For Generations To Come: The Questions That Bind

By Rabbi Jennifer E. Krause

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What are we?

What is the meaning of our lives?

What is our kindness? 

What is our righteousness? 

What is our liberation? 

What is our strength?

In the Jewish liturgical tradition, these are the questions we ask ourselves every morning at prayer.  It is with these questions that we not only begin our days, but the questions by which we shape our lives.

In reading and reflecting upon Pope Francis’s encyclical on integral ecology, Laudato Si’, the passage about what Pope Francis calls “justice between the generations” brought these core questions from my own inherited tradition to mind.  Pope Francis writes:

What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? . . . .What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? (Laudato Si’, 160)

How true that how we choose to answer these questions, whatever their source, becomes in aggregate the signature we leave as individuals during our short time on the earth.  How true all the more so that our answers to these questions as one human family leave an indelible inscription upon the earth in our generation and for all generations.

As Pope Francis asserts, the planet’s present and future health and well-being are inextricably bound up in the lives of each and every person, present and future, who calls it home.  The earth’s dignity and our dignity are connected.  What we see when we take a conscious look at ourselves, at our friends and loved ones, at neighbor and stranger alike; what we see when we look at our communities, our countries, the world, also is reflected in the visage of the planet we share—the planet gifted to us, placed in our hands by our Creator, that we do not own but that we have the ability to nurture or destroy.  The world, and all the inhabitants thereof, rise and fall by how we answer these questions and build lives in accordance with our daily response.

As we read in Laudato Si’, “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.” Yet, without a deep understanding of the human ecosystem, of how we are connected to and through one another by how we choose to lead our lives in even the smallest of ways, it is within the realm of our choices to be indifferent to the world.  When we forget that our lives matter, that we count, that we are here to make something of our lives and to serve a purpose that transcends the tiny borders of our individual existence, how can we possibly see the big picture of a planet that is counting on us to preserve its existence?

Without a daily commitment to what is truly at stake in the details of how we live our lives—not just for ourselves but for all, we cannot fathom, let alone heed, the clarion call of Creation crying out to us all to be the tender, trusted, proactive, and stolid stewards of the environment that we, the descendants of Adam, were placed on earth to be.

Surely it could be said that we live in a moment in the history of the world in which we have never been more connected or more disconnected. The screens we use to link ourselves to others can be the same screens that become a barrier between ourselves and the world. With myriad devices we can hear the voices of people across oceans and continents, bearing witness to the lives of those we might never otherwise have the chance to meet; and yet far too easily those voices can become little more than background noise as we turn our attention to everything and nothing at all.

Part of that noise is the din of hopelessness and negativity, the sound of too many in need and too much to be healed for us to believe that it is within our power to make a difference.  When we lose our faith in ourselves and what we can do to change the lives of our brothers and sisters for the better, we are all diminished.  When we cede that faith to futility, the planet also pays the price.

Yet somewhere in all of that noise, I must say that in nearly two decades of being a rabbi, of serving Jews of all different backgrounds, ages, movements, and religious practice, never before have I heard more talk of social justice; and, what is most important, never have I seen more engagement in social action.

Never before have I seen more Jewish organizations created for the sole purpose of putting the word and the spirit of Jewish teaching and tradition to work in the world.  Never before have I seen more passionate people, young and old, fan out into their communities to make a difference in all aspects of the human ecosystem.  Be it Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, Bend the Arc, American Jewish World Service, Repair the World, Keshet, or Hazon to name but a few; whether focusing on gender-based violence, immigration, homelessness, food insecurity, poverty, fair labor practices, racial inequality, sustainability, and the environment they demonstrate through the daily unwavering pursuit of justice in all its forms that every positive step we take begins with seeing ourselves in the other—walking with the awareness that every human being is created in the image of G-d, imbued with infinite value, possibility, and unique purpose.

As Pope Francis affirms in Laudato Si’, and as I am heartened to see happening in my own community, when we see our lives, the contours of our kindness, the quality of our integrity, our decisions to redeem or degrade, and the way we use (and when necessary choose not to use) our power and freedom as having a direct and lasting impact on everything and everyone around us, we can do the sacred work of making a healthier planet that thrives and sustains us all.

Jordan Waters: Preservation for Sustainable Living

by Fr. John Predmore, S.J.

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© John Predmore

When human pride explodes, it destroys and exploits nature. Think of water. Water is something precious and very important. Water gives life; it helps us in everything. But to exploit the minerals, which leads to the contamination of water, then messes up the environment and creation is destroyed! This is just an example. There are many more.

Pope Francis, February 22, 2017

I read this quote from a homily by Pope Francis in which he emphasized our care for the environment. It had an immediate effect upon me as I was visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during a school break. I previously worked in Jordan as the pastor of the English Language parish for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The World Health Organization ranks Jordan among the lowest in the world for water resource availability per capita, with water scarcity becoming a more menacing challenge as the population doubles and climate changes make precipitation more uncertain and variable. In addition, the desert kingdom hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees and displaced persons, creating an enormous strain on a fragile water infrastructure.

King Abdullah presses on with responsible stewardship as the kingdom uses its gifts to compensate for its deficiencies. The most abundant vital resource is the sun. Under the King’s directives during the past five years, developers and construction companies have been advancing solar energy technologies to produce clean and efficient energy. With long cloudless days, these photocells produce great quantities of energy in the summer and companies are able to apply the excess production toward credits for their energy bills in the colder seasons. Lobbyists are urging the government to create tax deductions for credit incentives if businesses use solar energy, thereby decreasing taxes. Such governmental regulations will spark increased incentives for companies to switch to cleaner energy consumption methods. Additionally, companies are switching from diesel gas to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a low carbon, cleaner alternative source of energy that emits 35 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and costs 12 percent less than oil.

The kingdom has required builders to designate green space within all new construction projects, including exterior building renovations (even for residential apartments); the builder then must get municipality approval for the green space. Vegetation in the desert is sparse; in the city of Amman, it is not uncommon for one walking along a sidewalk to find a tree planted in the middle of the path. The Jordanians do like their trees and bushes and want them planted wherever their growth can be sustainable.

Construction companies extend their good will to residents of the poorer southern parts of the kingdom by building parks in those areas, creating soccer and playing fields, and then planting trees so the fields are shaded from the sun. The Saudis are installing windmills in the barren Arabian desert, and these conserve the desert lifestyle.

When I left Amman for the United States three years ago, I was lamenting the pervasive habit of littering that tarnished the city. Jordanians were always boastful that Amman was the cleanest Arab city, but this littering became a source for shame as they built up their tourism industry. The Amman municipality within the past two years has doubled its efforts in sanitation and trash collection to return the city to a place of pride. The government has removed abandoned cars from sidewalks and parking areas and the residents are caring for their small corners of the city. They are practicing care for their common home and for one another, a commitment to the common good.

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© John Predmore

Historical and eco-tourism are burgeoning industries that are showcasing Jordan’s natural resources. The marvels of Petra and Wadi Rum attract foreign visitors to the nation, and smaller gems are appearing on the tourism map, like the Dana Reserve and its Biosphere that sustains a fragile but important arid ecosystem with distinctive threatened wildlife, like Nubian Ibexes, Syrian serins, caracals, and lesser kestrels.

In addition, the Dead Sea will soon come back to life. An extensive project of channeling water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea will replenish the rapidly evaporating waters. Cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian governments benefits both nations, and Jordan will get a steady supply of potable water for its residents.

Tourism is drawing attention for sport enthusiasts, some who are able to run the Red to Dead Sea marathon, hang-glide through the mountain terrain, spend a spa weekend at the Ma’in Hot Springs, or wade through the Mujib Dam’s tributaries. Tourism companies like Wild Jordan lead eco-tours and sell products that emphasize Jordan’s new interest in preserving its environment.

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is a big player in setting new environmental standards. Two impressive efforts are the restoration of the Al Azraq Oasis and rain production in Ajloun (the forests of Gilead).

Jordanians also plan to dam the springs that have fed Al Azraq, an oasis at the intersection of three deserts in the eastern part of the country. This was the winter home to Lawrence of Arabia before his attack on Ottoman Damascus. The wetlands have been shrinking as they have become the primary source of drinking water for the growing metropolis of Amman. A wide variety of birds stop at the reserve each year to rest during their migration routes between Asia and Africa, and Jordanians have reintroduced water buffaloes to the area. While the restoration project is in its initial stages, it is the first of its kind in Jordan and is a real attempt to reverse a destructive trend.

Cloud seeding that uses ionizing technology has yielded promising results, virtually doubling rainfall levels in 17 days of December 2016. The technology mimics sun ionization and uses no chemicals. Ionized particles are 100 times more electrically attracted to water vapor and they form vapor clusters that eventually become raindrops. The technology is new and it has been successful in Australia and the United Arab Emirates; it could reap tremendous benefits for this water-starved kingdom.

I am certain that few Jordanians have heard of Laudato Si, but the people know that, in a land with few life-sustaining water resources, they are prudent to conserve and judiciously manage their precious natural resources. Jordan’s geography encompasses a fertile East Bank of the Jordan River that flows into the saline-saturated Dead Sea, which does not sustain many living organisms. From the lowest elevations to barren rugged mountains surrounded by vast deserts, the presence of water means life.

Jordanians long have forged a delicate balance between human society and the natural world. Their pragmatism requires them to work with their neighbors for sustainability, which increases stability, security, and peace for the region. Their innovation helps them reduce levels of poverty, especially as they struggle to provide for the influx of war refugees. Their spirit of determination makes them a model for other nations and serves as a reminder that the survival and flourishing of humanity is intricately linked to the preservation of the world’s natural resources.