Setting the scene.
When we consider the disinformation of the fossil fuel industries largely responsible for our current state, and the power of the agricultural industry across the earth, never mind that of tourism, it would take a blind optimist of monumental proportions to feel any great hope for the future. As I am neither blind nor an optimist the trajectory I believe we are now on has fewer negative implications for me but terrifying possibilities for my grandchildren and theirs; this is unavoidably distressing and enraging at one and the same time.
One of the most risible pretensions of many world religions is to assume that the life we live, governed by the rules of the faith in question, will not only see us rewarded in this life but, possibly, also the hereafter. They suggest that human existence is eternal, that God “has the whole world in His hands”, and that the assertion of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah that we have “a future and a hope” will stand for all time. We would do well to remember that the planet is over 4 1⁄2 billion years old, the earliest homo sapiens lived in Ethiopia only 195,000 years ago, the start of what historians call ‘human civilisation’ began 3,100 years ago, and the fossil fuel industry that began the industrial revolution is barely 300 years old.
Since the advent of the Holocene era, (now better called the Anthropocene), around 10,000 BCE, we have enjoyed the best period of climate stability in the last 650,000 years, and single-handedly in a mere 300 years, we have brought it to a close.
Rabbi Charles Middleburgh
As we move through the month of Elul we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, in the hope that we might begin a new year ready to make changes and to be the person we feel we could be. At Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of the world, and as we begin 5780 we know that our actions are increasingly not only impacting on our ‘environment’ (as if we ourselves were somehow detached from it) but changing and endangering our futures in the world.
This Elul, therefore, Reform Judaism is focussing on what wisdom and reflection Judaism can offer us, and encourage us in the changes necessary to make a difference in the upcoming year. Though we begin with ourselves, we do not end with ourselves. The changes we make, in our attitudes, understanding and behaviour affect all around us – our families, communities, our work place, the organisations we belong to, the government and the world itself. It begins with us.
The texts and reflections for this series have been drawn together by Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, together with members of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors who are credited individually when appropriate. Reflecting together and learning in partnership has made this a much more meaningful process for us, and if you have the time and someone willing, we hope these texts might also provide a wonderful opportunity for learning with a partner (or chavruta). As Pirkei Avot 1:6 says “make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend”.