Did you grow up watching Captain Planet? (I didn’t – but that’s a long story; apparently I have some catching up to do on cartoons and sitcoms of the ‘80s and ‘90s). The point is, if Captain Planet were Jewish, he would be preparing right now to celebrate his favorite holiday: Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees.
The timing of Tu Bishvat seems perfect; it follows a period of introspection where we reflect on our past year and make resolutions for the coming year. But, by the end of the month, we look outward – at our external world and think about how our existence impacts the environment and what we can do to make this year a better one for the trees-our universe. Better yet, congregations can come together and make a communal commitment to our universe.
These are just a few of the many ways in which congregations can make the sacred experience of going to the synagogue more environmentally friendly (remember, as Captain Planet would say, “The power is YOURS!”):
- Flowers in the sanctuary: Use living plants in pots, not cut flowers.
- Candles: Beeswax candles are the most environment-friendly choice.
- Bulletins: Go paperless! Email out your congregational updates.
- Programs: Congregations that distribute programs at services can place a container at the exits so that the programs can be recycled.
- Kiddush cups: Congregants can keep their own reusable glass at the synagogue or can be asked to bring a cup with them to services.
Youth can also play an active role in improving our environment. In fact, a communal focus on the environment can also serve as a bridge-builder—all religions have lots to say about the environment. Youth groups from local churches and synagogues can join hands to promote a cleaner environment. Actually, an interfaith coalition to preserve the environment might be of interest to Captain Planet—his diverse group of “Planeteers” were just that sort of youth group. So, young and old, we all have the power to help and respond to the needs of our trees, and our environment as whole.
And guess what?
That’s right. The Captain Planet Foundation helps us exercise our powers to help the environment by funding initiatives that inspire youth and communities to participate in environmental stewardship activities. Preferential consideration is given to requests seeking seed funding of $500 or less and to applicants who have secured at least 50% matching or in-kind funding for their projects.
Do you think that your congregation has the power? Do you have an idea for a great project? If you do and you require funds to put it into action, please find information about how you can apply for the funds right here. Don’t forget to share your ideas with the rest of us!
Tikkun olam has long been a hallmark of Jewish life – and that’s certainly true here in the South.
Southern Jewish communities have long been active in their cities and neighborhoods, working together with their neighbors to make a difference. Now, the ISJL also works in partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi Campus Link AmeriCorps Program. One of twelve AmeriCorps programs funded through the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, USM’s Link AmeriCorps program places year-long AmeriCorps service members to work with partner nonprofits.
This is the second year of the ISJL’s partnership with the Campus Link AmeriCorps Program. Campus Link provides nonprofits, like the ISJL, with AmeriCorps teams in order to lower student drop-out rates and promote academic success. The team is led by a full-time member, based at the ISJL, who is responsible for coordinating tutoring and mentoring sessions to be facilitated by part-time AmeriCorps members. As the Director of Community Engagement here, it’s my privilege to supervise our AmeriCorps member – and I’m thrilled that this year, we have selected Gernelle Nelson as our second full-time AmeriCorps Fellow to lead the ISJL’s AmeriCorps team.
“I am so excited to be working with the ISJL Department of Community Engagement,” says Nelson. “Having worked with middle school students at Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, I feel prepared to reach out and help students achieve academic success. I feel like I have the unique ability to look past circumstances and as I try to work with the students to uncover the great potential that each of them possesses.”
Please join us in welcoming Gernelle to the team, and helping continue the tradition of communities coming together to make our world a better place!
I had been out of town for a few days. When I returned to the ISJL office in Jackson, I was greeted by a co-worker who jokingly said, “Oh, you returned just in time for Itzik (an endearing nickname often used in reference to someone with the name Isaac)!”
Now that I, along with many others in the Deep South, have been visited by Hurricane Isaac, I thought I’d look at the name of this devastating storm.
The story of the birth of Isaac, which is also seasonally appropriate thanks to its Rosh Hashanah connection, is detailed in Genesis. The root of the word Isaac means laughter. Sara, Isaac’s mother, named her son Isaac and explained “God has given me laughter. All who hear will laugh with me.” Sara predicted that when anyone heard about her giving birth at the age of 90, the response would be laughter.
A child’s name inspired by laughter is one thing. A hurricane, though, is no laughing matter. But the laughter that Sara anticipated was associated with wonder. Hurricanes truly provoke wonder.
The Biblical Isaac, however, winds up representing more than laughter and wonder. Isaac represents a test of faith, in the story of the Akedah, or “binding of Isaac,” the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith in God. Kierkegaard, a 19th century philosopher, wrote “Fear and Trembling,” which focuses on this story. As he presents various approaches to God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son, Kierkegaard makes a distinction between resignation and faith. A resigned Abraham would acknowledge that killing his son is unethical. However, he prepares to sacrifice his son, because God’s command supersedes ethical obligations. That demonstrates faith, Kierkegaard argues: trusting God to avoid committing an unethical act. A faithful Abraham is confident that the telos (end purpose/final goal) of God’s command is ethical. He has faith in God’s ethics, and is confident that the outcome will be ethical. With that faith, he prepares to kill his son.
For centuries, the story of the Akedah has served as the primary illustration of faith in God. However, it can also serve as a basis upon which we can explore our faith in humanity. Kierkegaard’s analysis of the story of Isaac forces us to consider the end goal of the Akedah. A similar analysis can apply to service. There are times when we engage in service because we feel resigned to an obligation namely, to do good in our world. Sometimes, the end goal of our service, however, is not met. Service can have unintended consequences. We may provide a food pantry with loads of canned foods, only to find out that they don’t have a can opener.
A food pantry without a can opener is a simplified but not far-flung example of service that fails to meet the end goal. If we do not first assess needs, our end goal is less likely to be met. “Feeding the hungry” is a noble goal – but if we give someone a can of food without any way to access the food, he or she will remain hungry. Service that is motivated by resignation to a sense of obligation is most likely to come short of our final goals.
However, there is a second approach to service that shares the characteristics of faith. This approach is built upon a relationship of trust. In that relationship, Abraham trusts God to lead him to the end goal of an ethical outcome. Similarly, we can approach service with an end goal that is front and center to our work. We can also build relationships with the people we seek to assist so that together we can learn how to best go about actualizing that goal. With this approach, the assumption is that the people who we seek to assist are experts in how we can reach the desired outcome. We need help to provide help. At a minimum, we ought to ask for input, but there are times when it may not be a bad idea to follow the people we seek to help and who have the deepest understsanding of their needs and have spent hours of their time contemplating and working toward the end goals.
Itzik the storm was an unwelcome guest, however, his impact provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationships we have with others, particularly individuals who are experiencing hard times. Hurricane Isaac destroyed homes, flooded cities, threw peoples’ lives into chaos, and has created an opportunity for us to step in and offer comfort and assistance. In addressing this disaster and disasters of all kind associated with the human experience, let’s reflect on our end goals and the relationships we seek to honor and respect.
How have you been helping people impacted by Hurricane Isaac? Feel free to check out the work of Nechama-Jewish Response to Disaster.