We find ourselves immersed in another dark pandemic winter, a reality we could not have fathomed two years ago. And as the pandemic drags on, our social fabric continues to fray, while the climate crisis continues unabated. Then, into this moment comes the Texas synagogue hostage incident, thankfully unfolding without any hostage injuries or deaths, yet still traumatic for all involved, and for Jewish communities – and our allies – everywhere. It is difficult to avoid feeling overwhelmed and exhausted amidst times like these.
Last night, we held an online event with hundreds of people from across the country, entitled We Are One: An Environmental Justice Tu B’Shvat Seder, honoring Tu B’Shvat– the New Year for the Trees – and Martin Luther King Jr Day, our American prophet of racial justice, civil rights, and nonviolent civil disobedience.
During our seder, Janna Siller, Adamah Farm Director & Advocacy Coordinator, spoke of Tu B’Shvat as a deep accounting of our relationship with the Trees and with the Earth. MLK Day presents a similar obligation, to undertake a deep accounting of our society. Such an accounting is called cheshbon hanefesh in Hebrew, an accounting of the soul. Tu B’Shvat demands a new year’s accounting for our relationship with the earth, at a time when climate catastrophes are increasing in frequency and intensity, inflicting suffering inequitably and most harmfully upon the global south, the elderly, the poor, and those most vulnerable in our society.
And what if we thought about MLK Day as a new year’s accounting for American society? Very different from July 4th, Dr. King’s birthday marks a spiritual moment for us to recognize in our hearts how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. That is why, for me, Martin Luther King Day is our most profound and important American holiday, akin to an American Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
Environmental injustice and environmental racism have inflicted massive inequities as the brunt of pollution, disparate health outcomes, and climate catastrophes befall our black and brown brothers and sisters. Too often, we see false distinctions between issues of sustainability and justice, when the truth is that one is nothing without the other.
“The environmental movement can only survive if it becomes a justice movement.”
– Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar, environmental and food sovereignty activist, ecofeminist, and anti-globalization author.
So this Tu B’Shvat-MLK Day, let’s all ask ourselves, “What am I doing, and what are we doing, to step up in this moment?”
Racism inside the Jewish community has led to the under-representation of people of color and Jews of color across Jewish spaces, including our Jewish environmental movement, and including Hazon and Pearlstone. At Hazon and Pearlstone, we have begun staff training and learning with Yavilah McCoy, and look forward to continuing that journey. We are also proud to collaborate and partner with inspiring black-led organizations doing great work across our impact hub areas, grounded in shared values. Please learn more about and support their important work:
- New York & New England: Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust: “To be truly regenerative, we must be reparative.”
- Baltimore: Black Yield Institute: “Cultivating Self-Determination Through Black Land & Food Sovereignty”
- Detroit: Oakland Avenue Urban Farm: “Cultivating healthy foods, jobs, and active cultural spaces in Detroit’s North End.”
We are especially grateful to partner with the JOC Mishpacha Project in creating our first annual Jews of Color Weekend Retreat this spring! Registration opening soon…
Internally, a wonderful group of staff is seriously engaged on our DEI-Culture Task Force, figuring out how to embody and address these values, challenges, and opportunities across all our activities and operations. And later this year we hope to bring on a Chief Diversity Officer, a senior role that will expand and integrate this work across our organization and offer resources to the broader movement as well.
This work is about building authentic, mutually appreciated, and valuable partnerships with our Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) peers and leaders. It is also about pushing back against antisemitism alongside our allies, because only when we do both of these things – antiracism and fighting antisemitism – are we actually developing our capacity to do either piece well.
We can all see how racial justice, environmental justice, and sustainability are growing priorities for Jewish communities everywhere. In that context, the horrible Dallas synagogue incident does not have to result in us feeling vulnerable, targeted, and alone. Instead, may today help us all feel grounded and committed to nonviolence, to justice, and to the coalition-building that will see us through to the promised land in Dr. King’s dream.
Today Tu B’Shvat & MLK Day are one: not coincidentally, but spiritually, ethically, politically, Jewishly. Today we make an accounting for our relationship with the earth AND with each other. These are NOT separate issues; they are one, and We are one. All of humanity, descended from common ancestors, one family with many cultures and civilizations, magnificently diverse yet profoundly equal and interconnected with one another. And all life, with humanity as just one aspect of an exponential orchestra of all living things across our beautiful blue planet. We Are One. All of us, like an infinite, miraculous Tree of Life. And we have a long way to go.
“…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.”
– Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, 1967 Christmas Sermon
Tu B’Shvat comes at this time of year to mark the end of the dark days of winter, as the sap begins to rise and the first trees begin to bloom in the land of Israel While some of you may be reading this with cold and snow outside, my wish for us all is that we feel the sap rising within ourselves, feel the trees blooming in our hearts, and that together we turn the page and start a new chapter in our work to embody and integrate sustainability and justice. Because we know: We Are One.