Ecology rabbi of the future | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Ecology rabbi of the future

For this activist future rabbi, climate change is not just a theory to read about in textbooks.   

Recent college graduate Savannah (Lipinski) Lipner says that just about every summer, her parents’ backyard in Colorado glows red from area forest fires. The house is not far from Rocky Mountain National Park.  

“Sometimes you can see just sort of [see] an orange glow and smoke coming from the direction of where the fire is, but I know that there have been times when there’s been fires within probably 10 to 20 miles of my parents’ house, where you can actually see fire in the distance.” 

California fires, too, and floods in Iowa and Louisiana, have had an impact on Lipner’s family, she said. It gives her a pragmatic interest in climate change. Lipner has poured her passion on the issue into activism at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and perhaps next as a rabbi.  

As an undergraduate at UW-Madison, Lipner founded Jews for Climate Justice at the school, holding events at the Madison Hillel and connecting with the national Dayenu, an organization that describes itself as a “Jewish call to climate action.” 

“It was a way of making the circle bigger, connecting the community in Madison with the community on campus, which is something that doesn’t happen very often,” she said.  

Later this month, Lipner is to start rabbinical school in New York City with the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. She’s interested in military chaplaincy, having served in the military before college, and in “moving the Jewish community toward social justice and progress.” 

Lipner majored in geology and Jewish studies with minors in environmental studies and physics. While in college, Lipner was a 2015 fellow with the NextGen Climate Action Committee. The role had her approaching people at summer festivals and farmer’s markets in Wisconsin. She asked people about their voting plans in the 2016 election and asked them to think about climate change. 

“We’d have a booth and stickers and things to attract people to the table. Sometimes we’d be walking around with T-shirts and clipboards, just approaching people,” she said. 

“I think that it was enjoyable to have conversations. I’m someone who doesn’t really shy away from having hard conversations, and for some people climate change is a hard conversation, and it was really fulfilling to walk into a conversation and get to a place where someone hadn’t been already.” 

She continued her political activism on campus after that. 

During her first year of rabbinical school, Lipner will continue with Dayenu, as a rabbinic fellow doing organizing work at the national level. You might say she’s just getting started.  

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Next month’s Chronicle 

Coming in September in the Chronicle for Rosh Hashanah: For the world’s birthday, we ask local rabbis and others about climate change.