In advance of the 2010 Inside the Activists’ Studio, I spoke with Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield, Co-founder and Director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship. The Jewish Greening Fellowship works to change the environmental practices of Jewish organizations, via grant making and the work of Green Fellows. The first cohort of 19 fellows worked in JCC’s and summer camps, helping their agencies to create concrete environmental change while reflecting on and intergrating Jewish values into the process.
The theory is, if you make it someone’s job to work on environmental change, it becomes not only possible, but a priority. The work extends far outside the agency itself, it leads to other organizations seeking out Green Fellows and their agencies as resources, and their workplaces as models of environmental responsibility. It’s a practical approach that allows for real, systemic change, and ultimately, a transformation of culture. “This is living out our Jewish values,” Rosenfield said. “This is praying with our feet.”
With the help of grants from UJA Federation, Rosenfield is able to be on the ground, checking in with and supporting the Green Fellows. “It’s a chance to learn about where systems are stuck.” she said. One of the main reasons for lack of buy in from top leadership is how daunting the process of change can seem. Green Fellows interrupt this mind-set by doing research and piloting a segment of the larger program. “The work is huge, it’s very easy to get discouraged,” said Rosenfield.“Every small win can feel defeated the moment Congress doesn’t pass an energy bill.” A priority of the fellowship is to recognize the enormity of the environmental change project and to honor movements that might appear minute.
There’s a lot that says the Jewish community has its priorities all wrong these days, and it’s easy to feel like you can’t change it if you don’t have your nose pressed up against the institutional glass. Rosenfield’s background, she told me, is actually in comparative literature, but when she felt moved to make change, she began with her own circle of influence, and considered how far her networks could extend. ‘People should start where they are,” she said.”I like what Ruth Messinger says-‘We don’t have the luxury of being overwhelmed.’”
The Jewish Greening Fellowship is now accepting applications for its second cohort. Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield will be leading an interactive workshop at Inside the Activists’ Studio, a project of Pursue: Action for a Just World, AJWS and Avodah. Jewschool is a co-sponsor of the event, which is happening Sunday, December 5th. Register here for this unique opportunity to learn from other young, dynamic Jewish social justice activists.