Can Passover become a Time to Transform the Future, Not Only Celebrate the Past?

Pyramid or Earth Copyright © 2022 by The Shalom Center. Used by permission.

In the midst of the deepest crisis of human history, our effort to prevent a descent into climate chaos, we are reshaping Passover to become an activist festival to heal the future as well as one to celebrate the past. 

Our first assessment: If we are to prevent planetary climate disaster, mobilizing the faith communities of America is crucial. This is both because they have been crucial to great change in the past, and because the combination of great urgency blocked by great frustration and fear can be turned to action most effectively by drawing on deep reservoirs of faith.

Second assessment: The best time to do this is when major sacred festivals lift the spiritual and ethical awareness of the faith communities' members to their most intense. This spring, a broad swathe of festivals occurs from late March to early May.

Third assessment: The US government is paralyzed in a deadly deadlock. So for the moment, it would be best to turn to another arena of change: the major financial investors that undergird the Hyper-Wealth and great power of the fossil-fuel industry. These also raise the profound spiritual question of Greed as a block to Love and Justice.

So The Shalom Center turned to the Jewish festivals. In this generation, we have become far more attuned to the truth that the festivals are the children of a sacred marriage between the Jewish people and Earth. YHWH, the Interbreath of Life (God’s Name “pronounced” just by breathing with no vowels, perhaps as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh or Yahhhh as in Halllelu-Yahhhh) was the m’sader/et officiant under the chuppah, uniting all life forms on Earth by the way we breathe Oxygen and CO2 into each other.

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Both Earth (adamah) and Humankind (adam) are in our generation dangerously wounded, with worse to come. Just as the children of human and other species come to their parents’ aid when they are wounded, so we must reshape the fasts and festivals to meet the needs of adam and adamah today, as we have done before.

We have been dangerously wounded by the overproduction of CO2 and methane, heat-trapping gases. The Carbon Pharaohs insist on multiplying their Hyper-Wealth even though their business plan is bringing plagues of fire, flood, famine, and disease upon us all. They produce more CO2 than all Earth’s vegetation can transmute to oxygen. CO2 and methane heat the planet and choke the Interbreathing that life on Earth (adamah) needs; earth can’t breathe. Humankind (adam) can’t breathe. YHWH, the very Breath that is the Name of God, can’t breathe.

Our sacred seasons are what make the American Jewish community unique among American cultures and communities. We celebrate and observe them in our homes and synagogues. It is time to take them to the public square – the streets, the banks, the elections booths to bring Breath and Justice to marginalized neighborhoods plagued by coal dust into asthma, and by oil and gas leakage into cancer. To bring justice to Earth where whole countries and regions suffer from famine; where whole regions find their cities flooding, or choked by the poisonous smoke of wildfires; where despairing refugees dislocate the countries whence they flee and where they flee to.

All our sacred seasons could help to heal us.

Pesach: street seders at the doors of the giant outfits that fund the Pharaohs. We do not abandon Pesach by giving it a more universal focus; we give Pesach, and Judaism, even more life. We say to Chase Bank, to Black Rock, to Vanguard: Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet, Prosper Our People. No Earth, No Justice; No Justice, No Earth.

Tisha B’Av: We mourn the damage to Temple Earth, and act to restore it. As the end of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, says: Turn us to You, O Breath of Life, O Wind of Change, and we will turn. Make new our days, as they were long ago. 

Sukkot: We learn the values taught by the leafy, leaky, fragile houses; we grow these values as we grow the harvest. And we grow the voters so that just a few weeks later we can grow the vote.

Hanukkah: One day’s olive oil meets eight days’ need for light; we retrofit our homes and businesses to conserve energy, we found congregational and neighborhood solar-energy co-ops.  

And more, as we circle and spiral the years. Not only as we learn in the Sabbatical Year to let Earth rest from overwork and over-carbon, but to explore the possibility of a pulsating economy that works and then pauses, accumulates and then shares, that learns the possible world-view of “sojourner” rather than “owner”, instead of endless economic “growth” and inequality that rushes off a precipice to ruin.

The Shalom Center has initiated a multireligious amalgam called #ExodusAlliance that will launch a national climate-justice Passover. Among its members are Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Bill McKibben and his organization of elders, Third Act; the global GreenFaith, the American Jewish Dayenu, Hazon, the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, and many others.

This Passover, we’re holding street seders in front of Chase banks and other financial institutions all across the country. We will challenge the world’s largest investors in fossil fuels, who make possible the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that depend on the financial support of these investors. Want to help lead or join a powerful Passover action this spring? Sign our Call to Action and volunteer to help organize a street seder near you. 

This approach can bring the best energy of American Jewish life to the most central teaching of our ancient Torah: Earth matters. It mattered to shepherds and farmers then; it matters now  to solar engineers, truck drivers, backyard squirrels, computer designers, high-school teachers, salmon lovers, oak trees, poetic rabbis, and all our grandchildren 



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