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)

Eco-anxious? Here’s how Judaism can help us face the climate crisis

Navigating road closures and flooding due to recent storms, living with smoke-filled skies, not knowing when to unpack that evacuation bag? For many Jewish communities in California, the reality and existential threats of living in a time of climate crisis are all too real. And for many, so are feelings of helplessness or hopelessness when it comes to confronting this crisis.

Climate change is not only an ecological and justice crisis, it is also a spiritual crisis — one that raises major emotional and moral questions about our society, our current way of living and what life will be like for those we love in generations to come.

The good news is, it’s not too late — and we have the Jewish wisdom, resilience and people power to face this crisis and ensure a just, thriving future.

It can be hard to see a path forward on climate when we’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck, angry or anxious. But we have a wealth of Jewish rituals, stories, music and traditions that can help us hold eco-grief side by side with the joy of remembering and advocating for what we love.

We have Jewish ancestors who were movement leaders, artists, organizers, resistance fighters and innovators whose wisdom we can draw on for times like these. And we have 2,000 years’ worth of Jewish textual tradition that can teach us how to muster the courage to navigate upheaval and adapt in times of transformation.

At Dayenu, we call this Spiritual Adaptation work, and through it, we are growing an emerging body of music, art, Jewish climate teachings, rituals and workshop spaces aimed at providing the spiritual resources that can lead to bold, sustained and effective climate action.

We have the Jewish wisdom, resilience and people power to face the climate crisis.

Spiritual Adaptation can help us develop the radical imagination we need to figure out how to build the sustainable future we yearn for.

The ancient Israelites needed to undergo a similar process. When preparing to leave the prosperous empire of Egypt to journey through an unknown wilderness, they were sustained by the hope of redemption. The journey of the Exodus was not just a physical trek, but also a passage during which they had to reimagine their practices, their customs and their very identity. As we face the uncertainties of our pivotal moment, we look to the wisdom of these Biblical ancestors to imagine the thriving future we wish to see.

It can be easy to feel stuck or overwhelmed by the scope of the task, but honoring our grief and anxiety can allow for joy in our lives and in the work we need to do to repair the world. One of our most famous rituals — breaking a glass at a wedding — is an example of holding sorrow and joy at the same time.

Psalm 126 distills the essence of this ability to envision a hopeful future in a bleak present: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” By making space for our tears, we can begin the process of engaging with our full range of emotions in the work to come. Even when we are facing the brokenness of the world, we have our ancestors at our back and can engage in this work with a sense of gratitude, fighting for a world we love.

In much the same way that eco-anxiety has become a pressing topic of conversation in secular mental health spaces, communities of faith all across the country have been turning to religious and moral teachings and practices to address the anxiety and fear that can come with facing the climate crisis. Since its inception two and a half years ago, Dayenu has been leading Spiritual Adaptation workshops for people in cities across America.

Together in groups, we have grappled with the existential and spiritual issues raised by climate change and moved to courageous action. Coming together in multigenerational workshops helps participants honor eco-anxiety and eco-grief, then ground themselves in the things they love before exercising the moral imagination necessary to build a thriving, clean energy future.

Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action is offering a Spiritual Adaptation workshop on Jan. 29 at Urban Adamah in Berkeley to help Bay Area Jewish communities confront the climate crisis and cultivate spiritual courage. It seeks to recognize the complex reality of the climate crisis, the paradox of emotions that can arise when we confront our changing world and the spiritual power we have to make a difference together.

Rabbi Laura Bellows
Rabbi Laura Bellows

Rabbi Laura Bellows is Dayenu’s director of spiritual activism and education. She works to build climate-resilient, spiritually rooted, justice-seeking communities centered in Jewish wisdom.