The Jewish Communal Leadership Program (JCLP) held a panel event Sunday highlighting environmentally-just and sustainable efforts among the Jewish community. The event included six speakers who shared their experiences as environmental activists in the Jewish community.

One of the speakers, Kristy Drutman, is a Jewish-Filipina environmental activist and founder of Brown Girl Green, a company focused on including the perspectives of people of Color in the climate change movement. Kaplan Drutman, another speaker at the event, is an organizing director and campaigner at MoveOn — a nonprofit organization focused on nonpartisan education and advocacy on important national issues –– and has worked with communities to shut down coal plants. Drutman has also worked to protect water as a public resource.

Drawing on her own experiences, Drutman highlighted the disparities that exist for green non-profit organizations led by people of Color, particularly when it comes to community attention and resources.

“I’m always thinking about resource distribution within the climate movement,” Drutman said. “I think about the fact that I worked with both pretty big mainstream, white environmental organizations. But I’ve also worked with predominantly Black and Brown-led environmental justice organizations that don’t get the same amount of funding, press support and just overall clout that these big mainstream environmental organizations get.”

Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, a rabbinic scholar and public affairs advisor at the Jewish Federations of North America, said one challenge that exists is the divide between science and religion when discussing climate change.

“It’s so hard for the ideological divides to exist,” Rothstein said. “How we address the power of education to come together is difficult especially when it is one person versus another.”

Sophia Rich, a junior in high school and a member of the National Leadership Board for the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, discussed how she felt that she was not being taken seriously because of her age, and emphasized the importance of younger people engaging in environmental justice action.

“Something we’ve been talking about a lot recently is the tokenization of youth, which has become a very prevalent issue (in) different eco spaces and in social justice in general,” Rich said. “Everyone says ‘Hi, Sophia. She’s our young person. She’s going to give us our young perspective.’ But I think, especially thinking about the climate crisis, we need to think about all the responsibility that is being held by these young people and the fact that we are Gen Z. This is kind of our responsibility to deal with this crisis.”

Rabbi Dr. Ariel Mayse, an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, described the importance of Jewish narratives toward environmental justice and building a structure that makes everyone feel obligated to contribute to change.

“Obligations are a critical part of what I think Judaism brings to the table, a theory of obligation and a toothsome environmental ethic, which is not just about individual moral choices,” Mayse said. “That must be paired with the fact that we act from amid stories. Sophia and many others have talked today about the necessity of thinking differently about the stories in which we find ourselves and our actions that reflect it.”

The event then closed off with the speakers addressing how Jewish institutions could do more work in environmental justice and increasing education around climate change.

Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, who founded the first Jewish environmental organization in 1988 and serves on the advisory board of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, talked about a need to increase discussion about climate change in higher education.

“For years, I tried to get a master’s degree in Judaism Ecology to happen at various seminaries, and people have always said there’s no money for this,” Bernstein said. “This is the most important issue of our day, and the fact that this is not being addressed in Jewish (higher education) institutions is very sad, and there’s something very wrong going on there.”

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