“It is not upon me to complete the task, but neither am I free to turn away from the work” (Pirke Avot 2:16)
The community around the bus tour is buzzing with the discussion about the condition of the world. For a people who are famous for, and who pride themselves in containing disparate opinions, there is a general consensus among Jewish communities that the way humanity is interacting with the surrounding world is not sustainable. Work must be done on a large scale, and soon. However, that is where the agreement ends. There exists a multitude of causes for which an individual can campaign, and no way to say which particular one is most important.
In the fall Shomrei Adamah Teva program, there is an activity titled Eco-Shopping. In this exercise, small groups of students are presented with a variety of options of a certain product, and have to choose which option is “best.” The educators challenge the students to justify their selection, and consider the alternatives. Some students choose organic products, others prioritize local business. For some the highest quality at the lowest price is the clear choice, while others are primarily concerned with the conditions of the workers who make the product. All of these choices are “right”. All of these choices are “good.” Yet still there is endless discussion between students to find a common set of values.
Teva holds a set of values as well. The central mitzvot of the organization – custodianship of the planet and the life on it, loving thy neighbor, do not destroy – are expanded and augmented by the personal values of the educators.
Aboard the bus there is a range of opinions on what values should be prioritized. This is most regularly and clearly seen in sourcing our food. While we’ve agreed it’s best to purchase produce grown by the communities we encounter, organic produce may have a lesser negative impact on the environment, and fair trade ensures that we are not contributing to the economic subjugation of other humans. Typically, it is not possible to find food which fulfills all of these requirements, much less choices which are also kosher and accessible to our limited budget. Inevitably there is a decision to be made – if we can’t match all of our values, which columns do we check off? Which beliefs are sacrificed for the sake of other priorities? What is the deciding factor? It makes shopping a much more deliberative procedure, which, I think, it should be.
As educators, we have found that our work is most fulfilling, and our message is most successful, when our students have strongly-held values of their own. We were fortunate to spend time with two Habonim Dror camps. Within the curriculum of these camps there is anglorification of labor and an emphasis on working for common good. We also visited Six Points Academy Sci-Tech camp, where the students are well-attuned to the importance of designing products and systems with intention. Through these lenses, the students could see our passion for sustainability. As a camp, they already know the power of gathering as a community to strive for a cause.
In general, our cause is improving our society’s relationship with its ecological surroundings. It’s more than a belief, it’s something we’ve chosen to pursue through dedication of our time and energy. Consequently, this means we are not working on other causes. It’s true. We are not engaged in reducing the violence visited upon innocents in this country or others. We are not campaigning to defend the rights of citizens to express their identity however they choose. We are not actively building homes for those who have none. These are injustices, and though they are committed against only certain individuals, the human race suffers as a whole. These are not our campaigns. We have our own work. Yet we are partners in the task of improving our world.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian activist and artist