After attending the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice March in San Francisco yesterday, I feel ready to enter my Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) space. Our High Holidays, which begin this evening (erev) at sunset, revolve around three central activities: tefilah (prayer), tzedakah (charity), and teshuvah (turning). Prayer and charity seem well-defined to me, but the third, the turning, takes me through a labyrinth of complexity. Traditionally, teshuvah translates as repentance. But it means more than merely repenting of one’s sins. It refers to a whole repentance process in which we recognize culpability, repent for wrongdoing, seek forgiveness, and turn things around. Authentic repentance involves personal growth to prevent us from repeating the same errors. So through teshuvah (turning), we attempt to transform ourselves. Through teshuvah, I work to remake myself so that I don’t repeat my previous transgressions. I must turn myself around, change myself. I must become someone better, someone new. What a lot of work.
Yesterday at Rise for Climate, I marched for my grandson and for a couple other babies close to my heart who arrived in 2017 and for all the little ones coming up in the world during this precarious time. I think it fortuitous that the Rise for Climate event occurred just before Erev Rosh Hashanah. Marching yesterday had significance for me on many levels. To begin with, I marched with two of my cousins, and one of them brought her one-year-old daughter along. Once upon a time, few family members from my paternal grandfather’s family remained. We did not fare well as Polish Jews during the Holocaust. But those few who made it out alive have multiplied over the decades. The fact that I have two women cousins (and baby makes three) nearby to march with me is one small miracle all by itself, and a testament to the fact that sometimes something you think has disappeared forever turns out to have survived. So hope matters. We do well to keep this in mind when we feel inclined to despair about the future of Earth.
Rise for Climate in San Francisco was our local contribution to a global action that included more than 800 demonstrations in nearly 100 countries around the world. Even as the U.S. government attempts to set us apart and act solely for the benefit of U.S. and corporate economic interests, the people of this country continue to join with our human family around the world in global efforts to make change that will help preserve the planet so that it remains habitable for human life. It gives me hope that so many people recognize what is at stake and continue to stand up, act, and speak out. Rise for Climate ushers in the Global Climate Action Summit, occurring this coming week in San Francisco. The Summit will bring together world leaders committed to working for environmental preservation through the reduction of carbon emissions and rapid advance to clean energy sources. These leaders will move forward despite the failure of their governments to curb the environmental destruction promoted by corporations driven by profit. It makes me proud to say that California’s Governor Brown initiated the Summit.
The presence of so many indigenous people yesterday in San Francisco reminds us of how far back in history this desecration of the land extends. The climate crisis we face has mobilized Native communities like never before. They have been prophets on this subject for centuries. But I very much doubt that saying “I told you so” would give satisfaction to any of the Native people who risked their lives to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was constructed despite massive, heart-wrenching protests, and has leaked gallons of oil in the short time since it was built, contaminating soil and water, just as the protestors predicted and feared. Yesterday’s march began beautifully with thousands kneeling in the street while Native people led a prayer, a chant, and a brief ceremony to create a sacred space for our act of protest. (Indigenous people flew in from the Amazon to participate in the demonstration.) The drumming, fragrance of sage in the air, Aztec dancers, and messages on the signs asserted that Native presence continuously. We marched for two miles, ending up at the Civic Center, where organizers had set up an art activity. Thousands of people painted murals that had been outlined on the ground in advance. The murals depicted the many things we can do to reverse climate change, such as wean from fossil fuels and develop clean energy sources, reduce meat consumption, restore soil to health, rethink transportation systems, and transform our relationship to Earth. One of many murals created by Native communities said No Pipelines, No Dams, No Diversions. That message speaks volumes.
How auspicious that the upcoming Summit will take place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It will contribute to a high-level teshuvah, a massive, planetary turn-around; a teshuvah that is necessary to save our lives. Those attending the Summit who have more power and more impact than I do will be working to initiate ways to turn things around through policy, systems, and economics. My fellow Jews, at this year’s High Holidays, please join with me in taking the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to environmental protection on a personal level, and to ponder what more we can each do in our own small way to support a healthy Earth and a future on the planet for our children, grandchildren, and those to come unto the seventh generation and beyond. I hope for the High Holidays to bring a supersized teshuvah that will turn things around for the planet. We need teshuvah to be a verb rather than a noun.
I love that the High Holidays take place in my part of the world as we approach autumn,
the season of turning, the changing of colors, the time of transformation.
So I share an image of California grape vines in the midst of their autumn teshuvah.