Energy Policy Letter Launched at Interfaith Service at Old West Church

COEJL, NCOC work to promote joint effort


By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent


On Feb. 27, religious leaders mixed with concerned citizens in a service at the Old West Church in Boston to release an interfaith letter on energy policy. Signed by 67 religious leaders in Massachusetts, including nearly 30 rabbis, the letter is part of a national effort involving over 1,000 clergy members. Copies were sent to all 100 U.S. Senators as the Senate began debating energy legislation this past week.


Leaders of 45 major faith groups and denominations participated in the effort, including the United Methodist Church, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Episcopal Church, the Orthodox Church in American and the American Baptist Churches.


Judy Lehrer, Coordinator of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life for the Jewish Community Relations Council, worked on the initiative with the National Council of Churches under their joint Interfaith Climate Campaign ( "Several clergy members delivered the letter," Lehrer reports, "with endorsements from local clergy to Senator John Kerry's office."


"I think it's crucial that the religious community speak out in support of energy policies that are far-sighted, that promote conservation and protection of the environment," says signatory Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, West Newton. "The call to Americans to make some sacrifices needs to also be made by religious leaders. It is time for those of us in America to understand that serious choices need to be made between our consumption patterns and the reality of limited energy resources, if we are to realize true sustainability."


"Jewish concern for the environment is rooted in the very heart of our tradition," concurs Rabbi Jonah Pesner of Boston's Temple Israel. "Jews are obligated to join with our brothers and sisters of other faiths to protect the earth. Today, more than ever, we add our voices to the call to environmental action."


Rev. Laurel Scott, pastor of the Old West Church's United Methodist Congregation, led Wednesday's service of prayer and reflection. "This Church has always been active in social causes," she said. "It is for us to consider the decisions we make and how they will affect the environments of the world, our children and our children's children."


Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Associate Rector of All Saints' Parish of Brookline, then offered a prayer. Next, Rev. Jill Wiley of the Massachusetts Council of Churches thanked COEJL for their leading role. "People making history often don't know they are doing so," she said. "This is an opportunity for the religious and environmental community to join hands to help shape energy policy. People look to Massachusetts because of its strong leadership, and especially its environmentally aware senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy", she remarked. She discussed the MCOC's upcoming breakfast series with legislators, "The Church, Society and Care for the Environment," and their Religious Witness for the Earth organization.


Next, Rabbi Andrew Warmflash of Temple Emanuel, Newton, discussed Rabbi Yitzchak's question "Why does the Torah begin with Genesis?" "Because," he answered, "one has to start with fundamentals. We are creatures of the rest of creation." Citing Hebrew text, he continued, "G-d created the Garden of Eden first. The Hebrew tells us very subtly what the purpose is - to till it and also to protect it, guard it and preserve it for the future.


"We must dedicate ourselves to asking if our desire to exploit the Earth for short term gain will eclipse our responsibility to preserve G-d's creation. The way we exercise our stewardship," he said, "is to use energy wisely, so that all generations to come will be able to also enjoy G-d's creation."


Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline then filled the hall with his inimitable baritone. In Hebrew, English, and without words as well, he sang Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the mountains, from whence will come my hope. My help will come from the L-rd, Maker of Heaven and the Earth."


Finally, Rev. Laurel Scott closed the event. "I can feel something happening here!" she said. "Let us go out into the garden that G-d has given us, and take seriously G-d's command, to remember the gift of creation and the command for stewardship."


Rich Levitt, Director of Senator Kerry's Office of Environmental Affairs, who had also worked with Lehrer and Rev. Wiley on this project, said that he had discussed the event with Kerry, who was set to speak at Temple Emanuel on March 2 on Social Justice Stewardship, in honor of Rabbi Warmflash's seventh, or Shmita, year.


Adds Warmflash: “The Bush Administration's proposed voluntary measures fall far short of meeting our society's minimum moral responsibilities. The Jewish tradition teaches that we are permitted to exploit the earth's resources for our own benefit within reasonable limits. However, we have an overarching obligation to protect the environment and preserve the earth for future generations. Being true to these core values requires us to take substantial steps to dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions."



 Rabbi Andrew Warmflash from Newton's Temple Emanuel says "I am proud to

 join my voice to those of religious leaders of many faiths from around

 the country in calling for substantive changes in our nation's energy

 policy. The number, diversity, and moral stature of the religious

 leaders endorsing the Interfaith Climate Campaign sends the

 Congress and Administration an urgent and powerful message: The Bush

 administration's proposed voluntary measures fall far short of meeting

 our society's minimum moral responsibilities. The Jewish tradition

 teaches that we are permitted to exploit the earth's resources for our

 own benefit within reasonable limits. However, we have an overarching

 obligation to protect the environment and preserve the earth for future

 generations. Being true to these core values requires us to take

 substantial steps to dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions."


This congregation has for the past several years devoted at least one worship service each year to our role in the of preservation of the Creation to encourage its members to "Do Justice," says Rev. Laurel Scott, Old West Church



“We believe that as stewards of the Creation we have not

 only a spiritual responsibility, but also a moral and ethical

 responsibility to pass on to future generations a world free from

 debilitating effects of decisions we may make today. In making decisions

 as a congregation about the restoration and preservation of this

 historic landmark building, we have made and are making deliberate

 choices to conserve energy and to use products that have the least

 negative effect on the environment. We encourage our members to make

 similar choices regarding products purchased for personal use. Today, we

 open our building to the Interfaith Climate Change Network, so that all

 our voices can be heard on this most crucial issue."




Judy Lehrer

 Greater Boston

 Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life