan task, but will not be enough. From rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement to cancelling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the Biden administration’s initial actions show promise and give us hope for what’s to come. But there is much, much more to be done. Our leaders will need to have the strength and fortitude to forge ahead, even as they face inevitable attempts to distract from, derail and dilute this kind of bold action.

The Jewish community must step up and join together with other communities in this crucial moment, calling for change and offering hikuz, or strength and encouragement, to our leaders. Jewish people have confronted existential crises before, survived and thrived. In this moment, we are summoned to action, to bring our voices, our spirit and our power to the fight.

In the first psalm, we are called to be “like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives.” This Tu B’Shvat, we must plant ourselves as trees, rooted with vision and strength, so that we may confront the climate crisis today and yield the fruit of a safe, just and sustainable world for generations to come.

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is Founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action

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