Rabbi Jennie Rosenn Addresses the Climate Assembly
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn addressed the Climate Action I Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.
August 14, 2023 (Transcript) – Thank you. Hinei Mah tov u-ma nayim Shevet achim gam yachad. It is good to come together, brothers and sisters and friends, and an honor and a blessing to share the stage with these other leaders, and gather together all of us, religious leaders from across the globe, from many corners of the earth.
We are living in such a dark and frightening time in human history, as we face the climate crisis in all its devastation and pain, feeling its impacts more and more acutely with every passing season. But we also know that it is not yet too late. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this moment, the existential critical window of time we have, to pull our world back from the brink of destruction, and build a more just and livable, sustainable world for all people for generations to come.
But it will take moral courage and vision, boldness, leadership, and yes, organizing. It requires us to remember and lean into our collective power, because we have tremendous collective power. This is a time for bold, not incremental action. We need responses and solutions at the scale and speed that science and justice demand.
And none of us can sit this out. This moment in history demands nothing less than transformation, and everyone has a role to play, everyone. There’s a role for scientists and a role for engineers, a role for politicians and a role for philanthropists, and yes, there is a role for religious leaders. And it is both prophetic and pastoral, offering our people a sense of urgency and hope. I think about our role as faith leaders as fourfold.
The first is as a moral voice. We must lift up a clear moral call, centering values, like the absolute equal worth of every single human being, the right to clean air and water and food and shelter, the mandate to protect not sacrifice those who are most vulnerable, choose life, not death, blessing, not curse, pursue justice. A moral voice means always asking, whose lives are we centering in our solutions? Because we know the impacts of the climate crisis rests disproportionately on those who have been historically marginalized, people living in the global south, in poverty, in particularly vulnerable areas, and people who experience racism and other forms of bigotry. The climate crisis is a force multiplier, exacerbating historical inequities, even as it impacts everyone. And raising a moral voice means we must not be afraid to name evil.
We know the fossil fuel industry and those who do their bidding are the goliaths of our time and we must not hesitate to say so, loudly, clearly, without caveat. We must lead with moral courage. Two, our religious traditions remind us that a different world is possible and hold out a vision for that world.
We’re in a time that requires radical imagination because we don’t only need to fight the goliaths, we also need to envision and build a completely different future. One in which we honor our Earth and each other, we recognize our profound interconnection, a world in which we care for one another, where all people can live lives with dignity and meaning.
This is the stuff of our traditions and visions of what a just and vibrant society can look like. In this time when doom and despair can too easily reign, when a lack of moral imagination is all too easy, part of our work as faith leaders is to remind people that a different world is possible.
Three, we gathered in this room our leaders and organizers of communities. Faith communities are critical bases for building and leveraging power with political leaders. Name any major successful social movement and faith communities were part of it, sometimes at the center. We must organize our people for bold climate action, building political power for systemic change at scale. Because in order to mitigate the most devastating impacts of climate change, in order to address environmental injustice and avert total climate collapse, we need to take action on a systemic level. This means things like cutting demand and supply for fossil fuel energy, advocating for comprehensive climate policy, moving our money and changing our political landscape. It means building a powerful and holy movement. If there was ever a moment for us to step fully into this part of our leadership, it is now. We have no time to waste. And we have a unique role to play in inspiring and empowering people to move from overwhelm to collective action.
The story at the core of the Jewish people’s narrative is a journey out of Egypt, literally a narrow place, a place of oppression and genocide, like so many peoples have faced. While wandering in the desert, God reminds us that the path forward and our redemption is not in the heavens or beyond our reach. Our redemption is in our hands. In Deuteronomy, God says, “It is not too baffling to you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven or beyond the sea. No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”
The future of the world is in our hands, as in it’s on us, it’s up to us. And also, it is in our hands. We have the capacity, we have the science, we have the resources, we have the people, and we have the power. We have the opportunity to close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be, not by inching the two incrementally closer to each other, but by reimagining and rebuilding a different future.
“Lo bashamayim hi,” it is not beyond us in heaven. It is in our hands and in our hearts, and we can do it. This call, this call of responsibility and possibility, is the message we must preach. And this is the message we must hear and heed ourselves, which brings me to the fourth role for faith leaders, spiritual resourcing.
The devastating climate destruction and suffering millions are already experiencing. It can be too much to bear. The psychological and spiritual dread that fills us as we face what is at stake. And the fact that without massive change, much of the earth will become uninhabitable.
There will not be enough food to eat, water to drink, clean air to breathe, major cities underwater. It’s too much for our souls and psyches to bear. So people turn away, unable to face the truth, disassociate a different kind of climate change denial, if you will. Many of us despair. Some give up.
We need to be building a spiritually rooted climate movement that supports people across the generations to face the truth in community. To make space for grief and anxiety, but also offer practices of support rooted in our traditions, our sacred texts and liturgy, ritual and song. Practices that activate hope and move us into courageous action. Sadly, supporting people to face climate destruction and the truth of this time is going to become more and more a part of what it means to be a religious leader.
Lift up a moral voice, hold out a vision of the world we must build, organize people for systemic change and empower them to move from angst to action and spiritually resource folks for the long road ahead. This is what we as faith leaders are called to do in this treacherous time in history. But it is not only treacherous, it is also full of possibility.
And so I want to close just by sharing the name, a bit about the name of the organization I lead, Dayenu, because I think it reflects this dual reality of urgency and hope. Dayenu is a joyous song of gratitude that Jews sing at the Passover Seder as we retell the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom. It recounts all the things that God has done. We say if God had taken us out of Egypt but not given us the Torah, Dayenu, it would have been enough. If God had given us the Torah and not given us manna in the desert, Dayenu, it would have been enough.
But Dayenu also means we’ve had enough. We’ve had enough climate destruction. We’ve had enough valuing fossil fuel companies over human life. We’ve had enough letting the impacts of climate destruction fall disproportionately on black, brown and indigenous poor and marginalized communities. But this is where the double entendre comes in, because it also means we have enough.
We have what we need to confront the climate crisis and move towards climate solutions. We have the resources. We have the policy rubrics. We have the technology. We have what we need so that everyone can have enough. Now, now is the time to join in this urgent and sacred work. Nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake. Thank you.