Today is the holiest day of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement,” is dedicated to accountability. Who were you this year when no one was watching? Were you honest with yourself and others? Did you take responsibility for your actions? Today is an opportunity to reflect and prepare to do better next year.
I’m normally not an observant Jew, but today I plan to spend some time considering these questions, particularly as they relate to my role in preserving a livable future. If you have time, too, why not do the same? We expend lots of energy at this newsletter holding the powerful accountable, and less energy turning the lens on ourselves. The people who got us into the climate mess deserve our attention, but so do we, the people trying to clean it up.
Across the world today, millions of people will be completely tuned out from the internet; fasting; confessing their sins; owning up to their faults; and asking God for forgiveness. (The president will likely not be one of those people—though perhaps he should be).
So don’t feel guilty if today you decide to take a few moments to tune out the rest of the world’s failures, and focus on how you can improve yourself and your community. That last word is particularly important, as the major confessionals of Yom Kippur are recited in the plural.
“On the Jewish High Holidays, we take collective responsibility for our lives and for the activities of the community of which we are a part,” writes rabbi and social activist Michael Lerner. “Although we realize that we did not create the world into which we are born, we nevertheless have responsibility for what it is like as long as we participate in it.”
Will repentance, prayer and charity work? God, no. But, if “repentance” means assuming personal responsibility for your own carbon footprint and taking actions to reduce it, such as buying new home insulation, getting new energy-efficient appliances, driving less and driving cars that produce less emissions, then repent. If “prayer” means imploring higher authorities to act beneficently, such as telling your elected leaders—at all levels of government—to pledge to work toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with major action starting immediately, then pray. If “charity” means not just donating to nongovernmental organizations that work toward reducing carbon (there are many deserving ones!) but also being willing to pay a little more for zero carbon energy, then give.
I also like this Rosh Hashana-related bit from Grist’s climate advice column, Ask Umbra, also published last year:
Do you want to support forces of death, or do you want to strengthen forces of life? People love to say that climate change is this huge, complicated, overwhelming issue, but it’s actually as straightforward as that.
This essay, “Yom Kippur and the Spiritual Case for Climate Action,” is also worth a read.
Of course, most observant Jews who subscribe to this newsletter won’t be reading anything on the internet today! If that’s the case for you, that’s dope; and if you’re reading this tomorrow, G'mar chatima tova. I hope you had an easy and meaningful fast.
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Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!