Sunday, January 08, 2006

PRO LIFE: Leviathan Issue 1 Volume 33

The new Leviathan, our university's student-produced Jewish newspaper, has been released. The cover article, an "exclusive interview" with ‘Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad,’ wasn't anything to write home about, except for one insight of the interviewee Susannah Perelman:

"I think a lot of people of our generation are rather turned off by the institutionalized version of Judaism that we all grew up with, which I like to say is a lot of florescent lighting. It's not just Orthodoxy; I grew up in a Reform [household] and I found my synagogue rather repressive. I found a lot of synagogues really repressive. But I did find that people want to come together and that people want a community, but they don't want to be hit over the head with it."

Susannah’s comment struck me especially because I had the same experience as a youth in the Reform movement. It was repressive. Education is a powerful tool, and a central theme in Jewish life, and yet at my wealthy Reform synagogue in the OC, I was deprived of a proper Jewish education. By the time I was 17, I could barely name the major holidays, didn’t know much about what Kosher meant, and I was largely under the impression that the only time people went to synagogue on Saturday mornings was to attend a bar or bat mitzvah. But thankfully things are changing in the world every year, and Jewish education is spreading despite the efforts of anachronistic Jewish institutions (see the shabbaton post below for more info).

But what should have made the cover of Leviathan and what I'm using for this entry's namesake is Talia Coutin's timely piece titled "Pro Life." Talia reported on the current endangered state of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the Interior Department's efforts to make it extinct. In short, the ESA protects lots of endangered species by protecting their habitats. Mr. Pombo, representing the interests of varied business enterprises, seeks to limit the protective powers of the ESA which would effectively leave over 200 endangered species vulnerable to extinction, “including the bald eagle, the wolves of Yellowstone, and numerous species of Pacific Northwest salmon.” And for those who don’t act until they feel the “in-your-own-backyard” effect, Santa Cruz’s own Santa Cruz Cypress is an endangered species and needs your protection. “Congress has already passed Pombo’s euphemistically termed Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005…”.

So what does all this have to do with Judaism? Talia brings a number of sources from the Jewish tradition emphasizing humanity’s obligation as caretakers of the physical world, and asserts that, “What is crystal clear, however, is that G-d instructs human beings to govern the land and animals with prudence. Safeguarding species is a crucial part of our existence.” Dang straight. She cites the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) as an example of the organized Jewish effort to take care of the environment. Moreover, there is a small but growing environment-intensive Jewish farming movement, with such international bastions as Yeshivat Bat Ayin in Israel, the Eco-Beit Midrash in Jerusalem, the the Living Land project in Amherst, Massachusetts, our own Four Gates Winery in the Santa Cruz mountains, and we had a community member living, learning, and working at the UCSC organic farm who recently moved to Israel to start his own organic farm.

You can and must help make a difference in this struggle for our future. “Current ESA provisions require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to rely heavily upon citizen petitions in addition to scientific field study reports when considering endangered species candidates. Ordinary citizens have the power to register a species as endangered or threatened by petitioning the government, submitting statements during the public comment period, attending hearings, lobbying their congresspersons and senators… Saving the ESA is a good deed, one we must do not out of choice, but out of necessity. This is what it means to be pro-life.” Yasher koach Talia, I hope people read your article and make a difference.

As a side note, I would like to point out that at one point Talia writes, “Melting glaciers, vicious hurricanes, increased droughts and floods, the extinction of entire species – sounds a little too apocalyptic for a Jewish piece.” Yeah, you would think so. This line reminded me of how surprised I was when I happened upon Marge Piercy's ‘He, She, and It,” an unmistakably Jewish, post-apocalyptic, feminist, cyberpunk novel. The book weaves two stories together, one of the 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague, and his golem, and the other of a Jewish community about 60 years in the future (from today) who live in a world disparately different from our own. The ozone layer has been depleted, the ice-caps have melted and the oceans have flooded what was left of the great bread-baskets of the world. A nuclear war decimated Israel and the Middle East, and starvation and disease have wiped out a majority of the world’s population. All governments fell apart, and now a handful of powerful corporations run what is left of humanity. And in the Jewish free town of Tikva, the Jews are still dedicated to G-d and, while waiting for deliverance, are fighting for their existence by making their own cyber-golem-of-sorts. Yeah, it was quite an interesting read. But I digress.

What is the main theme from this issue of Leviathan? “We hope sex sells.” You guys can do better. This ain’t no Heeb magazine, you don’t have to throw yourself upon the lowest common denominator. This is a publication of university students, use that intellect. Like Matis said, “Slam your fist on the table and make your demand – take a stand!” And get out there and save the world, like Talia said.


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