Alumni Judaean Turned Climate Activist
An interview with Mirele Goldsmith, founding member of the Jewish Earth Alliance
Tell is a bit about your background professionally and personally, including what Young Judaea programs you are an alumnus of?
I’m originally from Brookline, MA and joined Young Judaea as a freshman in high school. The region had decided to start a club in Brookline and I was recruited with a few other people to help. I went to Tel Yehudah for the Machon, and went to Israel on the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz (Year Course 1978). I also worked for hamagshimim.
I received my MSW in social work and spent a year doing field work in Tel Aviv. I’ve worked for a number of Jewish organizations including Hillel.
What inspired you to get involved in environmental causes?
In 1997 I went to Yosemite National Park for a wedding, and we went on the most popular day hike Vernal Falls. At the top of the mountain I saw something that changed my life: a solar compositing toilet. I found it to be a very interesting technology. There was a whole sign explaining how it worked and because of that toilet, I got involved in environmental issues.
After that I moved to New York and got involved with various environmental organizations and eventually went back to school to get my PHD in Environmental Psychology at City University of New York. My research was related to NYC water issues and making the water system more sustainable. I started to get involved in grassroots activism to ban fracking in New York State.
At the time the Jewish environmental world was growing and I became involved with COEJL and Hazon and was part of the Jewish organization of the People’s Climate March in 2014.
It was at this time that became more interested in advocacy. Everything we were doing, it all depends on policy and what kind of policies are passed. When I was with Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship they developed a group buying program for solar rooftop systems for Jewish Agencies and New York City had recently passed a law about community solar. We couldn’t have done this without that law.
How did the Jewish Earth Alliance get started?
After relocating to the D.C. area from New York, I found some like-minded people to start the Jewish Earth Alliance – a grassroots, all-volunteer network that calls on congress for climate action. We try to make it easy for Jewish communities around the country to lobby the federal government and administration for climate solutions.
We recently had a webinar to prepare activists for the new congress and had 300 people attend! This event is leading up to a Tu BiShvat virtual lobby day we are organizing.
How did Young Judaea lead you to where you are today?
I always tell everyone that my start as an organizer came from Young Judaea. I give a lot of credit to Young Judaea for my ability to be an organizer and to lead.
Young Judaea was the first time in my life when I found friends who cared about what I cared about. We did things with each other and you build relationships through experiences. I mean, going to Israel for a year, back in those days you didn’t call home. Your friends were everything.
I do attribute a bit of my interest in the environment to Young Judaea. I was not an outdoorsy person before I went to Israel, going to Israel we spent a lot of time outside, hiking and those things, learning about geology and the agriculture of Israel. Looking back on it, it did influence me.
Why are you specifically a Jewish climate activist?
- I was raised as a Jew and my beliefs and values come from Judaism, and I feel like I need to act on them. It’s not enough to just talk about protecting the earth. A lot of our holidays connect to nature and appreciation and awe for creation. We need to act on those values.
2. A lot of our holidays and rituals relate to nature and that makes it really meaningful for people to learn about environment and take action in the context of Jewish tradition. Lobbying on Tu BiShvat is something people can relate to.
3. We just need everyone. There is a slogan in the climate movement, “to change everything we need everyone” and, we need the Jews too. It’s much easier to organize people in groups and communities than to do it one by one.
What can young people do today to get involved in environmental causes and climate activism?
There are many ways that you can get involved but the main thing is to find a place where you feel comfortable and feel like you can make a difference. My work with Jewish Earth Alliance is about activating citizens, we are citizen lobbyists. You don’t have to be paid to be involved and make a difference.
Be Courageous. Another thing we learned from Young Judaea. Our motto was ‘Ani ve’ata neshaneh et haolam’, you and I will change the world. I wasn’t that courageous when I was younger, but over time I realized I can be. Fortunately in both America and Israel we can speak up, we can make a difference, we should take advantage of that.
There are so many things we can do as citizens that seem very intimidating, but the main thing is to find like-minded people, join a group, and get involved. Because it’ all about how we can change the world together.