Climate change has become a more prominent issue than ever in recent years. Sea levels are rising, the planet is becoming warmer and weather patterns have turned more extreme. The fact that so much damage is being done to the earth has given climate activists such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough a greater platform, and climate activism has become a cause célèbre among public figures and average citizens alike.
Young people are among the strongest supporters of climate activism. One youth movement aiming to educate and advocate on the issue is the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, or JYCM, which will soon be opening the doors of its Baltimore chapter.
Founded in 2019, JYCM uses Jewish teachings and identity to fight against climate change. It is affiliated with and supported by Hazon, a Jewish environmental group that is currently the largest faith-based environmental organization in the country. There are currently 41 JYCM kvutzot (chapters) across the country.
Julia Levin and Yoni Andorsky, two high schoolers who live in Pikesville, are starting up the Baltimore chapter. They plan to commence operations at the beginning of the school year in late August.
Levin, 15, currently serves on JYCM’s 2022-23 National Leadership Board, a position she accepted shortly before founding the Baltimore chapter.
“Previous to my engagement in JYCM, I was in a youth-led movement that was dedicated to fighting the climate crisis. It taught me a lot about the climate crisis and how to organize,” Levin said. “However, at times it felt as if I had to choose between my Jewish identity and organizing, as the movement had been involved in some antisemitic activity and my specific chapter was unwilling to publicly condemn it.”
Andorsky, 15, has a lot of experience with climate activism — his mother works for Hazon. “[Levin] came up to me one day to ask if I would be interested in [starting a JYCM chapter] because she knows I’m very passionate about climate change and climate issues,” he recalled. “I said it sounded great, so we started working on it.”
“It was up to us to start a chapter where passionate Jewish teens could find a place that welcomed them and their identities,” Levin said.
JYCM meetings occur once a month and typically consist of discussions of climate issues and how its members can take action to support climate policy. Some groups attend protests and organize events.
Though climate change is an issue that affects the whole world, JYCM chapters focus on their individual communities. Having a Baltimore chapter means that Baltimore-specific issues and policies are more likely to be addressed.
“Ultimately, that makes a difference,” Andorsky said.
Jewish values intersect heavily with climate activism, said JYCM Director Liana Rothman.
“We have a strong connection to the earth. In Jewish traditions, our people harbor a deep and abiding connection to the land we live on. From agricultural holidays such as Sukkot and Pesach to the seven-year cycle of land rest known as shmita, the environment is the source of fundamental traditions, teachings and philosophies for organizing Jewish civilization and achieving a more equitable world.
“Judaism teaches us ‘tzedek tzedek tirdof,’ meaning ‘justice, justice, you shall pursue,’” Rothman said. “As a people connected to the environment and as a movement dreaming of collective liberation, we must pursue a sustainable and equitable world for all.”
JYCM’s Baltimore chapter will be opening at an opportune time for the organization. Its parent organization Hazon is in the process of merging with the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown.
Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Beth El Congregation have also been strong supporters of the creation of a JYCM chapter in Baltimore.
The Baltimore chapter’s first meeting will be held on Aug. 28, but for those interested in getting involved before then, the JYCM Climate Activism Institute and Shabbaton will take place at Pearlstone from August 8-14.