Grantee Profile: Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn
Name of Organization
Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action
What’s your origin story?
I founded Dayenu in April 2020, after working for two decades as a rabbi mobilizing the American Jewish community to address issues of social and economic justice. For me that had always meant issues like poverty, immigrants and refugees, hunger, human rights – people oriented issues. Like many, I thought about “the environment” as something more removed. And I certainly wasn’t looking to start a new organization! But, three things happened: First, I, like so many people, had my own painful awakening to the urgency and direness of the climate crisis, and to the fact that without bold and immediate action, we are headed towards an unlivable future. Second, I began to understand that the climate crisis at its core is an issue of social, economic, and racial justice – It’s about who is bearing the brunt of climate change already and who will be most severely impacted. Third, as I was integrating the reality of living in this moment of climate emergency, I was having conversations with friends and colleagues about how the American Jewish community was not organized to confront the climate crisis on a systemic level, with the kind of bold action needed to avert total climate disaster. We needed to mobilize the Jewish community, in all our people and power, to confront this crisis, at the scale that justice and science demand. This is the existential crisis of our time and the Jewish community – for a variety of reasons – was not fully showing up. There had certainly been – and continues to be – important efforts in the Jewish community around education, behavior change, farming, and greening institutions, but not a national movement to galvanize Jews to advance the systemic changes necessary to avert climate disaster and build a different kind of world. So we founded Dayenu to build a movement of Jews working together with other communities to confront the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.
Tell us about your work. What do you do?
Research tells us that 80% of American Jews are concerned about the climate crisis but most are not taking meaningful action. (This statistic is from several years ago; I suspect it is higher now.) I think there are two main reasons for this: 1. People are not sure what they can do to make a difference in the face of such an overwhelming and complex crisis. 2. It is difficult to face the truth of what is at stake on an emotional and psychological level. It’s too much to take in so we disassociate, turn away, or distract
ourselves. How can our souls and psyches bear such a painful possibility? We launched Dayenu to give American Jews pathways to take the kind of meaningful, strategic action at the scale that science and justice demand and to support Jews and Jewish communities to face the anxiety and angst that the climate crisis raises and move into active hope and courageous action.
Rooted in Jewish values, experience, and spirit, Dayenu works to secure a livable and sustainable world for all people for generations to come by building a multi-generational Jewish movement that is confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.
We are mobilizing Jewish support for climate solutions, building our collective power with national and global movements, and raising up a spiritual, religious and moral voice.
Dayenu’s work has three pillars: Movement-Building; Bold Action; and Spiritual Adaptation.
We’re building a nationwide movement that harnesses the collective power of American Jews of every generation and background and adds our voices to national and global movements confronting the climate crisis. Through grassroots organizing and strategic partnerships with Jewish, secular, and multi-faith organizations, we strengthen the movement for climate justice and the Jewish community’s capacity to engage in strategic, meaningful climate action.
Our grassroots organizing model is Dayenu Circles, small groups of people in the context of a synagogue, Hillel, community group, or neighborhood working together on climate action locally and through national Dayenu campaigns. There are currently 100+ Dayenu Circles, in various stages of formation, in 27 states across the country. We invest deeply in these grassroots activists and build their leadership by offering training, resources, community-building opportunities, and strategic support. We also work to cultivate close partnerships with Jewish, secular climate, and faith organizations – supporting Jewish organizations in taking climate action and bringing a strong Jewish voice to multi-faith and secular climate efforts. Most recently, 24 diverse organizations – from the Environmental Voter Project and Greenfaith to Repair the World and Adamah – partnered with Dayenu to organize, lead, and engage their constituents in our Chutzpah 2022 get-out-the-vote campaign.
We engage Dayenu Circles and organizational partners in strategic campaigns aligned with our four impact strategies:
1. Organizing and empowering Jewish individuals, communities, and institutions to support critical federal and state climate policies
2. Mobilizing the American Jewish community to act in key political and cultural moments.
3. Engaging with candidates and elections to change the political landscape 4. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground and unburned and building a clean energy future
Since our launch in 2020, Dayenu has worked to shape the first meaningful piece of federal climate legislation, culminating in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the largest single investment in climate in U.S. history. The law will cull emissions by more than 40% by 2030, putting us on a pathway to zero emissions by 2050.
Led by Dayenu, the Jewish climate movement organized multiple public actions, worked behind the scenes to keep the pressure on key players, and played a crucial role in getting this law passed. While the passage of the IRA is a significant step, we recognize the ways in which it falls short, and how its concessions to oil and gas companies demonstrate the enormous wealth and political power of the fossil fuel industry.
In February 2022, Dayenu launched All Our Might, a new Jewish campaign to end the era of fossil fuels and build a clean energy future. All Our Might is working to remove the financial support for – and social license of – the fossil fuel industry to operate by urging institutions, banks, and asset managers to leave behind fossil fuel investments, and invest in a just, clean energy future. This multi-year campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground and unburned will be a major focus in the year ahead, but Dayenu will also lean into additional levers for change in the year ahead depending on the cultural and political moment, including state climate policy in key states like Massachusetts, California, and New York, and executive and agency action.
In addition to mobilizing communities to take action at a scale that science and justice demand, Dayenu also works to support Jews and Jewish communities to grapple with the deep spiritual and existential questions the climate crisis raises. Rooted in Jewish wisdom, tradition, ritual, and spirit, we provide pathways for people to confront the crisis
with their hearts and eyes wide open, acknowledge feelings of fear and anxiety, cultivate a sense of hope, and move into courageous action. Through Spiritual Adaptation workshops, music, Climate Torah, and other Jewish resources, we help Jewish individuals and communities consider what it means to live with spiritual integrity in this time of crisis.
What is your approach to the work?
Dayenu believes that the climate crisis is one of the defining challenges of our lifetimes. In addition to mobilizing communities to take bold action, Dayenu’s Spiritual Adaptation work supports Jews to live with spiritual integrity, alignment, and hope in this time of crisis. The climate crisis is not just a paramount social, economic, and racial justice issue – it’s also an issue of the soul.
We know that many people are living with fear, anxiety, guilt, and the sense of disconnection that comes from going about one’s day-to-day business with the looming – or already present – threats to the safety and wellbeing of themselves and those they love. These feelings of powerlessness and overwhelm inhibit action and activism. Furthermore, our sense of anxiety and helplessness has only intensified in the age of COVID. Supporting diverse Jewish communities and individuals to grapple with the climate crisis on an existential, emotional, spiritual, and religious level – Jewishly – must become part of Jewish life in the 21st century.
Dayenu’s Spiritual Adaptation work is needed lishma (for its own sake), and it is a tool for building a powerful, grounded, and effective movement. We know that faith leaders and communities have a critical role to play in shaping our national narrative and solutions, lifting up the big questions, insisting on moral reckoning, and ensuring the centrality of values in how we both understand and address core issues. Furthermore, there is great power in spiritually rooted activism. Dayenu brings Jewish history and experience, teachings and tradition, faith and song to build a movement that is deeply rooted in the community and spirit needed to orient, ground, and sustain us for the work ahead.
Dayenu centers climate justice, cognizant that the impact of the climate crisis rests disproportionately on those who have been historically marginalized: people living in the global south, in poverty, in particularly vulnerable areas, and people who experience racism and other kinds of bigotry. By centering the voices of communities already dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis and inequity, we seek to dismantle inhumane systems, and establish a just and equitable clean energy economy and build a livable, sustainable world.
Dayenu recognizes that the climate crisis is a force multiplier, exacerbating historical inequities even as its impacts spread far and wide, into every corner of the world. That’s why we work arm in arm with communities that are directly impacted by, and most vulnerable to, the climate crisis, raising our voices alongside theirs. A deep commitment to climate justice, and an understanding of how it intersects with racial and economic
justice, plays a significant role in Dayenu’s analysis of the climate crisis, who we partner with, what strategies we pursue, and how we do our work.
We understand that environmental education, changes in personal practices, and institutional greening are necessary and important, but we also know that this alone is insufficient. As such, Dayenu is designed to complement existing environmental efforts, and to mobilize the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis on a systemic level with the kind of bold, collective action needed to avert total climate disaster. We need to focus not just on “what car should I buy?” but “what cars are manufactured in this country?” Not just “which candidate do I vote for?” but “how can we shift the political landscape so that every elected official is compelled to take climate action?” Not “where do I bank?” but “why are the biggest banks in the world investing in fossil fuel and how do we change that?” Dayenu mobilizes the American Jewish community towards climate action that answers these kinds of questions. We believe that by providing meaningful opportunities to take action, Dayenu can leverage American Jews’ power to make systemic structural change: shaping policy, moving markets, and helping to envision and build a just, sustainable, and livable world for all people for generations to come.
Finally, we are committed to building a multi-generational Jewish climate movement. The climate crisis affects all of us, though different generations experience the crisis differently. Building a multi-generational movement means engaging and mobilizing Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers. Dayenu Circles span the generations, depending on where they are based, and we have trained hundreds of young people through Taking Down Goliath, a Jewish climate organizing training for 18-32 year olds. At key moments, like Hear the Call, Chutzpah 2022, or our All Our Might Passover actions, the generations have come together in their collective power.
What are you most proud of at your organization?
One of the things I am most proud of is Dayenu’s all-star staff team. Our staff brings extensive experience from across the Jewish social justice, national climate, movement building, and Jewish environmental sectors.
My first hire, in the spring of 2020, was Phil Aroneanu, a co-founder of 350.org with 20 years of experience in the national climate movement. Since then, our staff has grown exponentially: Organizing Director Vicki Kaplan and Director of Operations and Finance Nati Passow joined in August 2020; Washington Director Dahlia Rockowitz was hired in December 2020; Development Manager Libi Baehr-Breen joined in March 2021, followed by National Organizer Muriel MacDonald in June 2021. In the past year, our staff has continued to expand: Avodah Service Corps member Sumner Lewis joined
Dayenu as a Fellow in September 2021 and when her fellowship ended, transitioned to a full-time, permanent staff member as our National Young Person Organizer; Rabbi Laura Bellows joined Dayenu in July 2022 as our Director of Spiritual Activism and Education; and Jaime Kaiser and Julia Paddison joined in July 2022 as Dayenu’s Digital Communications Manager and part-time Executive Assistant, respectively.
Our small but mighty team brings passion, integrity, smarts, strategy, and spirit. Through the work of this amazing team, in less than three years, we have developed a powerful network of Dayenu Circles across the country and more than 300 organizational partnerships. Together with our grassroots and organizational partners we have contributed meaningful to the passage of the first ever major national climate legislation with the largest investment in clean energy in US history; trained and developed hundreds of new Jewish climate activists; held dozens of public actions; run two robust GOTV campaigns, reaching out to more than a million climate concerned voters leading up to elections; launched a Jewish campaign to end the era of fossil fuels and usher in a clean energy future; and created new Jewish climate music, torah, and community experiences to spiritually root our growing Jewish climate movement.
What is something that folks might not know about your work that you think they should know?
Sometimes people ask about our name. Many are familiar with the joyous song of gratitude we sing each year at the Passover Seder when we retell the story of the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom and recount all of the things God has done for us. If God had taken us out of Egypt but not given us the Torah, Dayenu – it would have been enough. If God had given us the Torah and brought us to the land of Israel, Dayenu. And so on… What people don’t always know is that Dayenu can also means “We’ve had enough!” As in, We’ve had enough destruction. We’ve had enough valuing of fossil fuel companies over human life. We’ve had enough of letting the impacts of climate destruction fall disproportionately on Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor and marginalized communities. Dayenu!
And here is where the double entendre comes in because Dayenu can also mean, “We have enough.” We have what we need to confront the climate crisis and move towards climate solutions. We have the resources, policy rubrics, and technology. We have what we need so that everyone can have enough.
We must hold both of these meanings of the word Dayenu – the urgency and the hope – because together we can envision and build a collective future that is just, livable, and sustainable for all people for generations to come.