Chanukah - The least sustainable Chag - or is it?
On the face of it Chanukah is a bit of a disaster for the environment. It is our “chag urim”, our festival of light. It is how the Jews join into the fiesta of light pollution, excessive usage of electricity and general consumerism that marks the mid-winter festival in so many cultures.
The rather wonderful thing though, in this year when Chanukah is at the same time as the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change, is that the story behind Chanukah is about the very opposite of profligate exploitation of our environment. At its centre is the myth of how the Maccabees were able to eke out one day’s supply of oil to last for eight days, just as we have to learn to use much less carbon producing energy to do the things we need to do. Its historical basis is the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem - the re-use and re-cycling of what had become a Greek Temple to be the spiritual centre for our Jewish people. Even the driedel game is an excellent electricity free way of children playing without expending the earth’s resources - the game preserves the exact input that is put into it as the same number of almonds or tokens is circulated among the players.
It is a fitting week then that the Assembly of Rabbis of our Movement for Reform Judaism pledged at our meeting to cajole, persuade, help and act to ensure that our Synagogues save 10% of their carbon footprint during 2010.
Jews are now roughly 0.2% of the world’s population; less than the margin of error on the Indian census. If all the Jews in the world recycle their newspapers it will make… pretty much no difference whatsoever. Nor if we put a solar-powered ner tamid in every synagogue, nor, more radically, if every Jew in the world swapped their existing car for a hybrid.
This is the backdrop against which I want to be clear about the purposes of the Jewish environmental movement at this moment in time.
We cannot by our individual actions effect change; we cannot even, as a people, in our own behaviour, directly create the change we would like. But what we can do is play, as we have always played, a vital role in shifting the trajectory of a very long-run conversation about the nature of human life on this planet. This we not only can do, we actually must do.”
Let’s get started this Chanukah by making our energy resources last for longer.
For further information and resources on Chanukah click here