This really seems to be the moment for Evonne Marzouk’s vision. Hoping to educate the Orthodox world about the environment and climate change is particularly apropos in a time when movements like eco-kashrut and events such as the once-in-28-years Birchat HaChamah have gained such popularity in the Jewish community.
With concern for the planet and the children it supports, Marzouk, 32, who works as an international policy specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency, founded Canfei Nesharim in 2003 to provide traditional Jewish resources about protecting the environment. "I want a healthy world for my son and all of our children," Marzouk said. But, she continues, for that to happen, everyone needs to pay more attention. "The way we go about using our resources as a society isn’t working."
Canfei Nesharim aims to use a Torah-based approach to get Jews involved in protecting the Earth, through their synagogues and schools and on an individual level. A pilot program for synagogues that is set to wrap up this spring has centered on a series of seven community programs, with fact sheets and Torah teachings that revolve around Jewish holidays. The organization also distributed 5,000 wallet cards with four blessings — for lightning, rainbows, fruit trees and thunder — and environmental reminders to be used in daily life.
Another of the organization’s project in its earliest stages is a curriculum designed to bring ideas of environmental awareness to a day school setting. Discussions have begun with schools in California, Washington, D.C., New York and Boston for a curriculum that would revolve around Sukkot, Chanukah and counting the Omer. For the individual interested in nature and Torah, Canfei Nesharim’s Web site includes Torah teachings about the environment, complete with a source sheet, for every parashah. For entire synagogues to discuss these issues together, Marzouk’s group has compiled Torah teachings, which they hope to present as a "sacred gift" to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation in November.
"We got the sense that religious leaders wanted to speak about the environment but didn’t know how," she said. "People need to learn from trusted sources about what is really happening. We’re using more than the planet can bear."
Favorite food: dried raspberries. Cherished hobby: "Baking cornbread with my 4-year-old son on Wednesdays."