We are the Light, Let it shine!: A New Jewish Role in Consumerist America

February 22, 2012
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We’ve made it, statistically anyway.  For the most part Jews in the US are doing alright.  Yes there are the poor, the lonely, the suffering, and somehow still the oppressed, but now more than ever in our history we’ve found a relatively stable existence, places of acceptance in society and for the most part the opportunity to excel without fear of punishment.  Actually, many of us are living very well, and save for the occasional Madoff, it has been achieved honestly, through diligence and hard work.

As the many forwarded e-mails that are passed on to me by friends and family will profess we have quite a few all-stars as well.  Just think of all of the great actors, scientists, and superheros that have been Jewish.  When it comes down to it, we have learned to take part in American society, integrate, contribute and overall thrive.

And what must we do after rising as we have?  What would our teachings tell us to do when we have found such a place?  What is it we are supposed to be to other nations?  We are to shine, we are to be lights onto others.

Ok, lets switch gear and consider that America is a diehard consumer culture.  Guess what?  We cannot afford to be so any longer.  The environment cannot take it, the global economy cannot take it, and really, I’m tired of worrying about the chemicals that are in my food because of the demands that “economies of scale” have placed on our agriculture system.  I do not need strawberries in winter, or organic New Zealand avocados that come from thousands of miles away.  It’s time to get back to basics, to local, to the roots.

But what does that have to do with Judaism and consumer society?  Well, it is time we are the lights that take a step forward.  We have integrated well, we have done what we have always done best – survive, we have adapted to our surroundings.  This time though is different.  This time we have overall found a place of comfort, we can start looking forward without being so concerned about the knife that might find our back, we can take a chance at being that shining example.

But how?  There is a lovely way to start and there are many organizations, Jewish ones, that are there to show you the road that you can shine your light on, the way that has been blazed by some, through scripture, beyond insular cultural fear, and with the one thing we have always had, the only thing we have ever had as Jews – each other.

Consider Adamah, the Jewish farm school, consider Hazon and their connection making between Jews, healthy living and the environment, Teva Nature Center and their conservationist education programs, take the Kibbutz Lotan Green Apprenticeship in Israel that has welcome many, many American Jews and sent them back home with the fear of our lord in them should a drop of water go to waste, or an article of clothing not be handed down five times before being turned into a child’s doll and then lining a compost bin ten years later.  Consider the Jews that for some reason abundantly populate volunteer programs, and abundantly give to conservation organizations.  Consider that it was Jews that built kibbutzim, some of the first modern, arguably successful examples of communal resource sharing.

Consider your Jewish grandparents, and how proud of you she would be that you rose up, above the chaff, and did the right thing.  Consider that it is actually because you are Jewish that this was not even a point of note, but that being an example to others was the norm, the expectation.

It would not take much for us to do this.  So many of our friends and family, Jews, already are.  Just next time, before you buy that disposable plastic set to avoid washing dishes when you are serving a meal for the family, or the next time you could reuse a bottle instead of buying water, or take the bus instead of driving, ask yourself, could I do better?  With great knowledge, with great wisdom comes that great responsibility.  As a Jewish boy I’ve always known that, and thank goodness, it’s a mitzvah to at least try to act on it.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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