Last week’s conference on world religions and climate change sponsored by the UN and ARC was an extraordinary event. You can read about it here, here and here. The gathering together of religious leaders and environmental heroes was unprecedented. So was the strong acknowledgement of the world’s religions’ critical role in confronting climate change, from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.
(And so, for that matter, was my sitting next to his wife at dinner last Monday night and giving her a virtual tour of Israel on the cover of a box of Elite chocolates from the Ben Gurion airport gift shop. But that’s a story for another blog.)
One of my favorite moments came when I was nearly stoned by the organizers (in a very polite and English way) for reckless and irresponsible davening. They had asked me in advance to give a short prayer at the end of one of the sessions. I had thought hard about what to offer. I don’t believe in making up new-fangled prayers, but wanted to do something that would resonate across the plethora of spiritual traditions present.
Eventually I remembered the talk that R. Dov Berkowitz gave at the Vayehi Or conference in Jerusalem back in April. R. Dov argued that for 3000 years and more, the Land of Israel has stood poised between the desert and the availability of water. With no great river running through the land we have no choice but to turn to Divine Providence for rainfall, fertility and blessing. In 2009, with encroaching drought and desertification, many other countries are in this position (One of the African delegates at Windsor pointed out that 10 month old babies in his country have never seen rain.) Today the whole world is the Holy Land. Except perhaps for England…
So I got up at the Windsor conference, quoted R. Berkowitz’s idea in his name and announced my intention therefore to read the traditional Jewish prayer for rain said on Shemini Atzeret, with kavvanah not just for the Land of Israel but for the whole Earth. The Conference chair clutched his head in alarm. For this was moments before we were due to process through the streets of Windsor to the Castle, in our ceremonial religious gladrags behind banners and a marching band. It had poured with rain all night but now the sun was peeping through heavy grey clouds. And here was I, literally asking God to rain on the parade.
Undeterred, I read the simple but powerful words: “
For you are God who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.
For a blessing, not for a curse.
For life and not for death.
For plenty and not for scarcity.
Then I sang the Vorker niggun that accompanies the prayer in many Israeli shuls and the other Jews present joined in. Delegates from drought-wracked Asian and African countries said they joined in silently with the prayer. Before concluding, I added “and let’s hope it stays fine here for another half an hour.”
We trooped out into the street, resplendent in our sky blue caftans and saris, saffron and orange turbans, austere black canonicals and burgundy tunics. The Jewish Renewal crew did us proud, draped in their rainbow-colored tallitot. The press snapped happily, tourists gawped with delight and killjoy clouds gathered menacingly overhead. Over the moat and drawbridge, through the hulking Norman portcullis of Windsor Castle beneath the Disneyesque towers and turrets (no fairy tale, I’m sure, for would-be invaders 900 years ago) and in through the massive oak doors of the State Apartments.
Scarcely was the last robe and mitre safely inside when it began to rain. This ensured me a certain Honi Ha’ma’agel-like fame for the rest of the conference. The UK head of the World Wildlife Fund admonished me that I really should have asked for 45 minutes leeway, just to be on the safe side.
Of course, it doesn’t take a miracle for rain to fall on England in November. But it does seem like a miracle that such a group came together to pray, act and speak out for wise and responsible steps to avert climate change and ecological crisis. It seems like a miracle that a thoroughly secular outfit like the UN recognized their indispensable role. It seems like a miracle that just now, when the world’s need is greatest, religions are waking up as one to their ancient teachings on conserving the Earth and their this-moment imperative to act on them. Let us join in the miracle and pray and act together.
Sign the Pledge: www,JewishClimateCampaign.org