Rabbi Lawrence Troster returned home to New Jersey from Europe last month with renewed optimism that a younger generation will demand action on climate change.
Troster, rabbinic scholar-in-residence of the Highland Park-based environmental group GreenFaith, led a delegation of 100 young activists on a June 28 march from downtown Rome to Vatican City. They met up with thousands of others who had gathered below the papal balcony in Saint Peter’s Square to thank Pope Francis for his papal encyclical on climate change and poverty.
Among the 100 GreenFaith participants were six Jews who came from the United States, Mexico, and Israel. Joining them were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, and members of some indigenous peoples from five continents.
Troster said the pope appreciated the support for his encyclical, which called for a new partnership between science and religion to combat human-driven climate change.
“He always recognizes groups who are there, and he recognized us first. He was very kind with his words. For us it was amazing,” Troster said.
During a June 27-July 1 conference in Rome called Emerging Leaders Multi-Faith Climate Convergence, participants discussed the ways their religious and spiritual communities could join the battle to slow down climate change.
“The goal of the conference” said Troster, “was to help develop a new generation of religious environmentalists from around the world, specifically to develop leaders from countries which had not been represented in this work.”
Their next activity will be a vigil in Manhattan on Thursday, Sept. 24, the day following Yom Kippur, when the pope is scheduled to appear at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Reflecting on his trip to Italy, Troster said, “I am very pleased by the young people from all over the world. Meeting people I would not normally meet on a day-to-day basis was incredible. It made me feel connected to what is going on around the world and made me feel very optimistic about the potential for action.”
Following the conference, Troster and his family traveled to Germany for a more personal gathering. They visited the town of Lorsch, the ancestral home of the family of his wife, Elaine Kahn.
They took part in a ceremony installing nine brass Stolpersteine or “stumbling blocks” — small bricks set in the pavement commemorating individual victims of Nazism. Each has the name and dates of birth and death of family members and the places from which they were deported or where they escaped to. One family member was murdered by the Nazis; the others were forced to leave Lorsch in 1939.
The visit to the town “was both wonderful and terrible,” Troster said. “There was a priest in the town who opposed the Nazis, and there was Heinz Jost, a major war criminal” who also once lived there. Troster said he saw hope that the town “is recognizing their history — not just about the Jews who died, but the Jews who lived in that town and were an integral part of its culture.”