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Bind Them As A Sign Upon Your Hand

Bind Them As A Sign Upon Your Hand

On May 25, I was arrested with 15 other religious leaders while praying at the construction site of the West Roxbury Lateral (WRL) pipeline outside of Boston, MA. We were there to put our bodies on the line prayerfully and peacefully to protest this dangerous project and bring our religious leadership to the climate movement.

Climate change is a global catastrophe, but the front lines of the fight are in specific communities throughout the world, including right near Temple Sinai in Brookline, MA, where I serve as a rabbi. The WRL is frightening for public safety, and terrible for climate change. In Greater Boston alone, there are thousands of unfixed gas leaks in municipal pipes. Leaking methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, which is why there is now an outcry against fracking in the climate movement. The WRL would raise the operating pressure in the local distribution pipes, and increase the amount of locally leaking gas. The City of Boston has a lawsuit pending to stop this project, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given Spectra Energy permission to start building.

Out of legal options, the neighborhood and allies have begun a massive campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. I organized the first group of interfaith clergy to take action together.

We prayed, we marched and we sang. Then my colleagues and I crossed the construction barrier and sat down, requiring the construction to stop. We continued praying and singing. After about 30 minutes, the arrests began. As a police officer placed my hands in hard plastic handcuffs behind my back, this verse sprang to my mind: "Bind them as a sign upon your hand."

As Jews we recite these words in the familiar V'ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). Traditionally interpreted, they refer to t'fillin – black boxes bound by leather straps to a Jew's arm and forehead. I’ve repeated these words a thousand times, but now they have a new meaning. The handcuffs were indeed a sign upon my hand, a sign that we are living in extraordinary times that require each of us to show up with our fullest love and courage, times that call upon religious leaders and ordinary citizens to put our bodies in the way of infrastructure and decisions that are ruining any chance we have of keeping Earth inhabitable. 

Earlier that day, while blocking a construction entrance with an interfaith service, my senior colleague Rabbi Andy Vogel, Cantor Roy Einhorn from Temple Israel of Boston and I unrolled a Torah scroll. I leaned over the parchment and chanted from Deuteronomy 11: "If you forsake my teachings, I will shut the sky and there will be no rain, the Earth will not yield her produce, and you will perish from the Earth God has given you..." The Hebrew came to life, speaking directly to the fight against the WRL and catastrophic climate change.

When a Jewish supporter approached me afterwards and said, "You just redeemed the Torah service for me," I was reminded of the mutual benefit of interfaith climate activism. The climate movement needs the prophetic voice of religion to bring us beyond what is politically feasible towards what is morally necessary. But religion itself needs to take meaningful leadership in the climate movement in order to be relevant to a generation that knows how much is at stake with climate change. All our hands are implicated in this crisis. What sign will you bind upon yours?

Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi for Temple Sinai of Brookline, MA. She recently started ClergyClimateAction.org, a website to organize religious leaders to do visionary and nonviolent civil disobedience for climate justice. She also serves on the leadership team of the Mass Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action (MAICCA) and wrote the new climate anthem, The Tide Is Rising, with her husband, Yotam Schachter.

Published: 6/14/2016