How the High Holidays Can Save the Environment


“I remember the first thing I noticed when we came into the harbor-I woke up, and suddenly smelled something. And of course, it was pollution”-Greta Thunberg, Environmental activist and winner International Children’s peace Prize  

When Greta Thunberg arrived in New York, hundreds of thousands of people were immediately drawn to her outcry. Her vigorous, determined message about the environment and our planet being in a state of emergency resonated with many individuals of my generation-and for a good reason.
New York has been my home for the last year, and I couldn’t help but notice how polluted it is, especially last week, during Yom Kippur.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but Yom Kippur is the greenest, healthiest day for our environment.  Think about it: if you are fasting, that means you are not eating meat, and just for one day you put a stop to the corporations that are devastating the Amazon.   Likewise,if you avoid driving your car, you are releasing less carbon and fossil fuel to our atmosphere, and giving the world a chance to breath.

You might think, “One person can’t make a big difference”, and I think you’re right.  This is precisely why I want to tell you about a country of 8 million that on Yom Kippur gives the environment a break and implements Greta’s words into action.  That country is Israel. In Israel’s Yom Kippur, the majority of drivers put their cars to rest, and aside from emergency vehicles, the roads are completely empty, leaving the space for kids who ride their bicycles and play games. While fasting is not mandatory by law, many Jewish people choose to abstain from every kind of meat or dairy for 24 hours, thus having at least one meatless day a year.  Many Israelis make this choice so they’ll be able to focus on personal repentance, and others participate simply because it’s a tradition.

During this Yom Kippur, I couldn’t help but notice how this idyllic scenery is the opposite of the New York Yom Kippur, or as I call it, “New Yorkippur”.  In “New Yorkippur” cars are running as usual, people are munching in the streets, and the contrast is so apparent: in Israel, you go outdoors to experience Yom Kippur, but in New York, you must go indoors. My indoor action included a visit to an Israeli Yom Kippur experience that reminded me of home, yet despite the warmth and easygoing atmosphere, something was missing: a connection to the place I live in and to my fellow Jewish American friends.

That thought quickly translated itself into a text message from a friend, whom I promised join at a service in Ohel Ayala, a young adult egalitarian pop-up synagogue.  I used this opportunity to bring my Israeli friends and American friends together to this service. By doing so, I was fulfilling three key elements of the high holidays:

  • Care for others
  • Rethink yourself
  • Save the environment

It is the new year spirit of Rosh Hashana that enables us to merge into a new beginning and make resolutions that will improve us and our small world.  It is Yom Kippur which emphasizes self-repentance and a group dynamic gives us a rest from the modern routine.  And it is Sukkot, the Jewish Holiday of hospitality, that enables us to create an inclusive open tent.


If you want to learn more from Israel Shaliach Ophir Tal, check our the Israeli film series here!

More details below on the first film in the series below.

Mekonen: The Journey of An African Jew

Tuesday, November 26 | 7:30 PM
Run time: 45 minutes + Panel Discussion

Screening to be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ophir Tal, Israeli Shaliach.

This documentary follows the backstory and personal journey of Mekonen Abebe, a young African-Israeli Jew, once a young shepherd in Africa and now a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces. The film accompanies Mekonen back to Africa on an emotional journey as he explores his roots, makes peace with his past and embraces his future in Israel.

General Admission: $20
Includes entry to the film + post screening talk back, a light snack, and drink of your choice!