Reform rabbis speak out for Headwaters protection

"It was a slam dunk," Pearce said of the vote.

"I hope that rabbis will report what happened and tell their communities about the importance of the stewardship of earth's natural resources. We cannot let forests be destroyed without accounting for it," he said.

Headwaters Forest, which lies in Humboldt County south of Eureka, is the largest tract of ancient redwoods that is still privately owned. The forest has received national attention as logging threatens its enormous stands of 2,000-year-old redwoods and its vital habitat for the marbled murrelet, a seabird on the verge of extinction.

Despite a setback last fall, when a similar resolution failed to pass at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, support by the Jewish community for Headwaters is on the rise.

The CCAR resolution is the first to be adopted by a large, rabbinically authoritative body of the organized Jewish community on the Headwaters issue. This past year, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Reconstructionist Rabbinic Association passed similar resolutions.

"It's one thing to have a few rabbis in California" supporting the Headwaters Forest, Pearce said. "It's another when you have an entire movement."

Environmentalists have been fighting for over a decade with Maxxam Inc., which owns the forest. A $380 million deal to protect 7,500 acres of the 60,000-acre forest has been approved by Congress. The state Legislature will vote on the measure in the next few weeks.

But the deal is far from final. The state's $130 million portion of the buy-out must still be approved by voters.

"These trees cannot be replaced. We have a responsibility to protect them," Pearce said.

Jewish environmentalists are well aware that Maxxam's chief executive, Charles Hurwitz, is a member of the Reform Congregation Beth Israel in Houston.

Pearce and Litvak knew that Rabbi Samuel Karf of Beth Israel, the past president of the CCAR, was attending the conference.

However, Karf did not appear at the session to vote on the resolution. He could not be reached in Houston for comment.

Litvak said that the resolution approved by the rabbis articulates "a formidable collective opinion that is hard to deny."

The resolution sends the message that "Hurwitz is violating the ethics of the Torah and as a prominent Jewish leader, he reflects badly on Judaism and the Jewish community," he said.

Barak Gale, a member of San Francisco's Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, drafted the resolution in hopes that, if approved, it would go out as a call to action for both the greater Jewish community and Hurwitz.

"Our leaders have spoken. The community as a whole needs to speak. We hope Hurwitz will see the opportunity to change direction," Gale said.

Jews should care for the forest as "part of our covenant with the Creator," the resolution states.

"It's not an issue of environment vs. economy, jobs vs. private property. It's simply an issue of desecration of the ecosystem. You don't have to cut ancient forests to make decks and trim," Gale said.