For the last few days, I’ve been reading articles about the newest report from the IPCC and the imminent consequences of human inaction on climate change. I also just received an email survey directed towards alumni of my Jewish Day School. The questions included “Rate how the school prepared you for college…life…career…”
My Jewish Day School education did not prepare me for this.
In general, K-12 Community Jewish Day Schools like the ones I attended for 13 years are not in the business of preparing their graduates for eventual zombie apocalypse or ecosystem collapse.
They want you to have a love of Jewish tradition, familiarity with Hebrew language and Jewish texts, and sufficient secular academic acumen to propel you into college or career. They hope you’ve turned out to be a mensch (a decent human being.) And maybe to produce some Jewish grandchildren?
Facing human survival on an uninhabitable planet Earth? Not so much.
My teachers hoped I would learn the tools of critical thinking, analysis and problem solving. Go to college. Get a job. Be a productive adult. No one asked me to save the world.
Today, I work as an environmental educator teaching kids and families to explore science and nature. Though I don’t think about it much, my worldview is fundamentally propelled by my earliest inculcation with Jewish traditions and Jewish values. This Jewish educational blueprint has become part of who I am, even if I have thus far failed in my community’s ultimate goal of producing Jewish grandchildren.
Above all, I endeavor to be a mensch. But in a crisis, how does my personal behavior translate into useful action? What metaphors in this ancient library of reference texts can be useful tools in the challenges that lie ahead?
A prophet wandered the streets of a devastated Jerusalem. Job railed against the whirlwind. We were strangers in Egypt (in Babylonia, in Europe) but no
strangers to famine, flood and drought that forced human migration.
In our time, we may be spectators to fire, storms and violence that drive people from their homes. Glaciers melting, oceans rising. How does an entire civilization make the sacrifices necessary to prepare and adapt?
I don’t expect a divine yad khazaka v’ zeroah netuyah (strong hand and outstretched arm) to free humanity from the Mitzrayim (“narrow place”) upon which we balance.
I think this one is up to us. And damn, do I feel unprepared.