Investing in electric vehicles is one way we can shift our dependency away from the fossil fuels that are causing our climate crisis.
In early August, the Biden administration announced a goal to make half of all new cars sold in the U.S. electric by 2030. In June, the congregation I serve, Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, installed an electric car charger with the assistance of Hope for Creation.
Through the congregation’s relationship with Michigan Interfaith Power & Light, as well as other groups, it has become clear that strong, clean car standards have the power to drive down vehicle pollution as well as spur innovation in the development of new clean car technologies.
Therefore, our congregation made the decision to invest knowing there are members who would benefit but also because our values teach us the importance of caring for the planet. Investing in electric vehicles is one way we can shift our dependency away from the fossil fuels that are causing our climate crisis.
As Reform Jews, we look to the Book of Deuteronomy for the basis of our belief in caring for the Earth. Verses 20:21-22 speak of actions during wartime that directly impact the Earth: “When in your war against a city … you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.”
From these verses arise the value of bal tashchit — which is translated as “do not destroy.” Humanity is taught that they shall not destroy fruit trees during wartime. But Judaism does not only draw from the Torah, but also from the later commentaries of the rabbis, the sages, of the Mishnah and Talmud. These sages extrapolate from this idea to include all ecological destruction during times of war as well as peace. The expanded rulings include not feeding livestock polluted water, not diverting or destroying water and not throwing away food or wantonly breaking usable items. These interpretations have shaped how we, as a Jewish congregation, engage with the world we live in.
Another value guiding the Congregation’s decision to invest in an EV charger, along with other measures to make our building more energy efficient and less polluting, is the value of betzelem Elohim — the understanding that all people are made in the image of God. This directly relates to how we view one another.
All people should have access to clean air and water, but we know this is not the case here in Michigan. Low-wealth and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities experience disproportionate harm from dirty vehicle pollution, leading to increased rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. We also know that low-wealth and BIPOC communities also are often closest to highways and bear the greatest burden from vehicle pollution.
We have a responsibility to act on our values, which teach us to care for the Earth and that all people are important and indeed, made in the image of God.
I am proud to lead a congregation who wants to put their values into action in any way that they can and know that there is still much to be done. The installation of an electric car charger is but one piece of a large puzzle that we must all work together on building.
As the EPA and Transportation Department now begin to work out the details of longer-term emissions standards, they have an opportunity to help create the conditions necessary for all life to thrive by supporting cleaner cars. We urge them to make these standards as strong as possible.
Simone Schicker is the rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo.