I found my soul in the depths of Prospect Park. I wasn’t really looking for it, per se, but it found me.
You see, I had been struggling with finding ways to counteract the mind-numbing effects of my digital habits (Instagram! Twitter! Facebook! Netflix! Email!) and found the solution in nature. In less than ten oxygen-filled minutes of strolling through the park, I forgot I was holding my iPhone. I didn’t even care about the mayhem that was my Inbox. It was like something clicked, and I knew that this was my salvation from the dark depths of an anxious, over-connected life.
There I was, feeling eternally grateful for nature. My morning prayers took on new meaning when I blessed the God who “spreads the land over the waters” and thanked Him for making “the wind blow and the rain descend.” How lucky am I that I get to dwell on this magnificent planet? I have always been concerned for the environment.
But lately, the current lack of alarm for our withering eco-system has been hitting me hard.
At some point during the eight hours I spent in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, it dawned on me: There is almost zero conversation in the Orthodox Jewish community about taking care of the environment. There I sat reading hundreds of pages of prayer, thanking God for my health, my community, my sovereignty. I vowed dozens of times to never forget that we are a special nation. Many of these prayers were vows, words of promise and spiritual appreciation. We have been given a gift so beautiful, so wondrous, so great and are lucky to have daily prayer as a reminder. Morning evolves into night and into morning again, seamlessly every single time. Water, a key to sustaining life, flows freely around the globe. The earth is filled with the necessities to grow the very foods which keep us alive. And here before us sits this great opportunity to physically demonstrate our appreciation for this giant, constant miracle that is all around us!
Some may even argue that pikuach nefesh [the Jewish principle that all must be done to save a human life] is at stake. A recent analysis shows that our administration’s current policies can endanger almost 1,400 lives per year. Rising sea levels can put millions of coastal residents at risk. The weather has been taking a deadly turn for the extreme, with scorching hot days, dangerous storm patterns and natural resources running low.
So where are the sermons urging congregants to waste less and recycle more? What’s with the lack of rabbinical classes focusing on our responsibility to preserving our home? We have been given a gift so beautiful, so wondrous, so great, that we give thanks for it all the time. Doesn’t it seem almost natural that preserving the Earth would be a requirement?
Together, we are a powerful force; helping those in need is probably one of the biggest obligations we have as a religion and a huge part of what makes our faith so special. When someone is in need of support, our communities are always prepared to step up and do whatever it takes to help that person get back on their feet. We pool together resources, offer immense emotional support and dish out constantly reminders that we are doing everything that we can.
Well, dear brothers and sisters, the earth is in need. She is hurting. And most of her cries are falling on deaf ears. It’s time that we step up to the plate and give the world—-our own home—-our all.
Start by supporting politicians who stand behind making real changes towards a cleaner future. Outfit your home with energy-efficient light bulbs. Ditch bottled water for a reusable BPA-free stainless steel canteen. Encourage your children to spend more time outdoors and enjoy this blessing so that they, too, can understand the importance of making greener choices. Politely encourage your rabbi to talk more about this responsibility next Shabbat.
We must do our best to ensure that our children have a beautiful place to practice their faith. This is a great opportunity to show our appreciation to our creator. What better way to prove you are grateful for a gift than to take care of it?
Take a few easy steps towards a greener lifestyle and couple them with prayer. Your blessings may speak loud, but pairing your thanks with actions will amplify them tenfold.
Sarah Sarway is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared on Well+Good, Nutritious Life and various Orthodox Jewish publications.
It’s Time For The Orthodox Community To Start Talking About Climate Change