What Does Jewish Environmentalism Look Like Today?

Green Hevra 2014 ReportThe Jewish tradition has long emphasized the connection between humans and nature. From the commandment not to waste to the laws linking agricultural cycles to religious rituals, sustainability is not a new idea to Judaism.

But there can be no denying that the environmental movement, and especially its connection to religion, is a relatively new phenomenon. While ancient Jews may have respected nature, there is no indication that they were concerned with its very survival.

In an interesting new report titled, “Green Hevra Report 2014,” Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations, set out to describe the current state of Jewish environmentalism. The findings are as informative as they are illuminating.

What is Green Hevra?

Inspired by the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a similar movement-building initiative founded in 2009, the Green Hevra was established in 2012. Hebrew for the “green community,” the Green Hevra works to facilitate collaboration in the growing field of Jewish environmentalism.

“The Jewish environmental movement has the potential for real impact,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, one of the funders of Green Hevra. “But to do that, they need to work together much more strategically.”

Green Hevra works to share strategic knowledge with partner organizations, such as Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), the Shalom Center, Hazon, and Urban Adamah, and identify opportunities for collaboration. Basically, it operates under the maxim, “knowledge is power,” a maxim that is too often ignored in fledgling environmental startups.

Green Hevra Report Findings

The 2014 Report is a resource Green Hevra developed to further plan for broader engagement.

“This report, created by the Jewish environmental movement, assesses 124 Jewish environmental initiatives to clarify and communicate the state of the field,” Green Hevra wrote in the introduction. “How has the Jewish environmental field grown in the last decade? In what regions are Jewish environmental initiatives most active? How many individuals do they reach? What is the average budget of Jewish environmental initiatives in North America, and how are they staffed? What challenges are faced by this young and growing new movement in Jewish life?”

It comes as no surprise that the 2014 Report finds that the Jewish environmental field has seen exponential growth since 1990, measured in the formation of new Jewish environmental initiatives. Some of the reasons for the new growth include the increased concern about climate change and the emergence of centers such as Shormrei Adamah and COEJL, which have trained and inspired young, Jewish environmentalists. Presumably with more young people making the link between Judaism and environmental protection, the more organizations dedicated to this purpose are started. And especially now, as the planet faces the serious threat of climate change, the call to environmentalism is even louder.

Green Hevra 2014 Report

Most of the new initiatives — almost three quarters or 73 percent — identified education as their primary focus. This can encompass a wide variety of activities from retreats to wilderness experiences, to development of curricula and online resources, to internships in farming and other areas of hands-on greening, to leadership training. Moreover, the initiatives educate people of all ages and backgrounds — from young children to rabbis.

Interestingly, only eight out of the 124 Jewish environmental initiatives that responded were focused on policy change, and none of the responders reported grantmaking as their primary focus. While the study did not analyze why the initiatives were so heavily focused on education instead of policy and grantmaking, it did note that most initiatives had very small budgets.

What is the Future of Jewish Environmentalism?

Green Hevra, and all participants in the Jewish environmental movement, can use the findings from the 2014 Report to guide their strategy and make a bigger impact in the future. Perhaps more organizations will be inclined to focus on grantmaking so that the movement has more funding and can make a greater impact on environmental policy. Perhaps the educational initiatives can collaborate to make their curricula more uniform.

As far as I’m aware, there are no other religious environmental organizations that have taken such a comprehensive look at their movement’s strategies. If Jewish environmental initiatives actually use the information in the 2014 Report to guide their future strategy, we may see a lot of positive change coming our planet’s way.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .