Big Questions

By Nigel Savage

Thursday, November 29, 2018 | 21 Kislev 5779

Dear All,

In 2000, a small group of people believed (a) that we had to try to address environmental sustainability in the world, including some big big – BIG – challenges; (b) that the Jewish community needed to be part of this process, and by the way (c) if we do it right it will strengthen Jewish life as well.

We’re called Hazon (Hebrew for “vision”) because it seemed apparent, even then, that if we were going to put our attention on big, intractable, and depressing challenges, we would need to do it with a sense of positive vision.

The good news, 18 years on, is that those beliefs are still good beliefs (in a moral sense) and true, practically speaking. The impact of Hazon has grown very dramatically these last 18 years. We’re delivering 35,000 person-days a year of immersive experiences. We’re supporting the Israeli environmental movement in significant ways. In Boulder and Denver and the Detroit area, we’ve started to create and connect the synapses of Jewish sustainability, so that a wide range of initiatives around food and sustainability are integrating into Jewish life in profound ways. At Isabella Freedman, we’re modeling what a vibrant and more sustainable Jewish community could look like, year-round.  And through the JOFEE Fellows and the JOFEE Network Gathering and a range of other initiatives, we’re helping to catalyze this field, across the country. All this is good – but not nearly good enough.

Because the questions that must be addressed in response to the larger issues we face today – and how we individually and collectively respond to climate change and environmental sustainability – are huge.

Some of these questions are strategic questions for Hazon, and we’re in the midst of trying to tackle them over the next four months or so. What are the specific impacts we seek to have? Where could we or should we be most impactful? Are there things we shouldn’t be doing, or things we’re not doing that we should be doing, or things we could or should be doing differently? These questions are important and we’re digging into them at the moment. (If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email me with your suggestions.)

But some of these questions aren’t for us – they’re for you, you being anyone who is reading this right now. By way of background:

This is an article about how climate change is fueling wildfires – including the ones in California that have killed nearly a hundred people and destroyed thousands of homes, not to mention the Jewish summer camps that have burned down.

This is a summary of the IPCC report – the recent intergovernmental report making clear that climate change is happening faster than we expected, and that the world’s governments, companies, and citizens need to act much more decisively if we are to attempt to avert human tragedies on an enormous scale.

This is the brilliant and disturbing essay by Bill McKibben in last week’s New Yorker, which you absolutely should read if you have not read yet.

And this is Rachel Jacoby-Rosenfeld in The Forward yesterday – appositely titled, Our Country Is Burning, It’s Time To Act.

In response to all this, it isn’t okay to say, oh, this is too big, I can’t do anything about it. It isn’t okay to say, I don’t have enough time, or money, or knowledge. Jewish institutions need to walk the walk. We need to move from kashrut policies to food policies, integrating our values – and environmental impact – in all that we do. Will you help make that happen? We need to integrate environmental education into Jewish education, across the board. Will you help make that happen? We need to raise the Jewish community’s voice in public space on these issues. Will you help make that happen?

We need you to support this organization, so that we can build the impact of this work on a multi-year basis. Our growth these last 18 years is important, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible – or necessary.

So as well as anything else that you’re doing or supporting, we’d like to ask you to (a) support Hazon in your year-end giving – in as significant a way as you possibly can; (b) bring the Hazon Seal of Sustainability to your synagogue or Jewish institution; and (c) join with us in the task of rebuilding and renewing our Isabella Freedman campus.

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Chanukah,