The way we use — or abuse — our energy resources has serious consequences for the security of the United States and Israel, and for the health of our planet Earth and we who live here.
Oil supply is a principal concern of the United States. Dependence on foreign sources makes us vulnerable to price hikes and supply controls. Our dollars go to countries that use our money to fund the violence and destruction that we are fighting against, and that pose significant threats to Israel. And our consumption of oil is a serious factor in the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.
Global warming also affects the security of Israel, more because of water than oil. It is drying up sources for rivers and streams. The result is increased competition for water in a region already short on supply, coupled with increased tension among those sharing that limited supply.
Why are these Jewish issues?
Because we are concerned with American security and climate change. Because we are concerned with Israel's security. Because our tradition gives us special responsibilities to address these concerns.
Tikkun olam — translated as "the repair of the world" — is the best known of our teachings on this point. But it's not the only one. Judaism also teaches about the need to preserve the environment and to plant seeds for the future, even if you never reap the benefits yourself.
In the book of Leviticus, for example, we are commanded not to eat a tree's fruit for the first three years after it is planted, that the fruit in the fourth year belongs to God, and only after that are we permitted to eat the fruit. The benefits to the individual who plants the tree are delayed.
But that does not relieve us of the duty to plant, to start, to create something for others even if we don't reap the benefits.
Deuteronomy commands that when a city is conquered, "thou shalt not destroy the trees by wielding an axe against them" unless they are not fruit-bearing. Maimonides sees the prohibition extending to food, buildings, streams and more. The Talmud contains many positive duties toward preserving a safe and healthy environment.
Each one of us has a stake in relieving the planet from the deleterious effects of greenhouse gasses, global warming and climate change, and from the continued reliance on foreign oil and fossil fuels.
Everything we do to conserve energy has an impact. Our actions demonstrate that we are willing to contribute to the solution, rather than remain part of the problem.
The amount of material on these issues is vast; the identified problems and proposed solutions are numerous.
To help the Jewish community better understand and deal with these issues, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia formed a Committee on Energy Policy and the Environment two years ago.
The urgency is even greater today.
Recent hikes in gasoline prices and the downturn in the economy have created renewed concern about global warming and other environmental issues. A change in the administration in Washington has created new opportunities to deal with these problems. The availability of stimulus money now directed toward green activities has provided new incentives to become active in reducing environmental pollution everywhere.
Our goal is to coordinate energy and environmental policy for the Philadelphia-area Jewish community — taking into account the activities of our constituent agencies and other Jewish organizations, such as synagogues and schools — to help all of us contribute to better energy policies and more conservative energy use.
Israel has shown all of us how to effectively green the desert. We, too, can help to green our community, our nation and our world.
Mel Shralow is chair of the JCRC Committee on Energy Policy and the Environment. To get involved, contact JCRC executive director Adam Kessler at 215-832-0650 ([email protected]).