Sabbatical, Shmita and Climate Change

I wanted to share a recent article I read that combines ancient notions of sabbatical with climate change. While we may not all see the connection between religious or spiritual teachings and the environment, I think particularly in this case, we can take our Green cues from a timeless biblical notion that every seven years we are to renew the land, ourselves and our relationships.

The Article is as Follows:
As the Land of Israel enjoys a shmita year of rest, Simhat Torah allows us to take a critical look at how we might be able to positively affect ever-encroaching climate change.

‘After creating the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Raba 7:13) A month after 400,000 people marched in New York, and around 2,000 other climate demonstrations took place worldwide in advance of the UN Climate Summit, Jews return to our sources and roll back to the beginning of our story.

Our journey begins again with the majesty of creation, the transformation in Eden and to Noah, and God’s near destruction of the world. These universal stories with timeless lessons brought together the large multi-faith contingents who marched together in New York to save the planet yet again from rising waters.

This year is different from all past ones, for it is the last observance of shmita – the sabbatical year for the environment – before extreme climate change becomes irreversible. Price- WaterhouseCoopers has just released its latest Low Carbon Economy Index, with the damning news that the major economies are falling further and further behind meeting their carbon reduction goals.

Israel, which has much to offer the world on climate change, was distracted this summer by Operation Protective Edge and did not prepare sufficiently for the UN Climate Summit. While most countries sent their prime ministers and presidents to represent them, Israel fielded Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. Most major democracies today also have senior climate advisers to their foreign ministers; Israel does not. Great Britain fields 80 climate officers throughout its embassies worldwide and France is about to do the same. It is time for Israel to name a senior climate adviser and integrate a climate plan into its foreign policy.

Positioning Israel in the international arena as a positive player against climate change is not only in our national interest, it is a global Jewish imperative.

The liturgy we just read for the Days of Awe was haunting: “Who will live; and who will die?” Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which killed more than 6,300 people 10 months ago and made another two million people homeless, was super-charged by the warming waters of the Indian Ocean and the higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Who by water? The severity of the droughts across sub-Saharan Africa threatens millions of lives. Who by thirst? And even California is suffering its worst water shortages and wildfires.

Who by fire? The economic devastation alone of climate change – prices for water, food and energy will go up for billions of people – coupled with the unprecedented loss of human life, is like no other physical and moral challenge that humanity has ever faced.

Israel is uniquely suited to provide leadership on this issue. We are converting our coal-fired plants to natural gas, cutting power plant emissions by half.

Start-Up Nation is innovating when it comes to energy storage, a prerequisite for using solar power at night. While we failed with our first attempt at electric vehicles, there are lessons to be learned to help economies make the transition from gasoline in transportation to a cleaner electric future. And we are expert at risk management, which enables us to develop renewable energy projects in Africa and other remote locations.

Our own solar program, however, has been frozen for two years, and most solar energy companies have either left the country or folded since the government has not approved new solar quotas.

Within the Torah is the secret to beating climate change. If for one day each week every world religion and every country would celebrate Shabbat the way the Jewish people do, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1/7th, at least from transportation and industry. A 1/7th reduction in carbon emissions would bring the earth back into balance. During this year of shmita, it would be appropriate to promote a true day of rest each week worldwide when the generators and engines would fall silent.

Last month, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and 50 other mainstream foundations announced they were planning to divest from oil and coal and instead invest in green energy. Jewish federation and foundation endowments, with total assets of roughly $60 billion, should this shmita year divest from all carbon-intensive businesses, like oil, gas, and coal companies. Every Jewish institution and family can calculate their carbon footprint and offset it by planting trees via the Jewish National Fund or other carbon offset programs.

Nigel Savage, of Hazon, challenges us to become the first carbon-neutral people on the planet.

And finally, the Jewish people can offer hope. We are an ancient biblical people who have miraculously returned to our homeland after 2,000 years. We have overcome incredible odds and rejuvenated our people and our land, bringing back to life the language of the Torah.

Recent international conferences meant to fight climate change are speaking more and more about how to only mitigate the negative impact of climate change. With the exception of Sir David King, climate adviser to the British foreign secretary, and a handful of Jewish energy pioneers, few believe we can win the ultimate climate battle and that defeat is inevitable.

Yet those of us who had the good fortune to grow up in the Soviet Jewry movement are very familiar with the area in front of the United Nations. We know what it means to conduct and win an unprecedented global, ethical campaign. We know how miraculous it is that we are still reading each week an ancient scroll that has previously launched ethical revolutions across several religions. The Jewish people is at its best when we represent the value of hope in history.

This is our gift; this is our responsibility.

And when it comes to climate change, time is running out.

Named by CNN as one of the six leading Green Pioneers on the planet, Yosef I.Abramowitz is a co-founder of the solar industry in the State of Israel and serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem- based developer building solar fields in Africa and elsewhere. He can be followed on twitter @kaptainsunshine.

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Sabbath Reboot

We were recently contacted by someone who had read an article by Mardi Tindal in the The United Church Observer — a United Church publication. The article was about our New Sabbath Project — the weekly practice of breaking bread and building community, one meal at a time and also the spinoffs such as this blog, our work with a Kenyan Pastor who approached us after seeing our blog and our radio show on CIUT. We appreciated hearing from this reader because it reminded us that we really must return to this beautiful weekly ritual. In truth, we have had such an overwhelmingly busy year that some of the most important things we do for both our physical, spiritual and mental health, took a back seat to other demands. The Sabbath ritual is one we hope others will adopt and adapt to strengthen their communal and family lives. Maybe the year would have been easier for us if we shared the joy and a little bit of prep and hosting duties with a deeper network of sabbatical fellow travelers. Sharing helps.

We thought we would share Mardi Tindal’s article (link is also above) with you. Enjoy and feel free to respond and share on our site and theirs.

Soul Work
The invitation: Mark Sabbath in your life
Opinion

By Mardi Tindal

Thomas Merton provocatively described activism and overwork as “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.”

In the book Sabbath, author Wayne Muller quotes the 20th-century monk and then prescribes Sabbath time as a means of healing from this violence. “Sabbath,” he writes, “is more than the absence of work. . . . It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true . . . honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

Whether or not you think of your busy life as a form of violence, we all need to take time for reflection and to honour the perspective it brings.

Jewish friends have taught me much about the spiritual practice of Sabbath. Friday evening’s Shabbat meal (itself the model for the Christian eucharist, or communion) marks a day of rest, remembers God’s creation and looks forward to God’s shalom.

My own family for generations has enjoyed a tradition of Sunday dinners — not a formal liturgy, but gathering, pausing, giving thanks.

Sabbath traditions are more complicated these days. Our families aren’t all within easy reach, and many embrace differing traditions. How then to practise Sabbath?

Ralph Benmergui and Cortney Pasternak, two communication professionals raising their children with respect for his Jewish spirituality and her humanist values, decided to renew the ancient tradition within their busy lives. Their New Sabbath Project involves inviting people to share a Friday-evening meal and a blessing. It’s a practice they describe as “breaking bread and growing community.”

“We have to build spiritual bridges toward each other, between people who love each other and people who don’t know each other,” Benmergui explains in a recent conversation. “Having a meal together is creating a community one meal at a time.”

The practice is an informal reflection of the traditional Shabbat meal. It begins with lighting candles and sharing wine and bread. Then Benmergui and Pasternak invite their guests to offer blessings. “Whatever blessing you want,” says Benmergui. “Just say it. I don’t care if you’re blessing your goldfish.”

Of course, no one takes the invitation lightly. And their reactions testify to how deeply we need these opportunities.

“We saw the relief in them — that they could do something sacred, just that simply,” Benmergui observes. One guest turned to his spouse and said, “I just want to bless my wife, because we’ve been so busy lately, and I just want her to know how much I love and appreciate her.” The wife was almost in tears, and Benmergui realized, “This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t hard to do.”

Following a Sabbath practice allows for “a sacred space to be created, a container in which we can locate the love and the unity that’s actually present every moment anyway,” he says. “It’s sort of like when there’s a blackout. You kind of wish there were more of them (in warm weather, for a few hours every week), because everybody talks to their neighbour and nobody has a machine to look at, and you really feel your presence on the Earth. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s kind of beautiful. So there’s a way of doing that.”

Benmergui and Pasternak have offered a guide to creating your own Sabbath project on their website, newsabbathproject.com. They were delighted to hear from a Masai tribesman who’s also a Christian missionary. He came across their guide and has been holding Shabbat dinners in his Kenyan village ever since.

There is no one right way, they emphasize, to experience Sabbath. Which leads to the question: what are your Sabbath practices?

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

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Forcing Sabbatical on my Busy Busy Life

Various religious and spiritual scholars have written about the crisis of work, sabbatical of some sort and the spiritual disconnect brought about by our very busy lives. In one recent audio transcript found online people in contemporary society are compared to horses in a cavalry charge — moving forward so fast and just going through the motions, thus preventing them from thinking about the important things in life — including their enslavement to work. The idea is to make them so busy – that they can’t pause to think.

A part of this same audio file transcript reads “We become enslaved to the wrong path in life; we can’t even get our priorities straight; we can’t see the bigger picture”…and our spirits are low.

One way I think to free ourselves and reconnect to the things that matter is to literally force ourselves to stop doing what everyone else around us is doing, take a step back and think — but also to use that time to do something positive. Now I get that people stuck on that treadmill may say “Nice idea — but who’s got the time?” Getting off that treadmill takes tremendous courage and often lots of time — to say nothing of disposable income or a good savings.

Several years ago, American journalist Po Bronson wrote a book titled “What should I do with my life?” The book chronicled the experiences of a number of people who had either left a professional life they found unfulfilling or unsatisfying to pursue their passions. Think here for instance – a big city, high paid hot shot who decides that what he really wants is to become a chef and open a bakery. Or people, who due to circumstances like raising children , give up on their own professional dreams, only to pursue them later — somethings in their 60s, when their partners are ready to retire. Or others who have these powerful but rare spiritual “epiphanies” that come with forced sabbatical, silent retreat and meditation — quiet space and time to actually think.

I’m convinced these epiphanies or whatever you’re comfortable calling them are about more than just pursuing professional dreams. This is about a spiritual deficit where the individual reigns over community; where even the lowest paid — to saying nothing of the highest paid — jobs, want all of you — 110 percent — so there is nothing left for anything or anyone else. And then, hey, in case you’re tired, burnt out or stretched to your limit — the message is shut up and be grateful. There are 100 other people in line for the job.

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking My Busy Busy Life. We’ll be speaking to two fantastic people – Molly Finlay and Richard Pietro of Citizen Bridge— who left big jobs and big careers in the search for meaning. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at newsabbathproject@gmail.com. You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance? What a Concept…For All of Us!

I ran into a couple of people this past week for the first time since the seasonal holidays began in December. I had assumed these people were “away” on holiday over those few quiet weeks. After all, they were “out of office” and out of reach. I imagined that these friends and acquaintances were off galavanting somewhere exciting or warm or both — enjoying a change of scenery. But no. As it turns out, these high functioning, super-engaged people were just taking a breath — coming up for air — absolutely exhausted by the frenetic pace of work that permits next to no time to recharge and heaven forbid – reflect. Instead keeping it all going with a big, public smile for fear of being pegged as “not quite up to it” or a “slacker“. One particular public figure, who professes to enjoy his work, lamented quite publicly that he simply could not find a way to incorporate such “breaks” or what we here call “sabbatical” into his life more regularly — but that he wishes he could. He is not alone. We, in Western society now take our lack of work-life balance — our inability to find or better yet make time to stop, rest, relax and reflect – as a given — an inevitability. We just don’t know how to wiggle out of this deep mess we’re caught up in — and our physical and mental health as well as our families are paying the price. But what if we looked at self-imposed, regular sabbatical from all things work, as a form of liberation instead of chains that tie us down?

American writer, preacher and activist Ana Levy-Lyons weighs in on the issue, comparing the weekly Jewish Sabbath Practice as “political resistance” in a recent Tikkun article. Levy-Lyons draws from Jewish Scholar and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Revolutionary Socialist and Philosopher Karl Marx to illustrate shared insights about “time” as the “ultimate form of human wealth” in our lives — showing that this idea of sabbatical transcends religious lines — crossing into the secular.

The problem she sees and I agree, is that in societies like ours, so-called “free time” is viewed as wasted time — a guilty pleasure even. I think we all have friends or colleagues (or maybe it’s us) who brag or laugh about skipping holiday time — worried in part about how it will appear to their bosses but also claiming that they are just too busy to make a holiday work. Further, as Levy-Lyons and many others have argued — far from freeing up our time, communication technology has had the opposite effect. She draws from Marx here writing “any surplus time created by labor-saving technology is immediately sucked back into the system to create more value — more money, more goods, more innovation”. Ever notice the times attached to some of those work related emails?

Imagine if, as she argues in refering to Heschel who said that precious time is stolen from us, the Sabbath is “a reestablishment of a primordial birthright…(For 25 hours once a week) We get to light candles, linger over meals, take aimless walks through town” and so on. How about just finding time to talk about things that matter? Engaging in community building or critical, creative forms of citizenship? We recently asked a progressive, Toronto area Rabbi why he thought our New Sabbath Project isn’t spreading more when people love the idea in principle and certainly love taking part. He explained that without buying into the idea of obligation, that it simply wasn’t sustainable. Talk to most secular people about the notion of obligation and the reaction won’t be a positive one. Who can blame them? Between the obligations (read demands) of work, paying bills and keeping up with housework and possibly family needs — who wants to add one more thing to the list?

How radical is the notion of reclaiming time? We’re not talking about simply the once or twice a year “holiday” or periodic unplugging — but a more regular (even ritualized?) and therefore purposeful or even conscious practice. Indeed Levy-Lyons writes that we must not confuse the idea of a weekly, ritualized sabbath (whatever that may look like to you) with simply a nice holiday away from work. The truth is we can’t wait for a revolution in the workplace to give us permission to make it happen — one that requires serious courage to change our outdated ideas about “work” and “productivity” and the impact of such notions on our families, our communities and our mental health. Heschel speaks about creating cathedrals of time and speaks of the ritual that accompanies obligation as the frame over which we can stretch the canvas of our lives. How we choose to fill that canvass is the challenge and opportunity that free will provides to us. Sabbath/Sabbatical/Shabbat – whatever you’re comfortable calling it –can be the seed that we plant from which community, reflection and connection can be nurtured and grown. Imagine creating a zone of personal prosperity – free of marketing, work in all it’s forms and (often mindless) consumption. Just 25 hours, just once a week, just to connect and give those we love and care for a chance to love us back.

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Sharing Circle, Dinner Circle-Guest Blog on New Sabbath Project

“As Leonard Cohen says you must build a fence around the sacred if you want to protect and nurture it in your life. Our New Sabbath Project is a step in that direction.” — Ralph Benmergui

This was how recent social innovator and community builder Craig Carter-Edwards recently began his guest blog for the New Sabbath Project. He was quoting Ralph who was paraphrasing Leonard Cohen from an interview he did with Cohen many years ago. We thank Craig for his contribution and we urge you to read his blog by clicking on the link above, visit his site, then visit ours. Please retweet and repost. Let’s build community and spread the word.

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Lose Your Watch on Your Next Holiday

There has been a lot written in recent years about the need to “unplug” on holiday and how to do it — and the fact that so few of us do it (present company included). I can say that I can generally avoid checking work emails on holidays but I stay connected for family matters. But I tried something different on the last two family vacations I had this past summer and I have to say, I think it had quite an impact on reducing both kid, daddy and mommy meltdown moments. I removed my watch — a big step for someone who lives a life ruled by time — some call it Type A personality — I actually think it’s a function of big city living combined with the perpetual struggle for work life balance. As a mother of two young children who must work out of the home, this is particularly true. You know — kids must be up by this time to get them to school by this time to make it to the office by this time to get home in time to have enough time to spend a little time before bedtime. Phew! No wonder so many of us are frazzled, stressed, time obsessed and usually burnt out by the time we take time for a holiday (and we know many Canadians don’t even take that time) or heaven forbid — a weekly sabbatical to reflect, recharge and rejuvenate, as we advocate in this site. I must say, that leaving my watch on the counter as opposed to my wrist during that time was incredibly liberating. Not only did my days feel less rushed with my family, it also somehow naturally reduced the sense of urgency around checking emails etc. Having no real sense of time helped us be more present instead of constantly wondering what we needed to do next — helped us build our fence around sacred space and time — something we know so few of us do at home in and/or with our own communities. Who knew? The trick is, can we or should we wean ourselves off the watch OFF holiday hours? Perhaps it’s worth a try.

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