Over the past few decades, the Jewish environmental movement has made steady inroads into communities across the country. Green committees are standard in schools and shuls, celebration of Tu b’Shevat and use of using energy-efficient lighting has gone mainstream; countless Jewish leaders speak about the threats of human-induced climate change; and recycling bins are ubiquitous.
All of these great programs have laid the groundwork for Jewish communities to reflect upon and delve more deeply into an issue that has largely gone unaddressed: animal welfare and our food choices. Where are our voices, and what actions are needed?
This is where the latest programming of Jewish Eco Seminars, a branch of the Jerusalem-based Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, is useful. Jewish Eco Seminars developed seven brightly colored, eye-catching infographics (in letter size and poster form). Each one is filled with engaging imagery, quotes and simple texts about Jewish perspectives on a range of topics. Themes include “Biodiversity and Animal Welfare,” “Species Protection and Conservation” and “Relating to Animals.”
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, the center’s founder and executive director, explained the need for Jews to more deeply address animal welfare issues. It’s not a topic that has been at the forefront of the Jewish environmental movement. Indeed, in our national discussions about climate change, the fact that about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases are from livestock has frequently been ignored. The first chapter of Genesis, in which God instructs both people and animals to eat a plant-based diet, guides Neril. “Living beings do not need to take life in order to sustain life. We don’t have to kill in order to eat. For the 1,500 years described in the Torah, people didn’t eat meat.”
He notes that many rabbis have become vegan recently (click here for the recent Jewish Veg statement signed by 75 rabbis, including Neril) and that we have the resources to more easily change our diets today to one that is plant-based. “Especially given the availability of nutritious vegan foods in our times, it is within our grasp to change how we are eating. This was likely not the case for previous generations.”
The Jewish ecological infographics have been distributed to 21 Jewish institutions, mostly day schools in the northeast US. Every day, hundreds of people—many of whom are schoolchildren—see these powerful, impactful images on walls and in books. The center is eager to distribute to more places nationwide.
The infographics were also published in English and Spanish books as pullout inserts, and 350 books were distributed to communities across the US and Mexico.
In an era in which we are deluged by media, it can be challenging to get a message out, especially beyond your own echo chamber. We certainly don’t always have the time to listen to an hour-long podcast or video or read full articles about issues and stories of personal interest. By offering their materials as a single-page in printed form (a rarity today), Jewish Eco Seminars is able to reach people beyond their screens.
Jewish Eco Seminars is also bringing these important conversations to social media and has created a set of 15 basic infographics with a simple message and image that it posts on its Facebook page, a multi-pronged approach reflective of our information consumption habits.
The materials’ gentle, non-intimidating, non-judgmental approach makes the reader stop, reflect and perhaps engage in conversation about the issues raised, even if briefly. Raising awareness about these issues is the critical first step for people to eventually make changes in the personal, communal and/or public spheres.
More importantly, the materials raise issues that require more attention and action in the Jewish community. They are a catalyst in moving green committees, school groups and individuals to more deeply reflect on Jewish teachings and to take action on some of the most important issues we face today. Indeed, Jewish communities have been at the forefront of faith-based eco-movements and can continue to do so by expanding their programs to include those encompassed by the Jewish Eco Seminars materials.
Contact Jewish Eco Seminars if you would like to order Jewish eco posters or books for your institution.