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Jewish Environmental Group Expanding with New Chapters

February 12, 1998
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The Jewish environmental movement is expanding – – locally.

“We are stewards of the earth and of each other,” said Rebecca Wood, who is involved with the Jewish Community Relations Council in Albuquerque, N.M.

For the last year and a half, Wood has worked on a project called Jump Land – – an outdoor learning environment designed with input from children. The idea for the project came from a story of the same name written by a Jewish boy who died at the age of 6. A year e???lier, the student wrote the story about “a safe place where things were magical and joyous,” said Wood, who co-chairs the JCRC’s environmental programs and projects.

Wood’s involvement in the Jewish community and environmental activism brought her to a recent conference sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

Some 90 environmental activists from 20 states attended COEJL’s Jewish Environmental Leadership Training Institute to address Jewish activism on environmental issues.

“It was as if I went home,” Wood said of the conference. “To see so many people with the same philosophy, putting it into action in so many ways.”

The conference, held in January in Ojai, Calif., focused on expanding the 6- year-old organization by establishing regional chapters — COEJL plans to open six chapters across the country this year.

Wood and another COEJL Institute participant became co-founders of the Southwest COEJL region, and she returned to Albuquerque with new enthusiasm.

“I didn’t feel alone anymore,” said Wood. “I felt connected to something bigger than me.”

COEJL aims to integrate environmental education and action into the life and institutions of the American Jewish community, intertwining religious values, spirituality, science, public policy and community-building.

Environmental activism has served as an entry point for unaffiliated Jews to reconnect to their Jewish roots. For example, members of the COEJL chapter of Oregon and Washington state include a number of unaffiliated Jews active in environmental causes.

“They want to get involved in the Jewish community,” said Larry Nicholas, executive director of the Northwest Jewish Environmental Project. “This is another vehicle for them.”

The chapter works closely with other Jewish organizations. “The Jewish community feels this is an important connection to make,” said Nicholas.

The Northwest Jewish Environmental Project holds Shabbat in the Woods programs during the summer, linking environmental awareness to celebrating Shabbat.

COEJL is currently concentrating efforts on two major issues: climate change and protection of habitat and endangered species.

Energy conservation and responsible consumption of natural resources are being encouraged by COEJL to avert detrimental changes to the planet’s climate.

Mark Jacobs, director of COEJL, links the imperative to preserve the natural world to a statement in Deuteronomy admonishing the Israelites to “choose life.”

“There is a profound Jewish concern for future generations,” said Jacobs. “We want to ensure that other people — like subsistence farmers and people who live along low-lying coastal areas–will be protected.”

COEJL’s effort to protect endangered species, called Operation Noah, is viewed as a direct outgrowth from the story of the Biblical Noah.

It is “the earliest account of humankind ensuring that all species survive from one human era to the next,” said Jacobs.

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