Laudato Si and the Sages

Five years ago, in advance of 5776, and following the September 2015 publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (addressed to all people in advance of the United Nations meeting and the Climate March) Rabbi Daniel Swartz prepared a text study to use on Yom Kippur or any time through the year.

On Yom Kippur at the fifth anniversary of the both the encyclical and the study, we are re-publishing this resource. Find the downloadable study here, and the opening letter republished below.

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Dear Colleagues and Friends,
Shanah Tovah! As you prepare to welcome 5776, I invite you to connect with one of the most notable faith events of the year – Pope Francis’s visit to the United States just after Yom Kippur, during which he will speak about his encyclical on climate change and justice, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. At this time of year, as we reflect on how we have treated our fellow human beings and how we might better live up to God’s expectations of us, we have a special opportunity to examine our relationship with all of God’s creation– and the Pope’s encyclical provides us with an excellent way to do just that.

To that end, I’ve selected a number of excerpts from the encyclical and paired them with Jewish sources ranging from the Tanakh, to midrashim, to Heschel, to rabbis of today. Here at Temple Hesed in Scranton, PA, I will be using this text study, “Laudato Si and the Sages: Reflections on Climate Justice,” on Yom Kippur afternoon, and we have invited the press and other faith communities as well. Please use it however it might work best for you: at High Holy Day Services, at a multi-faith gathering, at a social action weekend etc.

The texts are presented in two formats. The first is a more complete four-page selection, designed for in-depth or multi-session discussions; it can be studied in a larger group setting, in hevruta, in small groups or in some combination. The second is a single page of texts, meant to serve as a ready-made one-hour program. In both formats, I’ve included questions on each topic highlighted by the texts, as well as some summary questions. I’d love to hear how you’ve used it or if you have any questions – drop me an email.

I also hope this text study will inspire further action to combat climate change. (To help with this, some “next steps” are presented at the  end of each discussion guide) I present it in my role as board president of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, one of 40 IP&L affiliates, each of which works with communities, organizations, and individuals of faith to address climate change as a moral issue. If  you’d like to learn more about PA IPL, please feel free to email me or our Executive Director [2020 edit: Executive Director Daniel Heayn-Menendez, or rising Board President Rabbi Nathan Martin]

Lastly, I’d like to thank colleagues who reviewed this text study and made suggestions: Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein of Philly IPL, Rabbi Larry Troster of GreenFaith, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center.
In Hesed,
Rabbi Daniel Swartz

Before becoming the spiritual leader of Temple Hesed, Rabbi Daniel Swartz was the coordinator of Greater Washington IPL, executive director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network, Associate Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and Congregational Relations Director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he was the lead author of To Till and to Tend: a Guide to Jewish Environmental Study and Action.

September 2020 Newsletter: Engagement at the Equinox

There is a Hadith that says, “Verily, in your lives there are breezes (of grace and mercy) that will blow, indeed you should take advantage of them.” In this year of so much uncertainty and loss, of loved ones, of our daily rhythms, and of icons, such as the honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, it can be difficult to see the signs of God’s grace and mercy. As the seasons change, I am reminded of the great cycles of change we experience and the role of both community and the hand of God in our lives. This week marks the Jewish new year with Rosh hashanah and as we enter the colder months we should take stock of all we have been blessed with and look beyond the horizon to new beginnings, as an organization and a community of like minded believers in climate justice. We can begin to step back from the heavy burdens of this year, to bear witness to the larger wonders of our world and trust in the greater power of God’s ongoing creation.  

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and  the  earth  and  the  alternation of  night  and  day,  there  are  signs  for those  who  possess  intellects.  Those who remember God standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the  creation  of  the  heavens  and  the earth  (and  say)  ‘Our  Lord,  You  have not  created  this  in  vain!  Immaculate are You!” (3: 190-191)

At the autumnal equinox (Maban) may we recognize and give thanks for our many blessings, the harvest, our community, and the conviction of our mission which sustain us as the fruits of the garden of creation.

September 2020 Newsletter-Civic engagement — make and support voting plans now.

Voter registration is open until October 19, 2020.  Already-registered voters can register to vote by mail until October 27, 2020, but to make sure delays don’t get in your way, make your choice and do it now! 

Now is also the time to reach out in your congregation.  Make sure every member of your congregation who wants to vote, has a plan — and has the support to carry out that plan with time to spare.   You can help fellow congregants check to make sure their registrations are correct, and may be able to help by printing registration forms, checking transportation schedules, or doing phone-tree reminders for those who are planning to vote in person.  Remind in-person people to mask up for safety, and to bring water, a snack, and weather-appropriate clothing in case they have to wait outside this time! 

This one pager from PA IPL has all the links you need.  It’s currently available in English.  Spanish and Arabic language versions coming soon to  Share as many as you like with your congregation and civic groups — and if you’re fluent in another language, offer us another version to post!

September 2020 Newsletter: Learn and Act-Renewable Electricity Webinar

Did you know that in Pennsylvania, you can choose 100% renewable electricity — and you can do so affordably?  Fall and spring are the best times to shop.  We will help with specific recommendations about how to use PA PowerSwitch to plug your house into wind and solar without getting stuck in a “deal” you don’t want. 

Join us for a webinar on Thursday evening, October 15th.  Between 7:00 and 8:00 PM, we’ll walk you through the process using current information.  You’ll get slides you can use at home after the webinar, and if the Internet is robust enough, we may even do a couple of live searches. 

This webinar uses Pennsylvania state resources, and is specifically designed for people living in Pennsylvania.

Registration is required.  A recording and resources will be available to those who register.  There is no fee for this program; your donations help us keep doing the work. 

September 2020 Newsletter: New Beginnings: A Time for Creation- Letter from the Executive Director


My name is David Heayn-Menendez and I am the new Executive Director of PA IPL. I am so happy and excited to be part of our interfaith community and to lead the moral fight against climate change. I am a Philadelphia native but I currently live with my spouse and two sons in North Central Pennsylvania –  Lewisburg, where I attend the Sunbury Islamic Center. My background is as a community organizer/campaign manager, local elected official, and for much of my life, as an educator. Most of my scholarship and teaching focused on the religious history of the Middle East and North Africa region, and especially on intercommunity interaction. Most recently I have been the Director of Public Education at a Philadelphia-based arts and culture non-profit.

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It was my passion for community organizing, social justice, and environmental stewardship that brought me to PA IPL, because the vital work of preserving and protecting our natural environment and our communities is a foundational and inextricable component of living a life of faith. Together as members of faith we can hold each other up, amplify our voices, and tend the garden entrusted to us. We are a community guided by our faiths to action, to preserve the environment for the benefit of all. 

Since my start at the end of the August, I have been warmly welcomed with open arms by the Board and members of PA IPL. In the coming months, I hope to meet and speak with many of you to hear your concerns and goals, and to forge a new path together. Recently I have been reminded of a quote from my time at Villanova from Saint Augustine, “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” In order to grow PA IPL, in terms of its impact, its reach, and its finances during this period of transition we must first take a breath, a moment to contemplate who and what we are, and then move forward, renewed in our mission and with the wind at our back. 

May the peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon you,

David Heayn-Menendez