My name is Leah Garden, and I am GreenBiz’s Climate Tech Reporter. I have a master’s degree in sustainability management as well as an undergraduate degree in business for sustainability. I am also Jewish.
On the surface, my professional accomplishments and my personal faith have no connection. No bridge seemingly links the two disparate statements, and one would be forgiven for assuming that I live my life as a Jewish woman who also happens to work in the climate sector. But the deep connections between my professional endeavors and my spiritual background are as connected and interwoven as the roots of the Tree of Life. And in these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days and Jewish New Year, it is important for me to share just how my religion and professional ambitions are interconnected.
First, some background. On Rosh Hashanah, the day Adam and Eve were created, according to the Old Testament, the Jewish people usher in a sweet new year with the consumption of apples dipped in honey. Eight days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we sit in judgment of G-d for our actions of the past year, grateful for the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and begin again with the passage of time.
Judaism (and Christianity) is founded on the belief that without every living and naturally occurring entity, humanity would cease to exist.
The Old Testament makes many references to the reverence owed to the natural world. Judaism (and Christianity) is founded on the belief that without every living and naturally occurring entity, humanity would cease to exist.
Judaism repeatedly teaches us of the sanctity of the natural world. In the bible, G-d created the Earth, the light and the dark, the trees and mountains and deserts, the sheep and lion and lizard, all before creating man and woman. Nature was specifically created to facilitate the longevity of humanity, reinforcing the dependence of humans upon the plants, landscapes and animals. And when man and woman seemingly took advantage of the splendor of the harmony of nature for purely self-serving reasons, they were cast out, doomed to live in a world where nature could bite back and wipe humanity from existence.
And it does. Multiple times. When humans prove to be evil and selfish, G-d literally floods the world, using a natural disaster (an unfortunately recent and too-often occurring phenomenon) to wipe the plague of humanity from existence. But not before ensuring that every bug, reptile, mammal and bird is saved to live on for another day. Again and again, G-d punishes humanity with the might of the earth, from pestilence and frogs to locusts and diseased livestock. (Also, "The Prince of Egypt" is a stellar movie and the song below is a bop.)
But my personal and professional drive to end the climate crisis and restore the natural balance of our planet is due to more than just words written on a page, however holy. While I identify as Jewish, I do not consider myself a particularly religious person. I do not regularly attend synagogue (sometimes known as shul) and aside from my attendance of Hebrew school until my bat mitzvah at age 13, I received no further formal Jewish education.
But Judaism to me is so much more than all that. It is a religion anchored in the family and community. So long as you are born to a Jewish mother, you are considered Jewish, a member of the tribe. This familial connection to my religion is how I celebrate my Judaism.
My paternal grandparents were born in Ukraine and Poland in the beginning of the 20th century. My grandmother, Tonia, was on the run from Nazis, literally jumping off of a moving train with her sister Genie to escape the soldiers of the Third Reich. After hiding in the home of Ukrainian peasants, Tonia and Genie eventually reunited with their parents, a rare happy ending for a European Jewish family.
My grandfather, Zenek, was not as lucky. As a young man in Poland in 1939, he was suspected by the invading Russian force to be an informant and subsequently sent to a Siberian work camp. Upon liberation, he made the horrific discovery that of his parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, he was the sole survivor.
I have cousins included on the famous Schindler’s list, great aunts who to this day bear the blue numerical tattoo of Auschwitz on their forearm. And because of my family’s strength and refusal to die at the behest of a small but powerful group of fascists, my father, and me by extension, received the privilege of a peaceful childhood, Jewish and safe in the United States.
I live every day with the knowledge that my ancestors fought and died for my current religious freedom. And now, in the year 2022, I cannot sit idly by in my family’s hardwon safety as the planet floods and burns because humanity once again decided that another vulnerable community is worth the price of shallow comfort.
For too long, different religious, ethnic and political groups have wantonly decided that one group or community can be sacrificed for the majority’s comfort. The Earth itself, and the millions of ecosystems housed within it, is counted among that unacceptable list of expendables. As the member of a community eternally housed on that roster, I refuse to assume the role of passive bystander. So, in the memory of my family who died to ensure my safety, I will fight for the vulnerable:
For the communities around the world disproportionately affected by the worsening natural disasters caused by the climate crisis.
For the families forced to work untenable hours in horrific conditions, making cheap and unnecessary commodities for the wealthy to quickly use and discard.
For entire species quietly going extinct because humanity decided their homes in the forests, oceans, plains or mountains stood in the way of precious minerals and resources.
My decision to devote my life to the mitigation of climate change is enforced by millennia of decisions. From the tenets of my faith first recorded over 5,000 years ago, to the frequent and bigoted persecution of my ancestors throughout history, to the courageous journey undergone by my grandparents within the last century. I will use my position of safety and privilege to fight for those without the voice or platform to do so.
And I will always credit much of my drive to my family and my faith.