Hazon and 20 Jewish organizations launch environmental coalition to fight climate change

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Jewish groups are coming together, united by their hope for a better, cleaner future.

Twenty Jewish organizations have signed onto the Coalition Founding Statement, establishing themselves as members of the new environmental coalition led by Hazon. Their goal is to operate more sustainably in an effort to fight against climate crisis.

Solar arrays at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center. (Courtesy of Hazon)

The coalition launched publicly on Thursday, Sept. 15, but its founding members have been meeting since March, including Taglit Birthright Israel, Hillel International, the Jewish Federations of North America and the JCC Foundation of North America.

“At this point, every Jewish organization is invited to participate [in the coalition],” said Rabbi Jacob Siegel, coordinator for coalition engagement at Hazon. “The hope is that Jewish organizations across North America will join, and from this collective effort we’ll see significant climate action.”

Hazon is currently in the process of merging with Pearlstone, a partnership that will make them the largest Jewish environmental groups in the country. They are using that growth to reach out to other organizations in hopes of encouraging environmental action in the Jewish community.

“The climate crisis presents a clear moment of both crisis and opportunity, and it also demands the efforts of all of us,” said Siegel. “Not just organizations that may have historically focused on environmental issues.”

Coalition members are expected to release Climate Action Plans annually, detailing their efforts to operate more sustainably and what they hope to achieve in the long run. Siegel noted that there are no minimum requirements for what members must do, as every organization has different circumstances, but they are expected to make a concerted effort.

One example he listed was The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, one of the coalition’s founding partners, installing an off-site solar array that now powers 50% of the entity’s electricity.

In exchange, the organizations receive access to a variety of resources offered by Hazon, such as webinars, regular meetings between members and access to funding through the new Jewish Climate Action Fund, which offers no-interest loans and matching grants.

In addition to making their facilities greener and more environmentally friendly, coalition members are invited to contribute towards climate education and advocacy, as well as use their resources to inspire change.

The coalition’s official website states that if the North American Jewish community were its own country, its greenhouse-gas emissions would be higher than those of 162 other countries. As a result, one of the goals of those organizations involved in the coalition should be striving to reach zero emissions.

Another material goal of the coalition is to endorse sustainable banking and financial decisions among its members, aligning their financial practices with their end goal of a more environmentally conscious future.

“This is an existential planetary crisis, but also a profound opportunity to come together,” said Hazon CEO Jakir Manela in a press release published on the day of the coalition’s launch. “It’s time we tackle this challenge with the full force of the Jewish community. We need all the ingenuity, resilience, resourcefulness, wisdom and perseverance of the Jewish people. We need everyone.”

He further noted that the climate crisis is an issue affecting the Jewish community more than people know.

“Any Jewish communal priority we can think of has a direct and significant risk of harm from climate change,” said Manela. “So for our community, our children and our planet to be in alignment and integrity with our values, Jewish tradition compels us to respond to the global climate crisis.”

The first Climate Action Plans that the coalition requires are planned to be released in early 2023. In the meantime, Hazon is slated to attend the U.N. Climate Conference in Egypt in a few months in order to spread their message and encourage more global organizations to join the coalition.

“This coalition is like architecture, mobilizing Jewish communities to take climate action,” said Manela. “Meaningful climate action at pace and at scale. It’s really an unprecedented effort across the Jewish world because that’s what’s needed at this moment in history.”

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