Anabelle Sebbag (left) and Sophie Berman are freshmen at UC Berkeley.
Anabelle Sebbag (left) and Sophie Berman are freshmen at UC Berkeley.

We’re Berkeley freshmen and we’re here to save the world from climate change

As two freshmen STEM majors in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future: the future of the planet’s climate, the future of science and technology and, of course, our own futures.

But we’re not waiting to do what’s necessary for the people and planet we love. In our evenings, we volunteer our time at Berkeley Hillel in a very Jewish way: spending a few hours ahead of the midterm elections phone banking with Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2022 Campaign, calling voters in Pennsylvania who care about the environment but don’t always vote. 

You might be wondering why we’re doing this. There’s so much to do at college! Why would we spend some of our free time on the phone with voters in a faraway state?

For starters, it’s important work. Strong environmental policies are a key part of how we can bring about a just and flourishing future. So it’s critical that people who care about the environment vote! During our evening calls we felt that what we were doing was not just meaningful and satisfying for us, but significant to others too. We spoke with many people who did not even have information about how to vote. We told them where their polling places were and helped them request mail-in ballots.

When it comes to being involved in Hillel, reaching out to voters and showing up for the community, this is how we want to do it. One of us, Anabelle, loved being a poll worker during COVID and being able to give back to the community at a time when so many older people couldn’t be poll workers due to health risks. Now we love being able to engage voters over the phone, making sure they know their rights and how to exercise them.

We’ve come to understand that this work, and these passions of ours, are deeply Jewish, though we came to those realizations in different ways.

Anabelle here: I remember going as a kid to my grandparents who are Orthodox, and telling them how deeply I cared about the environment, and they looked at me and said, “That’s so Jewish of you!” I hadn’t seen the connection, but after that, my grandpa and I had a deep, meaningful conversation about our spirituality, trees and Tu B’Shvat. He helped me find the connection between my environmentalism and my Judaism. I discovered that my love for the environment flowed from the generations before me who also cared for the earth. Jewish teachings and practices have had our people protecting and nurturing the earth for a very long time.

Sophie here: I remember having a complicated relationship with Judaism growing up, until I found Jewish community and identity in my environmental work. Through groups such as the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, I loved meeting other teens who were Jewish and cared about the environment. It was so inspiring to pursue environmental action from a Jewish standpoint, but still reach out to a broad audience. We visualize environmentalism through a Jewish lens, but this isn’t exclusive to Jews. This is an all-of-us thing.

We’ve both found that a lot of people are more willing to talk to you than you’d think. They are interested in your experience, and want to know why you’re calling them. When we find ourselves on the phone with a curious voter, we tell them that we have our whole lives ahead of us — we want the world to flourish and to be in harmony with the environment. And that seems to help. A lot of the folks we’ve spoken with on the phone are older voters — they’re often moved by hearing from us as 18-year-olds and how we feel affected by climate change.

In a few years, we will be holding leadership roles in the community and the world. We don’t want to wait. Now is the time to advocate for our needs and be the change we want to see in the world, especially when it comes to advocating for environmental justice. It’s not a me-problem; it’s an all-of-us thing. It’s not just for ourselves, but for our community and for our future children. For our life.

Will you join us?

Anabelle Sebbag
Anabelle Sebbag

Anabelle Sebbag, originally from Los Angeles, is a freshman at UC Berkeley studying Society and Environment.

Sophie Berman
Sophie Berman

Sophie Berman, originally from Los Angeles, is a freshman at UC Berkeley studying Microbial Biology.