THE ICE BLOCK CHALLENGE

MIRIAM HECHTMAN: The Jewish Climate Network is asking Australian families to put an ice block next to the Seder plate to remind us of the melting ice caps caused by human activity

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE performance art to tell a story, especially a story that might instil fear but also motivate and inspire. And there’s nothing more obvious than a puddle on your Seder table to ignite conversation.

Welcome to the ‘Pesach Ice Block Challenge’.

This is the brainchild of the Jewish Climate Network (JCN), whose latest initiative is to ask the Jewish community to place an ice block next to the Seder plate this Pesach to symbolise the rapidly melting ice caps caused by human activity.

As the ice block melts, observers are reminded that time is running out for action, and like the other Seder table items, the melting ice will prompt questions.

“Traditionally, the richest, most interesting conversations around the history of the Jewish people, what have we gone through, what we can achieve, always happens at Seder,” says JCN CEO, Joel Lazar.

“Other chagim (holidays) are also about bringing families together but Pesach is especially about questions. The tradition very much endorses that open-minded questioning on Pesach and this is exactly what solutions to climate change need.

“It needs an environment where people don’t feel like it’s overly politicised so you can’t even speak up. They want a free and comfortable environment to say ‘I’m concerned, I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to be doing, but here’s what I think and here’s what I want to try and do’ and hear what other people have to say about it.

“It’s also [about] the breaking of pluralistic ignorance because that’s what has allowed inaction to survive for so long on climate change.”

Pesach is especially about questions. The tradition very much endorses that open-minded questioning on Pesach and this is exactly what solutions to climate change need.

JCN’s main aim, says Lazar, is to harness the resources and potential of the Australian Jewish community to accelerate the transition to zero emissions.

“It’s not only about taking action on climate. Right now it’s about the speed with which we do it. Every day that we don’t go fast enough is a day we get closer to tipping points and things we can’t go back from.”

The idea of being tested or challenged is also very much in line with Pesach. “Tests and challenges, that’s totally the story of Pesach,” says Lazar. “Racing out of Egypt, the clock is ticking, we’ve got to get through the Red Sea; it’s going to close. We are in a test now for sure.”

Not only is there nothing “halachically” wrong with adding an ice block to the Seder table, according to Rabbi Ralph Genende of Melbourne’s Caulfield synagogue,  there’s a lot right about it.

“This is the overriding purpose of the Haggadah and Seder evening – it’s an evening of questioning. Pesach is the season of questioning. The Beit Midrash and whole Jewish approach is one of questioning, so widening the kind of questions on Pesach night is part of the thrust of what it’s about.”

How we treat the environment is not just a social or scientific issue, says Genende. It’s a moral, religious and spiritual issue. “It’s about our ethics and our morality and how we treat others. We are protectors and custodians of God’s planet. I see it is a religious imperative.”

The central verse from the Hagaddah and the purpose of the Seder is “teach your child on this day, saying…”, says Genende. “So one of the important messages for future generations is about building a better world for them. It’s about our future responsibilities. And making them conscious of the fact that this is a really important part of their Jewish identity as well.”

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