Shmita with Naomi Edelson and Dr. Mirele Goldsmith

Naomi Edelson (National Wildlife Federation) and Dr. Mirele Goldsmith (Jewish Earth Alliance) show us ways we can put shmita into action locally.

In this podcast guest editor Yaira Robinson explores different ways shmita values are being put into action today. Naomi Edelson, senior director of Wildlife Partnerships at The National Wildlife Federation and Dr. Mirele Goldsmith, environmental psychologist and co-chair of Jewish Earth Alliance, tell us about their projects to restore wildlife on congregational grounds and advocate for a greener, more equal, local community.

About Our Guests
Naomi Edelson
is the Senior Director of Wildlife Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). In this role, she leads partnerships with state wildlife agencies and other state based partners to secure greater funding to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered, including legislative, communications, grassroots, and coalition building elements of the campaign. On the federal side this includes the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act campaign. Naomi has also developed a toolkit for wildlife leaders on “Strengthening State Wildlife Agencies” that includes securing state-level funding for wildlife with numerous tips, tools, and case studies. She also works with Gardening for Wildlife program to restore wildlife habitat where people live, work, learn, play, and worship, including creation of the Native Plant Finder and Sacred Grounds, a program for faith communities. Naomi is a wildlife biologist with a M.S. from the University of Florida where she studied wading birds and wetlands, and a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist. She is an expert in how to change human behavior to solve environmental problems. As director of Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship, she guided 55 community-based organizations to save energy, invest in renewables, implement sustainable operations and educate youths and adults. She co-founded Jewish Earth Alliance, a national network mobilizing Jews to raise a moral voice for action on climate change to the US Congress.

Naomi References 

Mirele References

Naomi Quotes
“Sacred Grounds” helps congregations green the outside of their grounds. Our effort is focused on what is outside your door and how can we make that more hospitable for both wildlife and people. 

We’re encouraging the replacement of lawns with native plants. The idea is to replace lawns with the plants that have co-evolved with wildlife, and when you plant them they provide food and cover and homes for wildlife. But at the same time, they help people because they’re actually changing how the water is on the land. 

The basic program is to green some of your grounds, and it can be a very small area. Engage your congregation members. Then also reaching beyond your congregation and being leaders within the community, and getting neighbors and other congregations and other institutions in your community to do this. We’re really working to create a movement with congregations being at the center of it. 

We want to create, even in urban and suburban areas, biologically-important areas. 

We don’t have to just do it on our public lands. We have to help by doing it where we live, work, play, and worship. And we can make a huge difference by, all of us together, putting in these native plants. 

Saving wildlife saves us. 

It’s a simple food web story that most of learned going to school. And we, in our own yards and at our congregation grounds, can help support that and really make sure our landscapes are Life-sustaining. 

It’s very exciting and it’s very fun. 

It gave people a way to plant with purpose. Not just to plant something that’s beautiful, but to plant something that really matters for people and wildlife. 

The most essential ingredient is getting a green team going.

You could do something for even a few hundred dollars to start, and you’ll have to take out some lawn. But luckily, what’s beginning to happen is, some local governments are offering incentives for this. My county offers congregations up to $20,000 to put in features that will slow the flow. They also offer up to $7,000 for homes to put in native plant gardens. 

There’s a huge problem with storm run off and it’s getting worse, and so I do think is something that is going to happen more. 

(Some) towns have very updated ordinances around what a yard should look like. And so National Wildlife Foundation have actually created a tool kit to advocate for changing ordinances at the local level so you can change that. 

All religions have a concept of “caring for creation.” They may or may not use that exact language. But it is that idea that we’re part of this beautiful world, and we have responsibilities to help it continue, and that we’re totally interconnected and that saving wildlife saves us, and we really need that in this time, and it’s a fun way, positive, very significant way to make a difference in the world a Jew would call, “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world. 

And most religions also talk about caring for neighbors and this is a way we can do that. . . by putting in these native plants. 

Mirele Quotes
Congregations are tax exempt organizations, but yes congregations can lobby on legislative issues and policy matters… according go the IRS they’re allowed to engage in lobbying as long as they’re an insubstantial part of their activities. The only thing they’re not allowed to do is engage in political campaigns. 

Lobbying is to be encouraged. . . We like to say that people of faith walk in a different door than other advocates and may get a little more of an attentive hearing because of that. . . We can really make a difference. 

In our congregation and particularly our climate action team we were thinking about, “what would be an appropriate project for us to get involved in that reflects the values of the Sabbatical year?” The Sabbatical year raises some really deep questions about what is a sustainable society, and it challenges us to think about how what we’re doing in the present to create a better future. 

It was really successful, because it turned out people really liked to go to each other’s homes for dinner! 

Don’t try to do it alone. Look around for a group that you can be part of in your area. And then meet with someone in the group and find out the different ways for people to be involved. That’s the way to do it, and I would just say be brave. Citizen advocacy is really just about showing up, first of all. And then it’s about telling your story and why you care as a citizen. It’s not about being an expert. So just be brave and do it! 

I’m an environmental psychologist and the research shows that one of the most important things that we can do as individuals is just talk about our concerns, talk about what we care about, especially about climate change because people are overwhelmed by that… and if they don’t know that other people care and other people are concerned, they feel very much alone. The first step in advocacy is just opening up a conversation. And I think everyone can do that, especially within their religious community. 

Thanks for listening.
This podcast is part of our Winter 2021 series, Shmita Now.
Visit the AllCreation podcast site or AllCreation.org for more. 
Produced and edited by Chris Searles.
@BioIntegrity Partnerships