Jewish Youth Climate Movement: Organizing the Jewish Community Toward Climate Justice

As young people, we have inherited a world of climate chaos, environmental destruction, and social injustice that threatens our very futures. While we did not create these issues, we have the unique position and power, as valued members of the Jewish community and in broader society, to raise our moral voice as leaders of the charge towards climate justice.

As Jews, we are adept survivalists, having weathered many oppressive storms before. We must reinvigorate our Jewish tradition and inspire social change by rising up collectively against the climate crisis.

Jewish Youth Climate Movement, a program of Hazon, was founded in 2019 to help the Jewish community do exactly that. We are one of the first GenZ-led organizations in American Jewish history and the only national youth-led organizing movement dedicated to combating climate change and environmental injustice from a Jewish lens.

At Jewish Youth Climate Movement, we draw motivation from each word in our name to build a better world:

Jewish: Judaism is historically an earth-based practice. Judaism also teaches us that “justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), as our people have done bravely throughout history for both our own and our allied communities. As a people connected to the environment and dreaming for justice, we must pursue a sustainable and equitable world for all.

Youth: JYCM recognizes the innate power youth wield to create a ripple effect that brings our families, institutions, and communities along with us, ultimately steering the direction of the entire Jewish community.

Climate: As a movement, JYCM is catalyzing a cultural shift that makes taking collective action towards climate justice a central and defining feature of Jewish identity in the 21st century.

Movement: The severity of the climate crisis demands action on the scale of a mass movement dedicated to creating a more equitable global community.

In our first year, we brought together 25 influential and creative founding Leadership Board members from across the U.S.; developed JYCM’s strategic approach, frameworks, and values; ran a series of public programs, trainings, and campaigns; and established 29 local chapters (KvutzahGroups) at Jewish schools, synagogues, institutions, and cities across the United States. We engaged over 20,000 people through programs, campaigns, social media, and our monthly newsletter.

Now, with our foundation built, we turn toward organizing around Shmita, the year-long biblical commitment to land rest and related justice that occurs on a seven year cycle. The Shmita cycle began on the evening of September 6 (1 Tishrei), Rosh HaShanah 5782. Our Shmita Campaign seeks to translate the transformational, systems-based structure of Shmita into our modern context, to rearticulate what it means to take action Jewishly toward climate justice.

JYCM will work in partnership and community with our institutions to pursue Jewish-centric climate justice action that adheres to the Shmita Commitments listed below.
  1. Make a climate crisis and justice plan, including plans for education, community engagement, public communications, energy transition, advocacy, and direct action
  2. Appoint a climate crisis coordinator, committee, organizer, etc. to inform and oversee your institution’s climate crisis and justice plan—include youth in this coordination team
  3. Present regular progress updates (through meetings with JYCM, written reports, or other sorts of communication) on your institution’s climate crisis and justice plan; foster ongoing collaboration with JYCM and Jewish climate organizations
  4. Frequently deliver and participate in climate-related D’var Torahs, learn-ins, trainings, holiday programming, public messages, childhood classroom education; for these engagements, draw from Jewish tradition and history, emphasize the systems of oppression that created the climate crisis, and amplify equity-based solutions
  5. Learn about and participate in advocacy and actions around local and federal climate policies and legislation
  6. Educate your congregants and community members about the sovereignty of the peoples indigenous to land we live on, and build partnerships with native communities (and other frontline communities) around pursuing climate justice
  7. Start a JYCM kvutzah at your institution, or conduct outreach to synagogues and youth groups in your area (and across your network) to recruit youth to build kvutzot; support young Jews in becoming leaders in this intergenerational mobilization for climate justice
Picture this: it is 2023, and tens of thousands of Jewish people all over the country are taking action with their communities to fight for a livable future. We are beginning to understand our specific stake in the climate crisis as a Jewish people, and the role we can play in stopping it.

It all started when some teens who were a part of the Jewish Youth Climate Movement began JYCM KvutzahGroups, or chapters, in their local synagogues, JCCs, Federations, camps, day schools, towns, and cities. With support from JYCM’s national leadership board, they recruited their peers, trained them in climate organizing, and together they started to talk to their institution about how to help it center climate action and worked with them to fulfill the Shmita Commitments.

Soon, they were mobilizing their communities to everything from supporting climate bills to partnering with local Black- Indigenous- and people of color-led organizations to improve equitable food distribution in the area to plugging into local, regional, and national days of action. Before long, there were thriving KvutzahGroups all over the country, and countless Jewish institutions were working on fulfilling the Shmita Commitments. Taking stock in 2023, there is a lot left to do, but with such a strong base of people power, Jewish youth will be able to make real progress on all scales and change the course of history.

We know that soon, the Jewish community publicly and internally will present climate justice as a central responsibility within our religious values, cultural traditions, social activities, and understanding of the long arc of our communal history and existence. Jewish communal leadership will feature climate justice policies, initiatives, and actions in everything from our rituals and gatherings to the operational priorities and messaging of our major institutions. Every major Jewish institution will be advancing climate action plans that guide their institutional involvement in the national and global climate justice movement. It is daunting, exciting, and very, very possible.