Dayenu is a new movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis “with spiritual audacity and bold political action.”
Concerns about climate change and its impact on our world “loom like big clouds” over everything for Josh Bender of Ann Arbor. The Michigan State University graduate, now in his second year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, says he’s made environmentally focused changes in his daily life like eating less meat and avoiding single-use plastics.
But he wanted to do something to tackle the global problem on a larger scale.
“With big societal changes you can sometimes feel powerless to do anything about them,” Bender says. “I remember during the election, I wanted whoever the nominees were to be people who got what a serious generational issue this is.”
Josh became an intern with the group Dayenu, a new movement of American Jews confronting the climate crisis “with spiritual audacity and bold political action.” The group was formed in April and in the months and weeks leading up to the presidential election, Josh helped facilitate volunteer events. Participants made phone calls and sent text messages to more than 270,000 Jewish climate-concerned voters in Michigan urging them to go to the polls.
“When I think how small the margins were, especially in places like Michigan, I know we had an impact,” he says.
The group’s nonpartisan campaign called “Chutzpah 2020” targeted Jewish voters in Michigan and five other key states: Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The idea was to pilot an innovative get-out-the-vote effort centered on faith.
“Studies show 80% of American Jews are concerned about climate change, but most don’t really know what to do about it,” says Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder and CEO of Dayenu. “Religious voices play an important role in shaping our national narratives and solutions, ensuring the centrality of human dignity, social justice and the public good.”
Rosenn, whose mother, Sally Teitelbaum, grew up in Detroit, attended Mumford High School and was a longtime member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, has spent more than two decades leading Jewish nonprofit organizations advocating for social change.
“Climate change affects everyone but not everyone equally. It disproportionally impacts communities that have been historically marginalized,” she said. “I started Dayenu because with the climate crisis bearing down, we need all hands on deck, and the Jewish community is not yet showing up with all its people and power. What is at stake is the very concept of living l’dor v’dor [from generation to generation].”
Moving forward, Rosenn and Dayenu’s supporters would like to see our leaders prioritize environmental justice and move the country toward 100% clean energy by 2030 and net zero emissions well before 2050.
“President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, in the midst of a global pandemic, a deepening economic recession, accelerating climate change, and with a mandate to address racial injustice,” Dayenu said in an emailed statement. “These converging crises demand urgent action on Day One of his term, and a team with the chutzpah to do what science and justice demand.”
The statement applauded the climate team Biden has assembled so far.
For Bender, who has now completed his internship, working with Dayenu was especially fulfilling here in his home state, surrounded by the largest supply of freshwater on Earth.
“There are a lot of big and small ways climate change affects Michigan,” he says. “I’ve never worked in any political capacity before, and it was meaningful to feel like I had more of a stake and the chance to make an impact.”
For more information, visit: dayenu.org.