Atlanta rabbis are among those leading the charge in a petition to fight climate change also signed by cantors and spiritual leaders from across the U.S. and beyond.
Put together by The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, the rabbinic call to action has amassed 500 signatures
The petition, titled “Elijah’s Covenant Between the Generations to Heal Our Endangered Earth,” was authored by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center, and a well-known activist. Most recently, in addition to the petition, Waksow was arrested at the “Friday Fire Drill” climate protests in Washington, D.C., alongside other rabbis and Jane Fonda.
“I consider Rabbi Waskow to be one of our rabbinic Jewish elders, who has been a leader in fighting for civil rights and environmental justice,” said Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim. “I really appreciate his work and want to amplify it, particularly in places like the South.”
Four Atlanta rabbis signed the petition as of press time: Lesser; Pamela Gottfried, also of Congregation Bet Haverim; Alexandria Shuval-Weiner of Temple Beth Tikvah; and Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
The petition itself is not short, including prayers, calls to action, and references to proposed climate legislation. It opens: ”We Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish leaders and teachers, see ourselves as the heirs of the ancient Hebrew Prophets, including the last, whose words echo through the ages: ‘I [YHWH] will send you the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and utterly destroy the Earth.’ (Malachi 3: 2324).”
Shuval-Weiner said she was enthusiastic about signing the petition in December, when it first began accepting support.
“I believe deeply that the world and everything in it is sacred and interconnected. When we do not respect and care for our earth, we diminish God’s presence in the world,” Shuval-Weiner said. “As rabbi I feel that it is my religious duty to raise awareness of our Jewish imperative of bal tashchit (do not destroy) [in] a more earnest and urgent manner by sharing Jewish teachings and challenging behavioral shifts.”
Gottfried emphasized that she believed climate action among, if not the most, important issues facing the world today.
“It’s something that, as a human, personally and professionally, I didn’t even think about it. Of course I signed the letter,” she said.
Lesser explained that he believes the idea of protecting the earth is one that can appeal to Jews of any denomination, from Orthodox to secular.
“You don’t have to stretch. Once you look at the Torah through the lens of reverence for the land and creation, so many things begin to emerge,” he said. “What might have seemed to be the background is really the foreground.”
Both Lesser and Shuval-Weiner noted that their congregations have also been very active in reducing their footprints, mixing words with actions, including within their own synagogues.
Beth Tikvah initiatives, for instance, have included reducing single-use plastic, increasing energy-efficiency and reducing meat consumption at events, Shuval-Weiner said.
Lesser explained that environmental activism is not new to his congregation.
“We were the first congregation to join Georgia Interfaith Power & Light,” he said, referencing the faith-based environmental nonprofit. “We were also one of the first recipients of their award for educating our congregations about sustainability and responsibility.”
Lesser noted that while not every rabbi or congregation’s name appears on the petition, the numbers were promising and were just the tip of the iceberg.
“It helps us understand that this may be the beginnings of a movement and not just something that’s a one-off,” he said. “The kind of things that I talk about may be specific to Bet Haverim, but there are a lot of congregations that aren’t signing onto a petition, but they are creating their own covenants.”
To learn more about the rabbinical effort, visit https://theshalomcenter.org/content/elijahs-covenant-new-rabbinic-statement-climate-crisis.
- Eddie Samuels
- Brooke Rosenthal
- Local News
- The Shalom Center
- Climate Change
- Global Warming
- Rabbi Arthur Waskow
- Rabbi Joshua Lesser
- Rabbi Pamela Gottfried
- Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner
- Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal
- Jan Fojnda
- Fire Drill Protests
- Congregation Bet Haverim
- Ahavath Achim Synagogue
- temple beth tikvah