Headwaters resolution cut down in UAHC committee

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A resolution calling for the protection and restoration of Headwaters Forest died in committee at last week's convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

"My heart really bled when I heard no action was going to be taken," Dr. Barak Gale, author of the resolution and a member of San Francisco's Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, said this week.

The resolution was one of many presented in Dallas at the biennial convention of the Reform movement's synagogue arm. If the resolution committee had approved the measure, the 4,000 delegates at the convention would have voted on it.

"I'm terribly saddened that we missed such a tremendous opportunity," said Gale, who is also an activist in the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life.

Headwaters Forest, which sits in Northern California's Humboldt County, has received national attention due to its large number of old-growth redwoods — some up to 2,000 years old.

The battle between environmentalists and Maxxam Corp., which owns the forest, has continually escalated. President Clinton has been poised to sign a bill to help purchase and protect 7,500 acres of the 60,000-acre forest. Environmentalists say thousands more acres should be set aside and no old-growth trees should be logged.

At the same time the Reform convention was taking place, the most notorious event of the Headwaters saga was coming to light. Last week, nine young activists filed a federal lawsuit against Humboldt County's Sheriff's Department and others for deliberately swabbing concentrated pepper spray into their eyes during three sit-in protests this fall.

Because the Headwaters resolution had missed the filing deadline, Gale gathered support via petition in order to present it to the resolution committee. A majority of convention delegates from nine Reform congregations signed the petition.

Those synagogues included six in Northern California: Congregations Sha'ar Zahav and Emanu-El in San Francisco, Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame and Temple Sinai in Oakland.

Gale wouldn't comment on why the resolution committee chose not to act on the resolution, "except to say I'm very sad that such an important resolution basically died because of political issues."

Among Jewish environmentalists, however, it is well known that Maxxam's chief executive, Charles Hurwitz, belongs to a prominent Reform congregation in Houston.

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, spiritual leader of Emanu-El, actively supported the Headwaters resolution.

"It would have been nice for the issue to have received some prominence in front of the plenum of the largest body of Jews in the United States," he said after returning from the convention this week.

But Pearce said several factors were working against the resolution. It was submitted late, so it wasn't in the original packet of resolutions that delegates could study. And at the time, he asserted, the Headwaters issue hadn't yet received enough national attention for delegates to have known what they were voting on.

In the end, Pearce said, Gale and others agreed to withdraw the petition.

"If it were tabled or defeated, it could make it very difficult for the movement to lend its voice to the effort," Pearce said.

But Gale said he didn't officially withdraw it. Instead, he and others agreed not to force a vote, with assurances that the Reform movement's Religious Action Center will showcase the issue.