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Q. Dear Umbra:

As a Jewish and environmentally conscious person, how can I use the framework of Rosh Hashanah to combat climate change?

Let’s Contemplate How Atonement Instills Motivation

A. Dear L’CHAIM,

Like any good Jewish girl, I spent seven years attending Hebrew school every week to prepare for my Bat Mitzvah. Jews have been around for a really long time! There’s a lot of history to cover! And then at some point shortly post-Bat Mitzvah, I forgot most of it.

So I’d like to thank you for sending me a golden opportunity to brush up on my Jewish knowledge. I’m sure you know all this, but for our Gentile friends reading this: The period that starts with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur is considered the most important time of the Jewish year. It’s called the High Holidays, the Days of Awe if you’re feeling dramatic, or the Days of Repentance if you love to focus on the negative!

Basically, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the start of the New Year. But because nothing in Judaism comes without a little existential angst, it’s also the kickoff of a ten-day period where you examine your soul (that is the command!), make your apologies for all the ways you’ve fallen short, and make your commitments to improving in the year to come. Then on Yom Kippur, you fast for 25 hours as you really focus on all your misdeeds and how to atone for them.

Look: No one can say that Jews don’t know how to have a good time!

Those ten days are an audition for the Book of Life vs. the Book of Death, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. If you’ve done good by God and the world, you go in the Book of Life. If you’ve spent the year doing evil things, you go in the Book of Death. If you’ve been kind of in-between, as the vast majority of us are, you’re supposed to use the Days of Awe as an opportunity to atone for the bad you’ve done and hope that the good shines through. And if all goes well, you can make it into the Book of Life by Yom Kippur, when “it is sealed.”

It doesn’t escape me that that’s the exact language that’s used by some climate activists to discuss the 2030 due date to considerably minimize environment emissions. However the entire thing looks like a metaphor for environment modification apparent adequate to make Herman Melville roll his eyes: If you do the ideal thing — (powerfully) press your chosen authorities to impose environment action, effectively penalize services that overturn it, and all of the smaller sized however important everyday things you can carry out in between — we’re all most likely to live. If you don’t, we’ll all pass away. There’s a line in the Rosh Hashanah service that actually asks, “who shall perish by water and who by fire?” Increasingly More by both, to be sure, specifically if everybody continues to roam around in this sort of prevalent denialist daze!

It would be simple to take a very Old Testimony (shame-y, bleak, tough to procedure) technique to the High Vacations as a structure for your technique to environment modification. However I do not wish to paint the High Vacations in regards to the death and darkness we’re all attempting to prevent; I wish to observe them in spirit of the life we’re attempting to develop.

This is where your concern begins to get individual for me. I’ll be going house to Pittsburgh for the High Vacations for the very first time in a couple of years, and this specific Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur bring a lot of weight for me, my household, and my churchgoers. Last October, a white supremacist terrorist attacked our temple in the most dangerous and highest-profile attack on the Jewish neighborhood in American history. The previous president of our churchgoers is dead. It is unusual to have such a keystone of your house and your training end up being worldwide understood for the violence it has actually withstood, especially when you’re enjoying everything from countless miles away.

When Rosh Hashanah occurs, our services will not be kept in the Tree of Life temple due to the fact that it’s been closed because the attack. Dor Hadash has actually constantly been a travelling churchgoers, so a modification of setting isn’t out of the common, however I have no concept what it will resemble to be someplace new understanding why we needed to leave our last house.

I had a tough time attempting to see the brilliant side of Rosh Hashanah on my own. So I called Rabbi Cheryl Klein, who lead Dor Hadash as a cantor for my whole training, and obviously she assisted me, like she did when I was thirteen years of ages stumbling my method through the haftorah.

Klein indicated the 3 worths that are expected to get us into the Book of Life: teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah. Tzedakah is what a great deal of individuals tend to equate as “charity,” however it actually suggests “justice”; it’s simply that offering loan or time to excellent causes is frequently viewed as the most efficient method to attain that justice. Tefillah suggests prayer, and teshuvah is a bit more intricate; it describes recentering yourself around to your real worths, to your most exemplary self.

“These three things together, they allow us to have a fresh slate,” Klein discussed. “Teshuvah suggests ‘to return.’ How do we go back to those things that are so standard in regards to our humankind, our worths, our ethical compass? It’s an action — we need to physically put ourselves onto the physical, psychological, and spiritual course that will enable us to make much better options.”

The Jewish ecological company Hazon is really acknowledging the new year, 5780, as the Year of Environmental Teshuvah. “It’s totally true that so many parts of this are so messy and overwhelming, but I think Jews, in general, are able to hold paradox in our tradition,” states Isaiah Rothstein, Hazon’s resident rabbi. Rothstein discusses that while the truths of environment modification — both the stressful effects and the degree of global partnership needed to prevent them — can be incapacitating, the option to reside in accordance with your worths daily is really simple. Dealing with environment modification can be at the same time a substantial social difficulty and a matter of individual option.

All this is to state that Rosh Hashanah is expected to advise you how to live, in the easiest and a lot of standard sense. There’s a book about utilizing the Days of Wonder as a duration of self-transformation, and I didn’t read it to address your concern due to the fact that there’s a waiting list at the library and my worths avoid me from purchasing needlessly from Amazon. See! I’m declining to lie to you, which is a mitzvah. However truthfully, I believe the title is enough, and it’s This Is Genuine and You Are Entirely Unprepared. That’s in recommendation to the procedure of self-reckoning and -evaluation that the Days of Wonder need, however it’s likewise a excellent motto for environment modification. It is genuine. You and I and everybody else are totally unprepared. It’s the perfect time to put yourself, as Klein states, on the ideal course.

So: Do you wish to support forces of death, or do you wish to enhance forces of life? Individuals enjoy to state that environment modification is this big, complex, frustrating problem, however it’s really as simple as that.

The methods which you approach and handle environment modification are more nuanced, to be sure. Every day you are going to deal with choices whose responses aren’t rather clear. And I’m no rabbi or spiritual leader and even that sensible, when it boils down to it; however if you pertain to me, I guarantee you that I’ll do my best to assist you make those choices. That’s my dedication.

Shanah tovah,


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