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Greenfaith creates coalition to promote healthy environment
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Greenfaith creates coalition to promote healthy environment

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Rabbi Ari Saks of Congregation Beth Mordecai is one of two rabbis in the state to endorse the environmental coalition Jersey Renews. Photo courtesy Ari Saks
Rabbi Ari Saks of Congregation Beth Mordecai is one of two rabbis in the state to endorse the environmental coalition Jersey Renews. Photo courtesy Ari Saks

Jersey Renews is looking for a few good rabbis. 

Two New Jersey rabbis are among 10 clergy in the state who have signed on to endorse Jersey Renews, a coalition of over 30 NJ-based faith, labor, community, and environmental organizations committed to fighting climate change in the state. The organization is looking for 100 clergy endorsements.

The two rabbis who have endorsed Jersey Renews are Rabbi Ari Saks of Congregation Beth Mordecai in Perth Amboy and Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple Emanu-El in Edison.

For Vaisberg, support for Jersey Renews is a no-brainer. “I believe the planet is in danger, and that climate change in very real,” he told NJJN. “I’m signing on with any organization that will take action.” He added that he’ll join organizations fighting for “something that’s right” as long as it does not conflict with Jewish values. 

He cited the Jewish ideal that “We are stewards of creation and we have a religious obligation to look after it.” He worries about losing ground over the next few years in the battle to save the environment. “This administration is probably going to do absolutely nothing to combat it and will probably make it worse.” 

Saks’ support for Jersey Renews hews more narrowly to Jewish sources, and is based on his interpretation of the language in Genesis 1, “which states that humanity has a right to ‘dominate’ the land” and Genesis 2, which suggests humanity “must ‘protect’ the land,” he wrote in an email to NJJN. Taken together, he said, these two approaches mean that “Because we have such a large influence on our world we can take advantage of its resources while doing whatever we can to preserve it for future generations.” He concluded, “We are the only creatures in the world with this ability and this responsibility, and that is why we must act.” 

Jersey Renews launched on Jan. 25 with a press conference at the State House in Trenton. Members delivered a prepared statement that read, in part, “Climate change poses a massive threat to our state.” It continued, “New Jersey should be a leader in progressive policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution while maintaining and creating jobs and economic benefits for those most affected.”

It seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase clean energy, and maintain and create jobs in the Garden State.

One unusual feature of this group is that it includes labor unions — and pointedly, the platform of Jersey Renews is silent on fossil fuels, an area that can be a touchstone for union workers.

Jersey Renews has set a goal of reaching 30 percent clean energy in New Jersey by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. It hopes to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 80 percent of the 2005 levels by 2050; and create 100,000 new jobs at least in part through renewable energy sources.

Three NJ organizations spent a year planning and building the larger coalition: Greenfaith, Environment New Jersey, and the New Jersey Work Environment Council. Of these, Greenfaith is charged with rallying the faith sector and raising awareness within it, and articulating the “genuine moral imperative” behind the campaign for the broader public. It will be providing resources such as webinars, educational materials, and sample sermons for clergy.

“To address climate change, we need a broad base of support,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, Greenfaith’s executive director, in a telephone conversation with NJJN. “Faith communities would not be able to move a deal on the environment. We need to build a genuinely big tent coalition.” 

Greenfaith, founded in the 1990s, has sponsored a variety of faith-based environmental projects ranging from promoting green energy and solar panels to encouraging sustainable practices with its green certification guidelines for houses of worship. It also offers denominationally based resources for clergy and lay leaders. 

While Greenfaith started in New Jersey, it has since become a national organization. Its headquarters remain in Highland Park. 

In addition to Greenfaith, other religious organizations that are part of the coalition are Green Muslims of New Jersey, the Islamic Center of Central New Jersey, and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry.

Other coalition members of Jersey Renews include 32BJ Service Employees International Union, Amalgamated Transit Union-NJ State Council, BlueWaveNJ, CATA — The Farmworker Support Committee/El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas, Clean Water Action New Jersey, Communications Workers of America (CWA) NJ, as well as CWA Locals 1036, 1037, 1081, and 1085, Delaware Riverkeeper, Environment NJ, Health Professionals & Allied Employees, Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, Isles, La Casa de Don Pedro, Latino Action Network, Make the Road NJ, Moms Clean Air Force NJ, New Labor, NJ Black Issues Convention, NJ Education Association, NJ Policy Perspective, NJ Public Interest Research Group, NJ Working Families Alliance, NJ Work Environment Council, Rutgers American Association of University Professors-AFT, Shore Nurses Union, Sierra Club of NJ, United Steelworkers District 4, and Wind of the Spirit.

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