An Inconvenient Truth


I imagine that it was far easier for progressive Jewish organizations and synagogues to attract young Jews to participate in Sunday’s People’s Climate March than, say, attend a rally in support of Israel or come to synagogue on the High Holy Days.

It’s just an observation, not a value judgment, and I can’t prove it, but that’s the sense I have, based on conversations with people across the generations. And I think it bears exploring why that is and what it portends for our Jewish future.

The Climate March surely had a compelling cause, voicing a universal concern about the survival of our planet. It’s an issue that transcends race, politics (mostly), religion, geography, gender, socioeconomic status, and more. There was power in the sheer numbers of attendees here in New York City on Sunday — somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000, according to estimates — a procession that was part celebration, with music and banners and floats, and part deadly serious. Most scientists agree that if carbon emissions are not limited significantly, the forces of nature will punish us for our refusal to accept reality with cataclysmic events, including floods and earthquakes.

How fascinating that the high dramatic point of the vast rally here was not a rousing speech but a moment of silence followed by a full minute of loud, sustained noise. According to The New York Times report, “There were drumbeats and the blaring of horns, but mostly it was generated by people’s whoops and screams.”

I was reminded of the blowing of the shofar as the high point of Rosh HaShanah services. It, too, is a call to action, a recognition of the majesty of the moment — an annual review on high of our actions here on earth — and a call to service. In Jewish tradition, it is the service not only to our Creator but to our fellow man, a reminder to treat each person as having been created in the image of God.

Actually, it goes further than that. Judaism views man as God’s stewards over the planet. We are responsible to maintain the earth, its environment and creatures, a concept going back to the Bible. There are prohibitions against destroying fruit trees and mandates for allowing one’s animals to rest each week and for the land itself to lie fallow every seven years. (This new year, 5775, is the Sabbatical Year, the year of Shmittah, when the land of Israel shall have “a complete rest.”)

One wonders how many Jews committed to protecting the environment realize that these values are rooted in their own religious tradition. Perhaps if we did a better job of educating our children about the relevance of Judaism today, as a matter of faith, heritage and morality, we might be more successful in our call for them to join us in the synagogue on the holiest days of the year.

One message those who do attend services this Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will hear from the pulpit — more so, it seems, than in recent years, according to a number of rabbis interviewed — is the RELEVANCE OF ANOTHER GLOBAL MATTER, THE need to support the State of Israel as a religious, ethical and strategic imperative. Rabbi Andy Bachman, a highly respected voice for progressive Judaism, signaled the seriousness of Israel’s plight when he told us recently that his message to congregants this High Holy Day season — his last as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn — will be: “Don’t abandon Israel.” (See “Bachman’s Parting Shot At Progressives On Israel,” Sept. 5.)

He explained that having witnessed in Israel this summer the effects of the Hamas war, in addition to the rise of ISIS and Islamic militants in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, funded by Iran, he concluded that the violent aggression is “all interconnected.” He said that “Israel is at the front lines of a conflict that will affect us for the next 100 years, so we’d better get used to it.”

Let’s hope his message hits home and that and more young people, committed as they should be to universalist ideals and recognizing the need to counter environmental threats, appreciate as well the very real threat to Western civilization of Islamic militants whose goal is to destroy us and our way of life.

Somehow the latter effort is seen as less politically correct, but both are vitally important.

Global warming, if not checked, can cause great damage over the next several decades. But the catastrophic effects of unchecked militant groups now wreaking havoc in the Middle East could come much sooner. In both cases what’s needed is the political will to identify and confront the danger at hand. Are we up to the task?


was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at