This coming Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Originally, BCE — Before the Covid Era — we were planning to invite 50 rabbis and Jewish leaders to come together to blow shofar in Times Square on this day.
Now, in this new world that we’re in, the invitation is to rabbis and others wherever they are, all around the world, to sound the call for Earth Day. Our call has been endorsed not only by a growing number of rabbis and Jewish organizations, but also (with trumpets and drums) by the Earth Day Network itself, and a growing number of other faith communities.
Why blow a shofar for Earth Day? There are four reasons:
First: We blow shofar because it’s a ram’s horn. It not only come from an animal — you can see that it comes from an animal. As such, it’s a reminder that everything we “have,” everything we depend upon, comes from the natural world. Our food, our soil, the air, the water. We live amidst concrete and metal and plastic and glass — but each of those materials is itself derived from the natural world. It has been too easy, since modernity, to forget this fundamental fact. And with it the concomitant understanding that — clichéd, but true — we are stewards of the natural world. And that when we abuse it, animals pay the price, and the oceans do — and so do we. This is what both the shofar, and Earth Day, come to remind us of.
Second, we blow the shofar at times of celebration. Earth Day is a celebration of this beautiful fragile planet, and all the beautiful fragile living creatures, we amongst them, who live on it. Amidst everything, including this contemporary plague, it is absolutely right that we blow shofar to celebrate the world. And blowing the shofar, simultaneously, all over the world, is a way to celebrate the paradoxical sense of connection that has arisen since the virus began.
The third reason we blow shofar is because it is a time of alarm. Even as — we note with hope — that the number of new Covid-19 cases is decelerating, the number of deaths continues to rise. This is doubly a time of alarm for the world — over the virus itself, and over the vulnerabilities in human civilization that it has revealed. So this will indeed be the shofar blast of alarm.
And the fourth and final reason we blow the shofar is to call us to teshuvah — to repentance, and to return to our best selves. This is self-evident, and vitally necessary. The shofar that we blow on Rosh Hashanah; the shofar we blow at the very end of Yom Kippur — these call us to action. They call us to change. They are a cry of pain and of fear, they are a cry from deep within us, a cry in which we say, please, ok, please let me be better this year. The virus and its aftermath will require of us changes in our own behaviors, changes in our communities, and changes from our governments. At every level we have to learn lessons from what has happened.
So please, put #SoundtheCall on your calendars for April 22, at noon EDT (our Zoom call opens at 11 a.m.; info at hazon.org).
Earth Day always falls during sefirat ha’omer, the counting of the omer. We count from pesach (which is freedom from — from want and oppression and, this year, the virus) and we travel towards Shavuot (which is freedom to — to choose to live our lives more carefully, more honorably, more thoughtfully. )
And so I wish for us all a journey, this year, towards health and sustainability. May we indeed sound the call — and heed the many new lessons we can learn from an ancient tradition.
Nigel Savage is CEO of Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability.