Climate Emergency: Stepping up as Trustees of God’s Creation

Today we celebrate the creation of the earth – God’s creation of the seas and the skies, the trees and the flowers, all of earth’s creatures, from the tiniest insect to the mightiest ocean whale; to ourselves, human beings formed, according to our tradition, at the 11th hour, just before sunset on the 6th Day of Creation. Today, Rosh HaShanah, we celebrate the gift and the wonder of the magnificent, beautiful and fragile web of life that is planet Earth.

Today we celebrate the creation of the earth – God’s creation of the seas and the skies, the trees and the flowers, all of earth’s creatures, from the tiniest insect to the mightiest ocean whale. But our earth is burning, our farmlands scorched; our oceans flowing with plastic, our inhabitants choked by air pollution and drowned by floods and hurricanes. The Amazon is on fire.

Today we celebrate. And yet, my heart is breaking. In my ears I hear the anguished plea of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16 year old teen climate activist who has inspired hundreds of thousands of children and young people across the globe to leave their classrooms and to protest against the inaction of world leaders, of governments, and of adults in the face of climate emergency.

I cried in shame when I heard Greta speak on Sir David Attenborough’s BBC documentary, ‘Climate Change, The Facts’ that aired in May. I cried in shame at my own inaction, and the inaction of our generation that is leaving a legacy of climate emergency to our children and grandchildren.

I filled with awe and admiration when I heard Greta address the UN Climate Action Summit in New York last Monday. In trembling fury she delivered her message to world leaders:

"This is all wrong,’’ she said. ‘’I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!’

I filled with awe and admiration. This is speaking Truth to Power! This is stepping into the tradition of our ancient prophets, reading the signs of today and warning of the consequences our choices and actions will bring tomorrow. This is the ‘righteous indignation’ that Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi and prominent civil rights campaigner in America in the 1950s and 60s, speaks of as a necessary human response to injustice of every kind.

Greta’s fury echoes the warnings of the ancient Biblical prophet Malachi: "A day is coming that will burn like a furnace; its remedy will be the sun's rays and wings." (Malachi 3:19-20).

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s too easy to feel powerless. How easy to feel, ‘I can never make a difference.’ This Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, when I beat my breast in the Al Chets, confessing our sins both individual and communal, I will ask for forgiveness for not feeling up to the task, and for not doing enough in the face of climate emergency.

But Jewish tradition demands of us personal responsibility, and calls upon each of us to act. Our tradition is a heritage of hope, and teaches that each and every action makes a difference. The power of community is that, when we organise and act together, our impact is magnified manifold.

What actions are within our grasp to take in the Jewish New Year 5780, how which choices can we change before their consequences reach tipping point and become irreversible?

First, we are charged with learning the facts, following the science, and raising awareness – our own and that of others.

We are charged with greater mindfulness in everything we do. This Rosh HaShanah, as we dip our apples in honey (or date syrup for the vegans!), we are urged by Extinction Rebellion Jews to pause to remember that the bees who made our honey and other insects are disappearing from our planet faster than all other species. Without insects to pollinate, how will we grow the food we eat?

We are charged to speak out. David Attenborough, veteran natural historian, never planned to be a voice for raising awareness on climate emergency. But, in his own words, half a century after making his first documentaries of the natural world, he returned to film polluted oceans and bleached coral reefs, melting ice caps and decimated Amazonian rain forest. This reality has driven him to turn climate campaigner in his 10th decade.

Finally, we are charged to take action, from the smallest to the greatest choice and act. From the decision, when we shop, to avoid buying fruit and veg that has been air-freighted; to cutting down on flying; to planning on an electric vehicle next time we buy a car.

Each individual act makes a difference. But together, our impact is greater.

As a community, what action is within our grasp in the coming Year?

Many Progressive and Orthodox synagogues have joined Eco Synagogue – a project inspired by Eco Church which now has over 500 participating churches – with Finchley Reform, Finchley Progressive, New North London Synagogue and Muswell Hill United amongst the participating synagogues to date. Eco Synagogue, endorsed by the Board of Deputies, helps communities to get greener, assessing the energy-efficiency of synagogue buildings, switching to renewable energy providers, and encouraging members to be more environmentally responsible. Would you like to step up to partner with me in bringing Eco Synagogue to SWESRS? If yes, come and speak to me!

The devastating floods here at home at the beginning of September were dramatically highlighted at the dam at Whayley Bridge, not far from where I grew up in Manchester. Over the next 10 years the Woodland Trust plans to plant 64 million trees in the UK to combat climate change. Would you like to step up and help our community make a difference, partnering with ELELS, our Liberal neighbours in the area, to plant trees with the Woodland Trust on Mitzvah Day in November? If this speaks to you, then please, come and speak to me!

If you would like to partner with like-minded members in setting up a SWESRS Eco Task Force, or if you have any other ideas and suggestions that you are willing to take action on – come and speak to me!

Today we celebrate the creation of the earth – the gift and the wonder of the magnificent, beautiful and fragile web of life that is planet Earth. According to our tradition, God tasked human beings as Trustees of God’s creation, charged us with tending, guarding and protecting Earth, our only Home. My friends, we have reached the 11th hour. This Rosh HaShanah, may we all step up to fulfil our responsibility as Trustees of God’s creation. Before it is too late.

Ken yehi ratzon