Hashanah b’ah b’Yerushalayim! — “Next year in Jerusalem” — we exult at the end of every Pesach, completing our seder journeys from slavery in Mitzrayim to freedom in Yisrael. You may have noticed that most of us don’t intend to make aliyah next year, or even to celebrate Passover 5759 in yiru shalom, the city of peace.
The old Yiddish rabbis say that if we can’t make it to Jerusalem, “Chas v’chalilah,” loosely translated as “God forbid, failing that, we should all be healthy here.” So, what we’re declaring at seder’s end, basically, is that we’ll leave the present at our tables, and launch ourselves into the future, with the intention of reaching a better place in life — as early as next year.
How will that future look?
Maybe the Messiah will have come, answering everyone’s prayers. The worse things get in the world, the more people generally pray for deliverance by a Messiah, and we Jews have done that often enough. Many religions and cultures see today’s crises of climate and economy as indications of a coming End of Days, after which cataclysm, including a final Good vs. Evil war at Tel Megiddo, Israel (aka, Armageddon), the Messianic Age will dawn.
Jews find waiting for the Messiah problematic, however. In one story, Moshiach arrives in a shtetl village, surprising the townsfolk who drop everything and dance in the streets. Only the rabbi does not appear. He sits in the shul, studying Talmud, until late the second day, when he finally emerges. He greets the Messiah, they shake hands, and Moshiach says, “Rabbi, I’ve been here two days. Where have you been?”
“Moshiach,” replies the rabbi, “Where have you been?”
Our pragmatic streak says it’s most effective to do world-changing work, though praying and doing mitzvot do put us in the right frame of mind for it.
That work commitment is evident in the 29 Jewish environmental resources listed in February’s Hadassah Magazine. From Adamah to Wise Organic Pastures, they cover advocacy, education, experiential learning, food supply, and research. Most major synagogue organizations have also started greening efforts: The Union for Reform Judaism (www.urj.org/green), Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (www.jrf.org), and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (www.uscj.org/The_Environment7780.html).
Jews also provide world-changing leadership in the secular world. Adam Werbach, formerly Sierra Club’s youngest president, now advises Wal-Mart on “greening” its operations; Alicia Gravitz co-founded the nation’s largest green advocacy co-operative, Green America (www.coopamerica.org), and now serves as its executive director; Alon Tal founded Israel’s leading environmental law group, Adam Teva V’Din, and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and plans to run soon for Knesset.
So, optimistically speaking, we’ll find our “better place in life” in a world like Michael Braungart and William McDonnough envision in their book Cradle to Cradle. It will encourage and respect diversity, use current solar “capital” rather than embedded fossil fuels, and eliminate all waste by designing everything for reuse. Economies will run within the scales of their ecosystems, as ecological economists envision, encouraging the production of economic “goods” such as inventions, discouraging production of economic “bads,” such as pollution, and creating incomes equitably scaled to costs of living. All foods will be organic, all energy sustainable, all materials safe to use, all air and water safe to breathe and drink. And we’ll use the Sustainable National Income index to measure our progress on health, wealth and sustainability, as the New America Foundation and others envision, rather than a GDP or GNP (Gross Domestic or National Product), which only measure our money.
Pessimistically speaking, everything will collapse. Pollution and poverty will increase as we fail to manage climate change and the economy; energy resources will become scarce and expensive, restricting our mobility and access to low-cost foods and products, leading to abandonment of suburbs and small towns, and creating millions of Americans refugees. Gaia Theory originator James Lovelock expects 80 percent of humanity to perish by 2100 as sea levels rise, storms and droughts turn the polar latitudes into temperate zones and the tropics into deserts (Rolling Stone, Oct. 2007).
Weather patterns, growing seasons and animal migration routes will shift as humans war with one another for remaining resources. Even heroic, desperate measures such as rushing to drill oil and build nuclear power plants, bloom ocean plankton to absorb carbon, and desalinate the seas for water may not save us.
However we look at it, creating a future we can enjoy in Jerusalem, or anywhere else on earth is going to take work, perhaps even sacrifice. But humans are resilient and resourceful; challenging times invite new ideas, and courageous people to implement them. So as we embark, let’s keep in mind the attitude Werner Erhardt (aka Jack Rosenberg) offered at his human potential seminars: “We give up something good to get something better.”