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World Environment Day: a time to remember the bigger picture

Under the regional and communal pressures of the post-October 7 world, it’s easy to forget that the overarching threat of climate change is still with us.
Ash Densham
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18 cars in formation in a green landscape

Electric vehicles in the shape of the word chai (life) at the JCN event in Melbourne (supplied)

Published: 4 June 2024

Last updated: 4 June 2024

Seven months and counting. The war in Israel and Gaza has cast a long shadow, and as a community we remain emotionally raw. It's a conflict that cuts too deep for words, a constant undercurrent of worry and a yearning for peace that feels perpetually out of reach.

Yet, the world, in its relentless way, keeps spinning. While our focus narrows on Israel, gang violence continues to cripple Haiti, famine deepens in the Horn of Africa, and war in Ukraine rumbles on – a stark reminder that human suffering, though unseen on our news feeds, continues unabated. 

Here, amidst the deluge of news, it's easy to lose track of long-lasting challenges. 

June 5 is World Environment Day (WED), a crucial reminder that our planet, the very foundation of our existence, needs our attention too.

But why, amidst all that our community is grappling with, should we pay attention to this day? 

It's pertinent to recall the words of Elie Wiesel in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Wiesel, a survivor of unimaginable horrors, spoke of his deep connection to the Jewish experience, saying, "Since I am a Jew profoundly rooted in my peoples’ memory and tradition, my first response is to Jewish fears, Jewish needs, Jewish crises… it would be unnatural for me not to make Jewish priorities my own."

However, Wiesel didn't stop there. He continued, acknowledging a wider responsibility: "But there are other [priorities] as important to me… There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism and political persecution… Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere."

The Jewish and the universal, these are the dual concerns that we must address in this complicated time.

One way we do so at the Jewish Climate Network (JCN) is to honour  Israelis who walk proudly in both worlds, devoting their lives to peace as well as important environmental and climate issues.

Ofir Libstein, a victim of the October 7 massacre at Kfar Aza, advocated for solar and battery infrastructure along the Gaza border communities, to keep the power on during crises and reduce polluting emissions in response to climate change.

Dr Shoshan Haran, an October 7 hostage,  invented seed development techniques that have provided vegetables to 7.7 million people across Africa. Dr Haran was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7 and held hostage for 50 days in Gaza. She is now thankfully free. 

Just as Shabbat teaches us to find pockets of peace within a busy week, World Environment Day presents an opportunity to return to our broader set of Jewish values. 

These are just two of the countless contributions of the Jewish people to the urgent task of reducing pollution, strengthening food systems, improving water quality and much more. 

The Jewish people respond to attacks not only by surviving, but by thriving, embodying the Jewish and human values that Elie Wiesel championed his entire life. 

As a Jewish community within Australia, we continue to play a role in building a safer climate future. 

This means advocating for policies that accelerate our transition to a zero-pollution society. It means making climate-forward business decisions, as employees and business owners. It means considering our own consumption habits – can we shift towards electric vehicles, install energy-efficient appliances, or invest our savings more responsibly? 

These actions are meaningful, but in isolation they are limited. We must also practice telling the Jewish story of addressing climate change, being proud of our actions and achievements, and thereby inspiring others to take their own steps.

Last weekend, JCN hosted “The Great Electric Trek”, the largest gathering of Jewish-owned electric cars (EVs) in the country. A convoy of EVs glided silently from Caulfield Park to the Yarra Valley, in a powerful statement that as Australian Jews we stand in support of zero-pollution transportation, for a healthier future for ourselves and our children.

Participants shared their positive experiences in owning and driving electric cars. For Lili Recht, there are evident financial benefits: “The cost of recharging is really reasonable, we do all of ours at home. And so, as petrol has gone up that’s been a really great saver.” 

Many of these Jewish EV owners are motivated by the same Jewish values espoused by Elie Weisel, a commitment to a better future. 

As Jewish EV driver Jonathan Wolfe describes,“It’s an example of looking after the environment, which is a very important part of Judaism. It’s a contribution we can make, it’s the way of the future and if we can do it, we should do it.” 

The conflict in Israel and Gaza will continue to demand our attention and prayers. But just as Shabbat teaches us to find pockets of peace within a busy week, World Environment Day presents an opportunity to return to our broader set of Jewish values. 

This year, I invite you to use WED as a springboard to share the stories of how you are caring for our planet. The impact of any climate action - like choosing an EV - is greatly magnified when we share it with others. Whether it's a conversation with family over dinner, a colleague at lunch, or a friend over coffee, our stories have the power to inspire and create a ripple effect of positive change that extends far beyond June 5.

About the author

Ash Densham

Ash Densham is Programs Manager at the Jewish Climate Network.


  • Avatar of Andrew Gelbart

    Andrew Gelbart4 June at 08:02 am

    Nice article, thanks. As well as working within the Jewish community, there may well be opportunities to strengthen relationships in the wider community with the right projects.

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