On April 8, 2009, something will happen that the world has not seen happen in 28 years: the sun will return to the place of its creation, at the very time of its creation. Or so the rabbis tell us. And the Jewish community will do what it hasn’t done in 28 years: gather to bless the anniversary of the birth of the sun.
If you are over 50, you may be wondering why you don’t remember this from 27 years ago. That’s because this is such a minor event in the Jewish calendar that most people paid it no attention. One tradition even says that if the sky is overcast that day, forget it.
Indeed, the very nature of the celebration is an open question. At minimum, one gets up early in the morning and recites the blessing: Blessed are You our Gd, who fashions Creation. More expansively, one gathers in a group at sunrise and recites a host of prayers culled from Torah, Prophets, Psalms and the siddur.
So, if 27 years ago this was not a big deal, why the blog now?
Because for Birkat Hahammah 2009, the Jewish environmental community is coming together around this rare opportunity to promote both a deep appreciation for the endlessly surprising and expansive wisdom of Judaism AND an awareness of our critical need to move away from fossil fuels and commit ourselves fully to developing alternative energy technologies, led by solar energy.
COEJL - the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life - is coordinating a nationwide effort led by a partnership of Jewish environmental organizations including Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center (and BJEN) - to promote a year long effort of education, programming and celebration. We are calling this the Year of the Sun, with the highlight being on April 8, 2009.
Part of our celebration will be a Sun Covenant that you, your family, your synagogue or group can sign to commit to making changes that will promote the use alternative energy and limit the use of fossil fuels. This covenant will be posted on a website devoted to this celebration - which will go live around Sukkot. (look for it then: http://www.blessthesun.org)
Here in Baltimore, BJEN and Kayam Farm are teaming up to create a year-long menu of programs to engage the Baltimore Jewish community.
This confluence of contemporary need (to press the expansion of alternative energy) and a rare Jewish holiday celebrating the sun is extraordinary. Please help us make the most of it - personally, spiritually and politically.The
The Olympics were fraught with controversy this year: despite China’s promises to the IOC, we witnessed her continued violation of human rights, the country’s world-threatening environmental degradation driven by their exploding economy, their manufacturing short-cuts motivated by greed that tainted and poisoned their products, their training (abuse?) of children to become champions… And yet.
In the midst of the Games, every evening I eagerly keep my date with the TV. It is the drama of the competition, yes, that is attractive, the lure of the chase. But I believe I would watch even if there were no medals. What draws me most is the magnificence of the athletes’ bodies.
Every morning that we awake healthy and whole and able to tend to our daily tasks, we are witness to a miracle of life. Yet we hardly pay attention. We do not rise and offer a dance of joy, soaked with a sense of overwhelming gratitude. We do not stand in awe in front of the mirror and wonder at the miracle of the human eye or the dexterity of the only organ that is outside our bodies, or better, the boundary of our bodies, that keeps the right things in and the wrong things out and that bounds a entire universe inside of us.
Our bodies are so complicated, I am certain that we laymen only know a minor portion of what they do. Every now and then we hear of a disease that draws attention to a body function that we never knew about or never thought could misfire that way. The magnificent, interwoven complexity of our bodies goes unnoticed until something goes wrong.
But come the Olympics, and it is not loss or brokenness that brings us awareness of the majesty of the human body. Rather it is the awe of wholeness, sculpture and beauty. Finely worked (ignoring the abuses that may be heaped upon it for the purposes of the Games), the human body is stunning. The muscles flow, dive deep and reappear. The skin shines, the limbs move with an ease, power and speed the rest of us can only ache for.
I would imagine gym membership bumps up around the Olympics. Some of us are moved to cease taking our bodies for granted; no longer believe we can excuse our flabbiness or laziness.
We see what can happen, what is locked inside ourselves if we but tend to our health better.
And so it is with the world - how full and fruitful and ripe it can be if we treat it right. Nature can be magnificent, if we help it along in the right way. Environmentalism, like the Olympics, doesn’t mean leaving nature alone. It means working with it to bring it to its optimal fullness, its most radiant health.
So, see you in the Senior Olympics in a couple of years?
There is a spit of land in Delaware that is two blocks wide. In the morning, you can roll eastward out of bed and catch the day’s sunrise over the placid Atlantic. In the evening, you can stroll westward to the eastern banks of the Rehoboth Bay and catch the sunset over the distant trees.
I have been coming to this place for 25 years and never really knew that before. Evidently, many other people don’t know it either. With literally tens of thousands of people vacationing here, my family and I were one of only three groups who gathered on a public pier to watch the evening show at pocket-sized Monigle Park,
Compared to the beaches on the ocean side of the spit, this park is small, roughly the size of a modern Great Room. It is bounded by rocks that serve as breakers, dune grass to hold the sand in place and a handful of beach houses of modest and grand proportions.
While the surf at the ocean lunges and sweeps, this water at the bay gently laps its shore. Today is a most glorious day at the park. Nine in the morning, and no one to be seen. Just the distant voices of families at ease. Cool, dry air and a cloudless sky. Seagulls gracing the wind. About as close to peace as you can get in a robust resort area like Rehoboth.
If I had the leisure, and the talent, I would create a Year of Sunrises and Sunsets. Imagine what it would be like to capture the daily show of the beauty and power that brings all things to life on earth. Through rain and storm and clarity and haze, to catch the changing moods of our planet in the face of the sun, across the reach of a year.
What astonishes me is that this show happens every day, and truth be told, most days I don’t even notice. Of course, I can tell if it is light or dark outside, whether I need to turn on the lights or draw down the shades. I pay attention to the progression of weekly sunsets that tell me when Shabbat is to begin. But noting the mundane majesty of this solar perambulation? I only wish. Witnessing the brightening of the sky each morning does not cause me to gasp at the sheer splendor and blessing of this most life affirming act. Although it should. Even with the nudge of the daily blessings I most often fail in this constant call of awareness. It often takes illness, or loss, or more kindly the unbroken vastness of a maritime horizon to remind me of the awe and necessity of nature. How much we depend on it and how much we still do not know.
A few years ago, a man full of hubris declared the end of scientific inquiry. He argued that we had essentially conquered all the major frontiers and the rest is just tinkering. The truth is, we still don’t know what gravity is and what makes it work. We don’t know what fired the Big Bang, where all that energy came from or exactly where it is going. We don’t know what determines consciousness or conscience. One day, I hope we do. How awesome it would be to know these things.
For now, everyday, we whirl and twirl around our life source on our corner of the Milky Way in our neck of the Universe. It is good, now and then, to remember this, look up, and have it, for a moment, take our breath away.
The word “sustainability” is taking root in society. Along with the word “green,” it is becoming the official term of art for the cultural transformation we need to survive on this planet. The question is, though, amid its popularity, what does it mean? Or more precisely, what do people think when they hear the word “sustainability”? And what does that predict about our ability to make the societal changes necessary to heal the earth?
Dr. Daniel Sherman, a professor of environmental policy and decision-making at the University of Puget Sound, asked this very question to members of his campus community and came up with a challenging finding. “The dominant association,” he writes of the word ‘sustainability’, “is a list of prescribed practices for [people] to adopt, or feel guilty for failing to adopt.”
There is good news here, and not-so-good news. The good news is that people are increasingly convinced that there is a problem and that they can, and should, do something about it. In response, sometimes they do; and sometimes they don’t. (Wait. That’s still part of the good news.)
The not-so-good news, he suggests, is that this to-do list approach either supplants or defers a deeper understanding of the true meaning. Sustainability does not, after all, mean an isolated list of discrete things to do. It reflects a 360 degree attitude that guides the everyday acts of our lives. It is a belief that we need to use things fairly, wisely and well today so that others can use them fairly, wisely and well tomorrow. To treat sustainability as a list of “shoulds” is imagining it to be so much less than it is.
While not great news, this is not bad news either. For sometimes, lists can transcend themselves. When we begin to learn something, we often begin with lists. As a child we are taught to say thank you, I am sorry, and please in certain situations. But we also learn, as we grow older, that those words are not isolated acts, not numbered items on a limited to-do list of politeness. Rather, they are markers, symbols, of deeper, intersecting values of gratitude, remorse, humility, caring, kindness. What begins with lists can morph into values and beliefs that define our lives. Put another way, over time, we become what we do. And one day, we realize we no longer need to check the list to know how to behave.
Sometimes, though, lists never rise above themselves. They remain external enumerations of things that we might forget if we don’t write them down. In such a case, they never transcend their particularity. They never become more than the things they are. We never see the big picture. They do not change our spirit or the way we choose to live on this earth.
Perhaps what Dr. Sherman’s findings are telling us is not that sustainability is misunderstood, but rather that it is in its first stage of absorption. We may in fact be on the way to making the values of sustainability part of our personal and cultural identity. If we successfully make that transformation, we are witnessing the birth of a new era. Let’s do it.
Today is magic day. We usually call it trash day, but it often feels like magic. Thursday mornings, my neighbors and I dutifully, and gratefully, shlep our trashcans, full of decaying, odorous debris with seven days’ worth of personal waste, to the bottom of our driveways. We leave it there, and walk away. Poof, when we return, that trash has disappeared.
Our world is once again clean, clear, and more to the nose. Out of sight, out of mind. Gone. Away. And so, in our world of magical thinking, all is good.
That is what we used to think. But today we know this to be wrong. We know now that what goes around, comes around. There is no “away”. There is no there there. No place on earth is unaffected by the detritus and debris that we create through the consumption of our lives. It is reported that the Alaskan Inuit have the world’s highest levels of DDT and PDBs in their bodies – though they live thousands of miles from the sources.
Many of us have begun to respond. We try to limit our waste. We recycle everything from plastic bags to banana peels. And yet, as conscientious as we may be, we still have garbage bags every week to set out on the corner. Commercial packaging is part of the problem. Non-recyclable plastics is another. I suppose unnecessary purchases is a third. And while we can control the last, we cannot personally control the first two. Which is why living an environmentally friendly, or sustainable, life, is not something we can achieve only by our personal behavior. We need to move the movers, the makers, the manufacturers, merchants and money-lenders. We need to promote and support legislation that requires reduced waste and proper disposal.
Anthony Cortese, a former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and now president of Second Nature (http://www.secondnature.org), tells us that as Americans, we “consume the equivalent of our body weight in solid materials daily, over 94% of which goes to waste before we ever see the product or service. It takes about 2000 pounds of material, most of which went to waste, to make a laptop computer.”
The stuff that we personally consume represents only a small portion of the overall waste we are responsible for.
What to do about it? Yes, keep recycling, reducing, reusing. Keep learning and encouraging others to do the same. And, just as much, when you do go shopping, make your purchases make a statement. Buy products from manufacturers who work to reduce the waste stream they create from production, to packaging, to transportation to disposal.
Watch this fun 20 minute video to learn about moving from a linear, unsustainable production model to a cyclical, sustainable production model. The Story of Stuff (http://www.storyofstuff.com).
Then before you make your next purchase, check out the most environmentally friendly products available. For more information on a world of green products, visit http://www.coopamerica.org. Get their Green Pages. Let your purchases help change the world.