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It’s time for Jews to mobilize for climate action

In the last month, record heat waves descended upon the Pacific Northwest, killing hundreds. Concurrently, wildfires are spiraling out of control, while once-in-a-generation flooding hits the Midwest. Last week, New York City’s air quality declined precipitously as a result of the fires more than 3,000 miles away. At this point, it is inarguable that climate change is devastating our natural world, our economy and our society; truly, the climate crisis knows no boundaries. We simply cannot wait any longer to address this unfolding disaster.

Right now, Congressional negotiations are unfolding on a broad infrastructure package alongside a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which together carry a unique opportunity for Congress to make historic investments in clean energy, environmental justice and sustainable transportation. Dayenu, a national organization started a year ago to mobilize a Jewish climate action, was created to meet this moment. Dayenu is building an intergenerational movement of American Jews to confront the climate crisis with decisive action and spiritual courage.

As leaders of the New York Dayenu chapter, we are mobilizing our neighbors to engage in climate action. Last week, our chapter delivered Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a letter signed by more than 300 Jewish New Yorkers demanding that the upcoming infrastructure package invest in good-paying jobs and transition our country towards an environmentally just future. Given the threat posed by climate change, we believe this package must include investments in energy efficiency, clean energy,transportation, targeted funding to combat environmental racism, a national Clean Electricity Standard and support for the care economy that will allow a diverse clean economy workforce.

As Congress debates, we believe in these two truths:

One: Jews care about the climate and have a responsibility to act.

Less than two weeks ago, our community marked Tisha B’Av— a day of mourning and catastrophe for the Jewish people. But in the days following Tisha B’Av, we mark the Shabbat of Comfort and move from devastation and loss towards healing and hope. We must heed the words of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaims God’s message “Comfort, oh comfort, my people,” to find strength and power to act.

The values of climate justice are embedded in Jewish teaching and tradition. Our commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world), our understanding that the world rests in human hands to protect and our responsibility to help those in need give us a responsibility to act in the face of the climate crisis. And according to a recent survey by the Jewish Electorate Institute, we know that a large contingent of American Jews already see climate change as one of their top issues. We believe that as Jews, it is incumbent upon us to make all the difference we can, while we still can.

Two: climate action cannot wait any longer.

Every day, we witness the growing consequences of decades of federal inaction on climate change. Without immediate interventions that rapidly transition our country towards a clean energy future, our society faces escalating destruction and dislocation. No one is immune and no one person’s individual actions are enough.

To be sure, many of us are each trying to do our part — by recycling, carrying reusable water bottles, biking and driving electric vehicles, divesting our money from fossil fuels, flying less and reducing meat consumption.

But these individual efforts do not address the structural dynamics that fuel climate change: unregulated emissions by large corporations, an aging electric grid and an economy predicated on the unsustainable extraction of natural resources from the planet. If we are to move towards a more sustainable, livable and just future for everyone, then America must initiate large-scale, federal policies to limit the effects of climate change and address the ongoing realities of environmental racism and inequality

We have an opportunity to stand together as Jews in this critical moment. Let us follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and help pave the way towards a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Anne Weisberg and Rachel Landsberg are the co-leaders of the Shomrei Ha’Adamah Dayenu Circle in New York City.

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