I write, teach, speak and consult about the role religions—and in particular Judaism—can play in response to our daunting environmental predicament. I seek to mobilize religious and spiritual communities on behalf of the earth. I believe religious communities can be vitally important in organizing, inspiring, and sustaining individuals in the ongoing work of repair of the world. I am particularly interested in how sacred texts and rituals can help people make meaning of their lives and offer perspective and encouragement in dealing with seemingly intractable environmental problems.
To learn more about what I have been thinking, please enjoy one of the talks or articles below.
A Few Talks & Articles
Tu B’Shvat Matters: Celebrating Trees and All of Nature: An Inter-Spiritual Feast
Filled with the voices of young people just beginning to explore the world and find their place in it, this documentary draws fresh meaning from ancient Jewish and religious traditions, connects matter and spirit, and offers a vision for a more verdant world. The seder portrayed here is a new version of Ellen Bernstein's original seder (Philadelphia, 1988), which was the catalyst for Shomrei Adamah, the first national Jewish environmental organization.
As a young person, I despaired of how the adult world conceived of progress: flattening landscapes for housing developments, polluting the atmosphere and ruining nature. It seemed to me that consumption was our national pastime and that most people were oblivious to our sentient world.
Nature was my temple and nature literature was my sacred text. Yearning to preserve nature, I studied biology, led wilderness river trips, and taught life sciences. I began searching for a spiritual path that could integrate my ecological passion, and re-discovered Judaism. Inspired by my own tradition, in 1988, I founded Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth, the first national Jewish environmental organization.
Shomrei Adamah's mission was to illuminate and make accessible the ecological roots of Jewish tradition. Shomrei Adamah developed a foundation in Jewish ecological thought and practice, wrote curricula and books including Let the Earth Teach You Torah, The Splendor of Creation, Ecology & the Jewish Spirit, and A New Year for the Trees, produced a quarterly news journal, ran educational wilderness trips, spawned 10 local chapters and grew a membership of 3000 people.
I have always believed that religious ideas and values belong in the public square—not confined to religious institutions like churches and synagogues. To this end, Shomrei Adamah designed large city-wide arts and educational events including The Jewish New Year of the Trees and The All Species Parade. Shomrei Adamah’s work touched the hearts and minds of thousands of people, regardless of religious or spiritual orientation. While Shomrei Adamah, the organization, closed in 1996, its message continues to reverberate through its books and curricula, and through my writing, teaching, consulting and advising.
In recent years, I have been exploring the Bible’s understanding of land as a living entity and meditating on the meaning of the God of creation. I believe that if people could see that all of nature—not just humanity—is inherently valuable and belongs to God, we would begin to treat the land and the whole earth with more respect, forethought and sensitivity. I have also been reflecting and writing on the relationship of aesthetics and ethics in the Hebrew Bible. I believe that the beauty of the world can speak across political and religious divisions and call us to care and to act. In the end, we will only save what we love.