As I stood amongst the crowd just a few weeks ago, I was filled with a sense of purpose and gratitude. I was gathered with around 100 Boston-area Jews in front of a Chase Bank branch, calling on Chase to divest from fossil fuels. We highlighted the urgency of the moment by showing how the climate crisis is our modern-day “10 plagues.” Our organizing was part of a national campaign by Dayenu, an organization working to mobilize the Jewish community to respond powerfully to the climate crisis.
Watching the extreme weather events unfolding around the world in recent years has left me feeling afraid, overwhelmed and, at times, on the edge of despair. Observing the gridlock and stuck-ness of our national politics in a moment that so clearly demands urgent action has been profoundly disappointing. But recent events have also made it clear that large financial institutions can be influenced by public pressure. Here, at last, was an avenue for action with the potential to move the needle. The Passover action connected me with fellow Jewish activists here in Boston and across the country who feel called to step up and take a stand. Standing with that community, taking action grounded in the Jewish tradition that forms the foundation of my deepest values, felt great.
I am new to the environmental movement. Until recently, it just wasn’t an issue I felt called to address. As a father to two tweens, however, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable standing on the sidelines when it comes to environmental activism. The science makes it crystal clear that unless we transition away from fossil fuels, our planet will experience climate chaos within my children’s—our children’s—lifetime. Apathy and denial no longer felt like acceptable responses. I needed to get into the arena.
Dayenu was my on-ramp and entryway into activism. I am an alumnus of multiple Jewish service programs; many of the most important and formative experiences in my life have involved serving others as an expression of my Judaism. I have tutored children in Israel, dug irrigation systems in rural Honduras and built school houses in Ghana alongside fellow Jews who shared my deep commitment to tikkun olam. The moment I discovered there was a Jewish organization working to address the climate crises at the level of national policy, I was all in.
In joining the climate movement, I’ve discovered that I have a lot to learn. Just a few months ago, I knew essentially nothing about how the fossil fuel industry was funded. Dayenu’s campaign to call on the financial institutions most responsible for sustaining this industry has provided a rigorous education on the topic. Here’s why we gathered on the sidewalk in front of a Chase Bank branch: Chase Bank is, by far, the largest funder of fossil fuel projects around the world. Since 2016, Chase has contributed $382 billion to the fossil fuel industry, including $3 billion to support the fossil fuel industry in Russia, which plays a significant role in funding that country’s deeply immoral war against Ukraine. Chase, along with other institutions like Citi Group, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Vanguard and Black Rock, are getting rich funding the industry that is destroying the planet and destabilizing global politics.
Many of these institutions have expressed a desire to be on the right side of history. For example, Chase has announced a goal of reaching net-zero emissions from its investment portfolio by 2050. But, thus far, those words have not been backed up by meaningful action, such as setting interim divestment goals and demonstrating progress along the pathway to net-zero. It’s on us to let these institutions know that we are watching. We will not be distracted or mollified by empty words and false promises.
Passover reminds us all that it is part of our Jewish tradition to challenge even the most entrenched and powerful institutions impacting our lives. We honored that tradition through our public action during the holiday, and that gathering was just the beginning. In the months ahead, we’ll be working with many of the largest and most influential environmental activism organizations in a coordinated effort to keep sustained pressure on these financial institutions. I know that I’m looking forward to staying in the fight, as the work of Dayenu allows me to channel all my fear and anxiety into powerful and productive action.
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