Climate Change Sermon by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 25 September 2019

Never ever underestimate the power of young people – whether our Justin Hall at 13, Greta Thunberg at 16, youth leaders at 18 or the youngest MP, Mhairi Black who entered the House of Commons aged 20, defeating the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander at the time.

Yesterday and next Friday, the world is being led by young people – school children inviting adults into their activism. Powerful beyond any expectations. Powerful in changing minds and, hopefully also policy quickly and effectively. Changing our world for now and for the future. They know the psychological research that this kind of non violent large scale action changes minds and then actions.

They know, they feel, they demand.

I’m proud to say that many Jews are very involved in the XR, Extinction Rebellion movement in Britain, inspired the Talmudic imperative, Im ain ani li, me li? V’im lo achshav, ai matai, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” The Jewish group, called XR Jews, work to bring Jewish voices to the XR movement for urgent climate action.

They know that mass migrations, crop failure and disasters are a perfect breeding ground for authoritarianism and even fascism. As Jews, we know all too well the horrors of what people are capable of doing to one another under extreme circumstances.

We also know that it’s a mitzvah, our duty to impact on the world and I know we can – look at our stories that celebrate resistance. From the Hebrew midwives in ancient Egypt, Shifra and Puah, refusing to obey the unjust command of Pharoah to kill newborn Hebrew boys; to secret Jews during the Inquisition, Marranos, secretly observing shabbat and festivals despite the risk of death if discovered; to the many brave ‘Righteous among the Nations’ who defied the Nazis to hide their Jewish friends and neighbours, our tradition is full of people who chose protest as the alternative to averting their eyes from injustice.

And now, XR Jews are very active – in April, they had a large Climate Justice Passover Seder, and many more have participated in actions they’ve held since then. They’re calling for the Government to enact legally binding targets and bring carbon emissions to zero. They believe, as I do too, that without drastic action, the scientific consensus is that the future could be terrible with large regions of the earth uninhabitable and severe food shortages.

XR Jews are setting up their own Climate Justice Sukkah in town and I’m leading the prayer at the end of shabbat, havdalah there for the central event on 12th October – you’re very welcome to join me for havdalah and klezmer music and dancing! Joy also brings change. Too serious is too frightening!

They are also raising enough money to plant one million new trees across the world by the New Year for Trees, Tu Bishvat – the 9th of February next year.

What could you do if you wanted to express concern about our climate and to impact on the situation? Start by fact gathering – what’s the data? The best thing I’ve seen is the David Attenborough programme Climate Change, the Facts, which is available on YouTube and is only an hour.

Then talk – like at our Passover seder, we tell the story and this frames our values and leads to action. Talk about what’s real and what’s not -what’s scientifically proven and what’s not. Talk about our concerns – share them, ask questions, get informed.

We could bring this issue to the forefront of our consciousness by, for instance, at Rosh Hashanah, whilst blessing the year through the sweetness of apples and honey,  we could encourage our families and friends to reflect on the fact that the world of the future may be without bees – with disastrous consequences for humanity.

We’ve heard Justin read the central story of Exodus, and we know that so much of Jewish life is predicated on the idea of passing on our values and our story l’dor va’dor, to the next generation. But unless we see strong international Government action, the existence of future generations is in jeopardy. Also it belongs to us – to eat more locally, to eat less meat, to limit and offset our flights and reduce our use of plastics.

The moment we entered the Land of Israel, we are commanded to show our thanks for this inheritance by an offering from the land from the first fruits.

We have a precious inheritance – our earth. The responsibility is passed from generation to generation to nurture and care for this world. Now’s our time. Now the imperative is urgent.

Shabbat shalom.