Friday, November 29, 2019

A Fertile Source

by Susan Weinberg

The room rapidly filled with small gatherings as people met in conversation and embraces. All were eager to begin a new year in the Artists Lab after a one-year hiatus. Both community and content drew us in. While we had previously had a small event around a film, this was our first formal meeting.

We had been asked to bring an image related to our topic, Muddy Waters, an exploration of climate change and the environment through the lens of Jewish text. I was intrigued with the new information our group introduced, each person bringing a new perspective to expand upon our topic. A few of them are shared below and remind us that muddy waters can be very fertile. 
Jonathan led off with a flood plain map of his neighborhood commenting that an illustration was a work of art with a purpose that ideally creates an emotional response. He pointed out his house within the map to illustrate the personal aspect of increased flooding.

Several people commented on the floods within Venice. I remembered buying waders on my last visit there as we walked on planks raised above the water during the “aqua alta”. While this is an annual occurrence for this slowly sinking city, this year presents the worst flooding in fifty years.

Human Rights and Sustainability
Alison brought a focus on clothing, building on her work on the Rana Plaza collapse. The clothing industry historically has been a significant polluter. Alison expressed her interest in exploring the relationship between human rights and sustainability.

Teaching the Children
Liba reached behind her to pull out a protest sign designed by her 9-year-old son and  talked of taking her children to their first protest on the environment. Teaching our children is an important tenet of Judaism.

Rain Forests
Others shared their experiences in rain forests in Japan and Costa Rica. Carolyn had recently returned from Costa Rica and reported on the significant action that country had taken in support of the environment. Mining is prohibited and deforestation has been halted, returning the country to 70% of what it once was. I learned that its biodiversity law was a model for the rest of the world. 

Plastic Pollution
Bonnie introduced us to the idea of garbage islands, islands that were constructed out of the plastic debris that polluted our oceans. Ann shared information on the 4oceans bracelet where a purchase of a bracelet for $20 also buys you the extraction of a pound of plastic from the ocean.

The Next Generations
Kris reminded us of the voices that energize others to pursue environmental action with an image of Greta Thornberg. She emphasized that the times have moved beyond climate change to climate crisis. She and others also noted that people are fleeing flooded homelands.  The crises we face are interrelated, with climate change playing a significant role.

My contribution was trees.  I was intrigued with the work of Beth Moon who has spent fourteen years photographing the oldest trees on earth.  Some of these trees are thousands of years old and are indeed a thing of beauty. Having recently read the Overstory about deforestation and the loss of irreplaceable trees, I found myself contemplating the loss of biodiversity that arises from destruction of our forests. Trees absorb huge amounts of water so their loss results in more flooding, increased greenhouse gases and loss of plant and animal species that rely upon them. 

We concluded with a discussion of a passage (see handout Muddy Waters) which is literally on our doorposts, the passage contained in the mezuzah. Meryll Page noted that it was excluded from the Reform siddur because of the linkage between failing to follow the commandments of God and environmental disasters (flooding, tsunamis etc). Reform Judaism took issue with the theme of retribution and an angry God. We broke into small groups to discuss our understanding of this passage and what of it we might find meaningful.  Some focused on the passage which speaks of not being lured away to serve other gods, thinking of the emphasis on money as a false god when sought over the long-term preservation of  the environment. Teaching the children also rang true for many, a responsibility we each carry.

Meryll closed the session offering a few additional areas to explore:

Solar Guerrilla - A Unique Exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum ...

Kris also shared this link on the role one particular teen is playing to confront the climate crisis. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Muddy Waters

by Susan Weinberg

Before I let you make a fool out of me, I’d rather drink muddy water, lay down and sleep in a hollow log. – Lou Rawls

That song was my first thought when I heard the title of this year's lab. Muddy Waters: Climate Change, the Environment and What We Can Learn from Jewish Texts. Several of us were familiar with the blues musician Muddy Waters as well as the fact that there was a song by that name. Actually, there are three songs. Unfortunately none that particularly relate to our theme.

The 2019/2020 Artists' Lab kicked off with an event at the Icon Theater, the film Sustainable Nation, a part of the Jewish Film Festival and a topic that was quite relevant to this year's lab theme. There was a lot of hugging as we reconnected with old friends, learning who would be in the newly constituted lab. We gathered before the film to do some brainstorming on our thoughts relative to this year’s theme.

In contemplating the term “muddy waters” we thought about the meaning of the phrase "to muddy the waters." The figurative use of the term "muddy" means to confuse by making something hard to understand. The analogy relates to stirring up mud from the bottom of a clear body of water. In fact the waters of climate change have frequently been muddied as pseudoscience is introduced to counter the facts presented by the many reputable scientists.

We identified elements that we associated with the broader topic of the environment and climate change. Many elements in the environment are interrelated. We have ecosystems that are composed of interacting organisms. Having just read The Overstory by Richard Powers,  my mind went to trees which can be an independent ecosystem all by themselves. They also mark the stresses of historical climate within their very body.

From trees it is a short leap to water, the theme of the film we watched. Trees and water are inextricably interrelated. Trees are 50% water and a 100-foot tree can absorb 11,000 gallons of water. I thought of my neighbor whose yard is now flooded since another neighbor took down trees to build a sports court. We are interrelated as well. 

Trees absorb carbon better than anything we’ve been able to come up with. That’s why deforestation increases the carbon in our atmosphere. As plant species face extinction, seed banks are often designed to save them, but many seeds don’t survive the process. Goodbye oaks, goodbye horse chestnuts. Goodbye mangos, goodbye avocados.

Water, trees, seed banks, ecosystems, biodiversity. This will be a rich topic. Loamy soil for creativity.