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Jewish Leaders Pledge Effort to Help Protect Environment

A broad range of Jewish leaders has agreed to launch a major effort to involve the Jewish community in the national effort to protect the environment.

During an unprecedented two-day meeting with scientists and senators on Capitol Hill, the leaders — representing all four religious denominations and the major secular organizations — agreed that the Jewish community needs to be awakened to the dangers threatening the environment.

“You don’t have to be Jewish to be an environmentalist, but it is certainly consistent with Jewish tradition,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) at a news conference Tuesday, on the second day of the “Consultation on the Environment and Jewish Life.”

Lieberman said that Judaism is a faith that requires protection of the Earth.

This was stressed in a statement signed by the Jewish leaders and three senators: Lieberman, Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

“For Jews, the environmental crisis is a religious challenge,” the statement said. “As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and that teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of Creation, we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood.”

The statement acknowledged that the Jewish agenda is “already overflowing” with such issues as Israel, the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union, anti-Semitism, the welfare of Jews throughout the world and domestic U.S. problems.

“But the ecological crisis hovers over all Jewish concern, for the threat is global, advancing and ultimately jeopardizes ecological balance and the quality of life,” the statement said.

A NEED TO EDUCATE THE COMMUNITY

The statement was signed by leaders of four major national organizations: Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Marvin Lender, national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal; Arden Shenker, outgoing chair of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council; and Rabbi Jerome Davidson, president of the Synagogue Council of America.

The Orthodox movement was represented by Rabbi Marc Angel, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and Sheldon Rudoff, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Participating leaders of the Conservative movement included Rabbi Irwin Groner, president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Alan Tichnor, president of United Synagogue of America.

Reform leaders included Walter Jacob, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, president of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Dr. Arthur Green, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, represented his movement.

The Washington meeting, which featured the noted scientists and activists Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, was an outgrowth of a meeting in New York last year between scientists and religious leaders that sought to bring the two occasionally antagonistic groups together on environmental issues. A second meeting is scheduled for May.

Jewish participants decided that they should hold a meeting to discuss the issue from a specifically Jewish vantage point.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that one of the first efforts will be within the Jewish organizations themselves. They will work on expanding conservation and recycling in Jewish organizational offices, community centers and synagogues.

There also will be a major effort made to educate the Jewish community itself, particularly the young, Saperstein said.

The community will also expand the educational effort to government and business in both the United States and Israel, he added.

But the real challenge is to convince individual Jews, as well as all Americans, to participate in the effort on a personal level, said Schorsch of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“If we don’t change the lifestyle of individual Americans,” the problem will never be solved, he said. He added that it was here the religious community could do its part.

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