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We’re Back!

Hello again. It’s been a long time.

Lots has happened since our last post. Jewish Climate Initiative, after helping initiate the Jewish Climate Campaign and going to that shindig at Windsor Castle, lapsed through lack of funding.

 Michael went off to develop algae for biofuels and pharmaceuticals; David’s still doing Israel-US tech cooperation. Yannai works on health and nutrition education in Israel’s Department of Health and I joined a new Israeli company that is designing and developing Ecocities. (More on that, no doubt in future posts.) All stuff in the general environment/energy/climate space, but not as JCI.

We’re back to blogging again here because of the climate. Really, there’s no choice. In Israel, it’s going haywire. Here I am writing this in the middle of winter with cloudless blue skies outside and temperatures well into the 70’s. We’ve just had the driest ever November following the hottest ever summer, following seven successive years of drought. Things are starting to look catastrophic 

As Ehud Zion Waldoks reports here the Kinneret, Israel’s major fresh water lake will, unless something dramatic changes, reach the lower black line in summer 2011. That’s the level at which further pumping from the lake becomes dangerous, risking irreversible damage through salination.

A few weeks ago Israel suffered its worst ever forest fire. It claimed 43 lives, destroyed 5 million trees and ruined the Carmel, one of the most beautiful areas of the country. (Contribute to the rebuilding effort.) It was started by some careless kids, exacerbated by years of neglect of the fire services, but enabled by the unprecedentedly hot and dry summer and fall that turned the forest into tinder waiting for a spark.

From this perspective, climate change denial emanating from air-conditioned think tanks and newspaper offices in the US and UK starts to look rather quaint. Israel has joined the Arctic, the Himalayas, Russia, Pakistan the Sahel and a host of other spots in the world where the daily evidence of dangerous climate change is before your eyes.

As Martin Heidegger (no, I’m not a fan) is supposed to have said: “Maybe the apocalyse has already happened.”

This situation needs a response. Also, we believe, it needs a Jewish response.

The only regular activity of Jewish Climate Initiative which still takes place is that Michael Kagan and I meet each Friday morning to learn Talmud tractate Ta’anit for an hour or two. Not much. Yet this is starting to seem as signficant as anything we did in JCI before. For Ta’anit is the accumulated wisdom of the Jewish people over 2000 years on what you do in the Land of Israel when the weather starts to go crazy.

Tractate Taanit opens with the articulation of a need for rain. For a first century farmer in the Land of Israel, that need was total. Livelihood, food, family, life itself hung in the balance every single year. As the summer waned and autumn began, no matter how successful last year’s harvest was, each inhabitant of Israel felt the existential vulnerability associated with the experience of living in this land. All of life’s needs, every desire for survival and flourishing were condensed and focused on the longed for appearance of rain-bearing clouds in the late October sky. Scouring the heavens for Clouds of Longing was an annual experience.

We’re back. Back to the situation of living in this land and longing for the clouds. Sure, a lot is different too. We’re mostly not farmers anymore, we can import butter if it vanishes from the supermarkets, Israel has world leading research universities, more tech. companies quoted on NASDAQ than all of Europe put together, etc. Yet for all of our technological sophistication (and I’m basically all for it) our well-being here still depends in big ways on the appearance of those longed for clouds. And that with all of our ingenuity, those clouds are outside of our control.

Across the millenia, Taanit speaks with eery immediacy to our lives here today. It defines our predicament and offers a repertoire of responses.  It can give us wisdom and hope for how to face and overcome a situation that people in this part of the world faced and overcame before.

 We hope to bring out some of that on this blog over the coming months.

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Join us in voting for our buddy and colleague, Dan Rosen, as he attempts making it to the Unreasonable Institute, a breeding grounds for social entrepreneurs from around the world. Dan’s Mosaic Ventures aims at developing clean energy on Native American lands, and facilitating tribal investments into cleantech. To read more about the Unreasonable Institue, Mosaic Ventures, and most importantly, to vote and make a pledge for Dan and Mosaic, head to http://www.unreasonablefinalists.org///index.php?action=about_pro&proId=166.

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By Dr. Michael Kagan

A number of years ago Levi Ben Shmuel (formerly Larry Bleiberg) and myself filmed the movements of the Dance of the Tree – a Tai Chi-like form that is inspired by the Shaking of the Lulav according to Ariz”l.   I finally managed to get it up onto YouTube for all to see.  If this speaks to anyone and you want the instructions in written form then let me know and I’ll send them to you.  This practice is a wonderful way to start daily pray.  It has many layers to it as we all know: the physical directions, the body, the sephirot, the archetype women and men, the colors, the sounds, the vibrations, the kavanot, the names of the Divine, the prayers, the letters, the ladder, and more.  Each layer can be laid upon another as the practice deepens or as needs arise.  The exactitude of the movements is not critical (unless you’re a tai chi master) and the whole series can take one minute or 20 minutes depending on your mood and the time available.  It is a wonderful way to say “Hineni”.

Michael Kagan

If you can’t view the video from this page, click here.

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Avatar and Rebbe Nachman

By Dr. Michael Kagan

I was astounded by the film Avatar.  I didn’t want to leave the theater.  I didn’t want to be unplugged.  Incredible. What story telling.

What is equally or maybe even more incredible are the parallels with certain aspects of Avatar and passages in Kabbalistic texts.  In preparing for Tu B’shvat I am rereading the anthology “Trees, Earth and Torah” and I came across this passage from an article by Aryeh Wineman quoting the Zohar 91:172a): The House is situated at the very center of all that is…From its midst there emerges a single large and mighty Tree, with thick branches and fruit… That Tree ascends upwards to the very clouds until it disappears from view among three mountains.  The House, nourished and watered by the Tree, conceals numerous celestial and unknown treasures… Numerous spirits fly about it in the air.  They join with the birds, acquiring their knowledge…
Then there’s the following from an essay by Gershon Scholem: Once the unity of the two trees in men’s lives were destroyed there began the domination of the Tree of Knowledge. No longer did unitary gushing, unrestrained life prevail, but duality of good and evil in which the Torah appears in this aspect of revelation.  Since the expulsion from The Garden, in the exile we all find ourselves now, we can no longer apperceive the world as a unified whole.
But more than these two passages I found an extraordinary parallelism to Reb Nachman’s story The Cripple.  Just the title reminds us of the hero in Avatar.  The story is very difficult to understand.  It draws from imagery developed in the Zohar and Tikunai HaZohar (brought to my attention by Reb Avraham Leader) of the Mashiach being crippled and needing to find a way to redeem the World and at the same time fix himself.  There are plenty of references to the Tree that must be tended to.  There are robbers and treasures and magic dust and battles and moons without legs and demons, plenty of demons.
Of course I’m not suggesting that James Cameron was inspired to create Avatar through learning Reb Nachman’s tales but it does show the archetypal structures that are present in our psyches and traditions. In his commentary on this story Arnold Band writes: The demons are portrayed with such human features that the reader often feels the author has in mind the chaotic corruption of contemporary society… We are asked to focus upon the development of the hero from dependence to interdependence and from innocence to profound knowledge and understanding of the power that really controls the world, the power involved in the enigmatic “watering of the Trees”.
Shavua Tov and Chodesh Tov and Shanah Tovah
Michael Kagan

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By Dr. Michael Kagan

Last week my community in Jerusalem – Nava Tehila screened the musical Joseph and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat – one of my family’s favourites.  In the film a great emphasis is placed on jealousy – not only the obvious jealousy of the brothers towards Joseph but also of Potiphar’s jealousy towards Joseph, Potiphar’s servants jealousy towards Joseph, other prisoner’s jealousy towards Joseph, and even Pharaoh’s jealousy towards Joseph when he becomes the people’s saviour. When this theme of jealousy is taken back it can be seen that is seems to be the dominant emotion all the way back to Cain and Abel.

In every story everybody is jealous of somebody else.  In the case of Cain and Abel it is God that initiates the fatal jealousy by favouring one sacrifice over the other.  And this pattern repeats itself either through Divine intervention (closing the wombs) or through parental favouritism.  There’s even a fable (midrash) that extends this emotional response back to the creation of the sun and moon where the moon complains about not being the supreme ruler in response to which God makes the sun larger!

Favoritism creates in the favoured one a sense of pride leading to arrogance and in the unfavoured one a sense of inadequacy leading to hatred  (see Rachel and Leah, Jacob and Esau). Is this indeed the motivating emotion that drives human behaviour?  Is this what Torah is here to correct or promote or to challenge us with?

My teacher Rabbi Nechemia Polin pointed out that the tikun (fixing) for the family dysfunctionality caused by jealousy ends with Moses and Aaron.  Here the younger is the favoured one but Aaron shows no sign of jealousy.  In fact the two brothers seem to get along very well.  For Rav Nechemia the goal is summarized in the verse: “How good is it in my eyes that siblings are sitting also together.


But then we have the Jewish people being set up as the “Chosen People” which has triggered off jealousy amongst the nations that has continued even until today with terrible consequences.  Even the stated position towards this ‘choosing’ doesn’t seem to help the situation, namely: Do not think that this is because you are special but rather it is because I need a special job to be done.” And the Jewish joke: “God, please choose someone else already!”

As you know I was recently in Copenhagen for the Climate Change talks and it seems to me that a main block to progress towards an agreement that might reduce greenhouse emissions is the jealousy of the less industrialized nations towards the more industrialized nations  (using the language ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ seems to be a continuation of the deadly cycle).  “Why can’t we have the opportunity to be like you?” they cry.  “Because we are superior/better/privileged/luckier/more blessed than you.” comes the answer.

Perhaps the lesson is that favouritism implies greater responsibility towards God and towards others, and not superiority. Perhaps indeed the more better off nations must pay for this privilege by saving the world as brothers, in the way that Joseph eventually saves his family and all of Egypt from starvation.

Is that how it works?

Have a good week,


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By Dr. Michael Kagan

One of the points that I have been making a lot recently in order to totally diffuse the debate over “who caused the climate to change?” is forget the change in climate, forget greenhouse gas emissions, forget global warming, now look at the terrible state of the oceans, the terrible state of the top soil, the terrible state of food production, health, economics, air purity, water purity, rain forests, wetlands, death of species etc. etc. there is no doubt that these are all human made devastations upon the well-being of the planet.  Let’s clear up this mess then global warming will fall in place.  The denial of our responsibility in the release of greenhouse gases is fear and laziness so child psychology recommends side-stepping that issue and going for the undeniable.

Last week I was in Copenhagen as part of the satellite conference organized by the GWPI in which religious and spiritual practitioners from all over the world discussed our responsibility to the earth and to all of Creation from the perspectives of our different traditions. I talked about three features that arise out of Judaism:

1. The deep secret of Shabbat that is the ability to stop, to breath, to desist from the economical frenzy, to exercise our free-will by resting, letting nature in all its aspects rest, to simply be;

2. The hidden message of the mezuzah which is on the door posts of our houses and the door frames of all internal doors. What is written and so well hidden within that little protective box? A reminder to love the Creator above all other things and a reminder to look after the world otherwise the consequences will be dire.  Yes, right there as we transition from our home (our refuge from the outer world) to our outer home (the planet) there is a reminder to check our inner home, our consciousness and intentions towards the greater whole.  Powerful.  This is the Green Mezuza.

3.  The story of Joseph and Judah is the story of the imperative to change and to make changes in ones behaviour and attitudes towards others. The former moves from being the arch-manipulator to being the one that let go and lets God, while the latter is the one who refuses to take responsibility and learns the hard way to lead and to go forwards.  Out of these two come the two crowns of the Messiah – but that’s another story.


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Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a week in Copenhagen as a Jewish representative to a gathering of spiritual practitioners from around the world.  We prayed together, shared together, learnt together and went out to several sites around the city to preach together.  The overall reason for our coming together was very sad – the health of the earth is tragic – but we were filled with joy at the amazing opportunity to feel aligned in Oneness at our mutual and sincere commitment to protect the planet from the ravages of humans.  Some of our adventures you’ve seen here on Climate of Change, others can be seen on http://www.odysseynetworks.org/ (I am mistakenly referred to as a ‘Rabbi’ which I am not.  Reb Zalman ordained me as a Reverend.)

The practitioners from the Eastern religions spoke most about the need to realign the inner ecology of the sentient mind.  Those from the West (Christians) spoke about outer action.  The Jews took a middle stand. Shabbat was talked about a lot as a source of inspiration for an alternative social and economical model.

The entire city of Copenhagen was dedicated to the struggle for awareness with spectacular sculptures and posters at every corner.  Protest meetings were held at the large sports complex as well as in the ‘hippy’ commune of Christiania. And a large, mainly peaceful, demonstration took place on Shabbat.

In recent article in the New York Times by Stewart Brand (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/opinion/15brand.html?_r=2&ref=opinion) refers to four categories of people: denier, skeptic, warner, calamatist. I only met the latter two. However I came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to temporarily put aside the issue of climate change and instead become aware that the world is in great danger of dying anyway. The oceans are at a critical point of no return, the top soil in many parts of the world is exhausted, pollutants are increasing, etc. All these factors are being exasperated by the increase in global temperatures.

I want to bring to your attention two magnificent and deeply troubling TED talks that illustrate these two factors:



Let us pray that the actions of a small group will motivate the many, the more enlightened will uplift the less, the sanctifiers of the earth will dissuade the desecrators, that much less energy will illuminate much more, and that the holy Earth will remain a resting place for the Shechinah.

Happy Hanukah

Michael, Jerusalem

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Next in Odyssey Networks’ video series of the Faith at the Summit climate change conference in Copenhagen:

And another: Christianity and Climate Change:

And one more: Day 7 at the Summit, with Desmond Tutu

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Two more COP15 videos from Odyssey Networks: Day’s 5 and 6 in Copenhagen. Enjoy! (If you can’t see a video player on your screen, click on the image below. Otherwise, visit Odyssey Networks’ videos page.

From Day 6, “The Bishop of Canterbury

and Day 5’s “Finding Hope”:

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Hi Everyone,

The following is the third in the video series Odyssey Networks has released on the Faith at the Summit conference, paralleling COP15 in Copenhagen. We’ll continue to post their videos as the conference continues to progress. Enjoy, and keep praying for some serious action on climate change!

(If you can’t see the video from this page, click on the image below).

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