The Jewish Climate Action Network prepared over several weeks for two Boston events and achieved an expansion that will turn it into a national and international organization. At these December events, we added nearly one hundred individuals to our mailing list, and nearly 30 of them committed to our "bentshmarking" campaign to measure and reduce synagogue carbon use.
Even before the December expansion, the Boston activists and New York activists who share the JCAN name collaborated on the People's Climate March and Shabbat that took place in Washington, DC in April 2017. JCAN also drew in a number of other synagogues and individuals nationally and internationally, such as the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. (The Shalom Center is led by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leading Jewish scholar and activist known for many books combining spirituality and social justice. The center itself pioneered Jewish activism on climate issues with a 2005 conference, and Rabbi Waskow has supported the Boston JCAN leadership.) JCAN NYC, with a mailing list of 700 people growing out of past climate marches and other activities, has concentrated its efforts on education, advocacy, and activism to achieve local goals, including a just transition to 100% renewables in New York state.
Several Boston JCAN activists attended the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, which had nearly 6,000 attendees, and they talked up the climate change issue in the hallways, the exhibition hall, and sessions. Progressive Asset Management Boston, a financial advisor group that helps clients align their investments with their values (supporting renewable energy, community investments, and other environmentally and socially screened investments), generously donated space in their booth to JCAN. Vice president of JCAN, Fred Davis, created the Climate Chutzpah Challenge, a slideshow asking Jewish community leaders to set climate goals, and we handed out dozens of brochures. Reception was quite positive.
JCAN also hosted a meet-up near the Biennial conference for both conference attendees and locals climate activists. Despite the snow, visitors enjoyed the warm atmosphere inside and a chance to talk about ways that the Jewish community might work to address climate change.
A resolution introduced by the Higher Ground Initiative, a coalition of Reform congregations from Florida and around the country, urges Reform congregations to take institutional and political action to reverse climate change. JCAN secretary Andy Oram worked on an earlier version of the resolution, and two Massachusetts JCAN congregations (Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester and Temple Israel of Boston) endorsed it before it was submitted to the URJ. After much work with URJ leadership, the resolution was introduced at the biennial and adopted unanimously by voice vote. Importantly, one of the action items in the Resolution states that the URJ resolves to: “Encourage congregations to work with interfaith and other partners within their communities to advocate for and work to implement climate change solutions.” Thus, the national Reform leadership should be directing synagogues to work with groups such as JCAN to address climate change.
As individuals, Reform Jews are clued in to the horrors of climate change and want to act on it. Institutionally, Jewish movements haven't caught up. The Biennial featured wonderful, deep, extensive initiatives in racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, immigrant and refugee work, and other issues that have planted deep roots in Jewish activism. Climate change is still on the periphery--even as the waters flood the coasts and the continental interiors dry up around the world. Nevertheless, the Biennial marked some important steps forward, including the dramatic increase in JCAN's reach.
Half a dozen activists from Boston's chapter of the Jewish Climate Action Network also came to LimmudBoston, the local version of a worldwide Jewish learning conference that originated in London. JCAN held a panel that explained to about 15 attendees how their congregations can get involved in climate change. The panelists, Rabbi Katy Allen (president), Fred Davis (vice president), Thea Iberall (data manager and interfaith coordinator), and Andy Oram (secretary), complemented each other with different perspectives on activism and Jewish commitment to climate change. We also offered a table in the exhibition hall, where many new synagogue activists signed up for our mailing lists and for benchmarking.
Now several challenges face JCAN. We must provide services that will keep the newly interested activists engaged. We must pull them together into a network that can support each other while they carry out real, substantive change in their synagogues, in their local communities, and on the world stage. We must increase the activism of pafticipants and recruit more volunteers among our growing base. And we must forge a more robust organization that can operate at an international level while supporting local creativity and passion.