Rabbi Rappaport Taking On Jewish Climate Leadership Role

On Tisha B’Av, 40 people met at a park in the Twin Cities to reflect on the impending climate crisis. The gathering, called “Feeling Grief, Finding Love,” was facilitated by Rabbi Debra Rappaport in partnership with the Talmud Torah of St. Paul’s Hineni program.

Participants shared expressions of gratitude before participating in a ritual to “express what was breaking their hearts,” as Rappaport said. Though small, the program fit into a broader movement among American Jews; is just one example of the climate activism Rappaport has been working on in her role with the Jewish climate advocacy organization Hazon, which is gearing up to release its first round of “climate action plans” from each of its member organizations by the holiday of Tu B’Shvat.

Hazon describes their mission as “leading a transformative movement [to weave] sustainability into the fabric of Jewish life, in order to create a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable world for all.” Hazon’s recent work has coalesced in the formation of the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition in July 2022.

The coalition is pan-denominational, working in partnership with Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox associations. Its founding statement in July was co-signed by 20 major Jewish institutions around the world, including Hillel International, Birthright Israel, and the JCC Association of North America. 

The founding of the coalition comes on the heels of the International Panel on Climate Change‘s 2022 report which stated that it had ‘very high confidence’ that “global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.”

“[Hazon is] providing numerous concrete resources to help people…[decrease] their climate impact,” Rappaport said of the coalition initiative. Hazon maintains this overarching coalition to pool and offer resources for sustainability among the member institutions, as well as to work towards local activism and practical solutions through unique climate action plans from each member institution.

As part of the coalition, Rappaport is working on a climate action plan for Reconstructing Judaism, the central organization of Reconstructionist Judaism. Part of these action plans will include practical goals to get member organizations nearer to net-zero emissions. Rappaport emphasized the importance of raising awareness. 

There’s a vague awareness, but not a concrete change in behaviors. For example, we still go around buying, selling, using plastic items,” she said. She described the need for more Jewish organizing around issues related to the environment, which includes addressing racial and socio-economic inequities and climate-related grief processing as with her own program on Tisha B’Av.

At the end of the Twin Cities Tisha B’Av program, “somebody asked ‘well now what are we going to do?’” Rappaport’s answer was that “you’re going to do what you do – each person has their calling of what everyone’s little piece will be.”

“It’s powerful because we all share grief for our world, and each one of us expresses it differently. Through this naming of our truths, we become more connected with one another and with the web of all life. In the end, acknowledging what is real frees up a lot of energy to go back out and work for systemic change,” she said.

Rappaport encourages anyone interested in getting involved in Jewish climate activism, especially in the Twin Cities, to be in touch with her. She can be reached via email at [email protected]