Rabbi Woll: It’s time to take care | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Rabbi Woll: It’s time to take care

Use the earth. Take care of the Earth.  

In Genesis, we are told that all of the natural world was created for man. But we are also told that man was responsible for tending to the garden, or nature – that initially there was nothing in the garden because man wasn’t created yet. 

“So there are really two different ideas — is our responsibility to take advantage of the Earth, or is our responsibility to tend to and nurture the Earth?” 

In this way, Rabbi Michal Woll sees what she calls an “A” message and a “B” message coming from the Torah, on our relationship with Mother Earth. Woll is the spiritual leader for Shir Hadash, the Reconstructionist congregation in Milwaukee.  

“I think we’ve been doing a lot of ‘A’ and I think it’s not going very well. We’re doing a lot of A, we need some ‘B.’ We need to realize that we are part of the system, to take care of the Earth.” 

Woll noted that climate change is causing current, real-world difficulties. She added that wealthier communities can see less impact than poorer communities.  

“There are climate refugees who can no longer survive in their land because it’s too hot to farm,” she said. Climate change can upend an indigenous way of life. It can lead to migration.  

“And so that leads to, okay, where are they going to go? And how are they going to be treated?” 

For this reason and others, Woll refers to the situation as a “climate emergency.” 

“It’s just another way of saying ‘climate change,’ she said, but added a distinction: “Emergencies are not okay.” 

“So it’s a way of being clear about it and I’m sure I learned it from my congregants, or I learned it from my engagement with environmental groups.” 

Woll said the “climate emergency” must be addressed at the governmental and corporate levels. She admits that individual power is limited.  

Her congregation works with Milwaukee partners to plant gardens “for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them.”  

“Now we’re talking about 10 gardens in the city of Milwaukee, right? That’s not going to make a huge impact, but it’s what we can do. It doesn’t make no impact. And it changes the lives of those people.” 

The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle focused on climate change for the season of the world’s birthday, Rosh Hashanah. This article is part of that series for 2023/5784.