By Sybil Sanchez
director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls at the halfway mark of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen. While we light our menorahs, our planet’s nation-states will be playing out a new type of Hanukkah tale.
Now, as then, the question of oil and its ability to last is at hand. But the bigger question today is not only peak oil, but rather the survival of our planet as we know it. Having the faith that we can do more with less is the main theme that we are reminded of at Hanukkah. In Copenhagen we hope that our representatives will learn from the story of the Maccabees’ struggle as they wrestle with determining how much “less” will be enough to stem the tide of climate change, so that we may continue to adapt quickly enough to avert crisis. But in order to ask that question, we must collectively have faith that the question is worth asking in the first place – and that we have the capacity as a family of nations to answer it adequately.
From the doubts that certain American politicians have expressed about the validity of climate change science, to the current “Climategate” challenge to the credibility of some scientists advising us, it’s clear that many wish this issue could be “Swift-boated” away.
Yet, just as the job of having faith in G-d is one that is never complete, so too the challenge of environmental activism is all encompassing. It’s not only about politicians and public policy debate. Although the struggle is most obvious when we watch China and the United States duke it out in Copenhagen over of how to continue capital gains while reducing carbon emissions, it is also something we experience as individuals in very personal ways.
When we feel we don’t have time to recycle that leftover container in our refrigerator and so we throw it away instead, our faith in our capacity to effect environmental change is challenged. When we can’t figure out how to be green in our product choices and so give up, we are challenged. When we see others engage in wasteful habits but say nothing because it feels awkward, we are challenged.
But when it comes to having our faith challenged, Jews have a long history of tales, customs and laws to draw upon, and though our numbers in the United States are small, we have something very powerful to add to the struggle of addressing climate change: our need for and reliance upon community.
Just like the Maccabees who huddled around an olive oil lamp for eight days while furiously working to process more oil for fuel, Jews have always been deeply cognizant of the need for individuals to join forces and work together. We’re taught that the good deeds of each add to the merit of all, that we are responsible for one another, and that when we have the capacity or talent to positively contribute, it is our obligation to do so.
In today’s age of YouTube, G-d Cast, and webinars, I wonder how we might see the Maccabees’ travail of eight days reenacted. More importantly, I wonder what the Maccabees would say to President Obama or Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
I know what I would like to hear them say – I would like them to tell our leaders that it doesn’t take a miracle to have faith or live faith; that if they survived those eight days, we can make this Hanukkah in Copenhagen have a lasting impact for generations to come. That if we work together, in the community of nations, we too can triumph.
Sybil Sanchez is the director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), one of the leading Jewish environmental organizations in the United States.