Activists with the Jewish climate change group Dayenu at a New York City event in April 2021. (Photo/Gili Getz)
Activists with the Jewish climate change group Dayenu at a New York City event in April 2021. (Photo/Gili Getz)

This Passover we’re targeting BlackRock’s ‘schmutzy’ climate record in S.F.

As a college student, I find that one of the biggest arguments I get into with my Jewish parents around the seder table is whether I will one day have kids myself.

I love watching children at shul during the High Holidays and being a counselor at Jewish summer camp, but I don’t know if I want to ever have kids.

This prospect terrifies my parents.

The main reason for my uncertainty is climate change. How can I bring children into a world where we expect to cause more fires, floods and famines, more storms, droughts, epidemics and all of the other plagues that are forecasted for our future?

Many of us see that climate change is no hypothetical threat. We are already feeling its impacts.

For me and many other Bay Area students, wildfires cancel school and other outdoor activities on a regular basis, while similar fires have led to friends and family across California being evacuated. My family was also affected by Houston’s billion-dollar extreme-weather event last year — the Winter Outbreak — where my relatives lost power and suffered flooding.

That’s why I started organizing my local circle for Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action.

There was one day in the fire season 2021 when I woke up to an orange sky. It felt unnatural and apocalyptic. It left me full of dread and anxiety.

I’m not alone. Many of us toss and turn at night thinking about how to deal with these predictions. Even though I, as a privileged, upper-middle class, white person living in arguably the world’s richest country, am relatively shielded from the worst effects of climate change, I still am starting to see its impact on me and my communities.

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My generation is frustrated that people in power — whether politicians, administrators or business leaders — have not taken necessary steps to address the climate crisis. Although many of our colleges and Jewish Federations have already divested from fossil fuels, trillions of dollars of American money is still invested in fossil fuels, keeping us deeply committed to this murderous infrastructure propped up by what Dayenu calls “The Schmutzy Sheva, aka the Dirty Seven” in this report.

Despite their promises, these seven organizations — banks and asset managers — still have deep investments in the fossil fuel companies. As part of Dayenu’s national All Our Might campaign, we in the Bay Area are targeting BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. As part of its portfolio, which moved over $10 trillion in total assets recently, BlackRock is the world’s leading investor in oil, gas and coal, including $2.7 billion in tar sands and $85 billion in coal.

As an organization, BlackRock has committed to become net zero by 2050, meaning that their business operations and the companies in which they invest will be removing as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as they produce. That’s a significant and ambitious goal that would make them a leader in the sector. However, so far, they have not taken any tangible steps to make this commitment a reality.

We will be congregating at BlackRock’s offices at 400 Howard St. in San Francisco at 4 p.m. April 19 to explain our modern-day plagues and connect the asset manager to the climate crisis before giving a list of our demands to the management.

Just like Miriam, Moses and Aaron, we are calling on the Jewish community to actualize the idea of l’dor v’dor, to preserve our planet and traditions from generation to generation.

At the seder, we tell the story of the Exodus as if we ourselves were leaving an oppression that kept us enslaved.

As we confront this crisis, Jewish people from each generation have the responsibility to lead the exodus from human-caused climate change toward a more just and sustainable future.

In the spirit of Passover, a time where Jews stand up against injustice, we are calling on BlackRock to stop funding the fossil fuel pharaohs. We must break free from fossil fuels to ensure myself and the next generation, and potentially my future children, have a livable future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J. Nevo Naftalin-Kelman and Aspen Ross contributed to this piece.

Gaby Cohen
Gaby Cohen

Gaby Cohen is a student at UC Berkeley and an organizer for the UC Berkeley Hillel Dayenu.