For the director of lifelong learning at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, understanding the climate crisis and caring for the Earth is not only necessary but Jewish. Susan Cosden has spent years evaluating and instructing on Judaism’s connection to the Earth.
The congregation also considers its own impact. For example, during tashlich — the “bread throwing” ceremony used to let go of sins during Rosh Hashanah — the congregation no longer throws bread into a body of water because of possible negative impacts of that ceremony. Practicing tashlich by throwing bread crumbs in water can be harmful to geese, duck, and other water life – it keeps them from eating the food that is nutritious for them, and it spreads disease, according to a Reform Movement article on the topic.
“So many synagogues are discussing what should we be throwing instead of bread,” Cosden said. “Synagogues are doing cleanups instead and some are having conversations about local watersheds.”
Cosden understands the essential importance of caring for the Earth and extends into her role.
“We’ve missed the mark, as the whole Jewish people and the whole world, in terms of how we’ve taken care of the environment,” Cosden said.
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun has hosted holiday services outside at Lynden Sculpture Garden to help families connect with nature, introduced programming with a beekeeper and facilitated arts and crafts related to the Earth such as seed paper and clay.
“We also had a congregational retreat this past winter that was all about Judaism and the environment,” Cosden said.
To reach others, Cosden utilizes Jewish stories with a climate connection.
“There’s a Jewish story about G-d saying, ‘I’ve given you this earth and it’s yours. Take care of it. There’s not going to be another one. It’s your gift now,’” Cosden said. “It’s amazing that the research now confirms what Judaism has always said.”
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.