Connecting environmental and racial justice on Tu B’Shvat and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

My nine-year-old and I were updating his PJ Library reusable wall calendar for January, when he noticed Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish holiday celebrating the new year of the trees, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, fall on the same day this year, Monday, January 17.

As we look ahead to Tu B’Shvat, we can be mindful of Dr. King’s work, how climate justice and racial justice are linked, and how we can bridge the Jewish values of caring for our planet and working toward a more just world together.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s words continue to ring true, as we look back on his legacy and wonder if we have gotten closer to achieving his dream for an equitable world.

While Tu B’Shvat is traditionally a holiday focused on trees, specifically the trees of Israel, and celebrating the land, the festival can be used an opportunity for both Jews and non-Jews a like to consider the topic of environmental justice.

Tu B’Shvat is the perfect time to ask ourselves, and our children, do we have access to clean water? Can we breathe clean air? Do we live in a place that is safe from the impact of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters? Are we close to parks, nature centers, and other places for appreciating the environment?

If the answer to these questions is yes, we can take the opportunity to think about how others might be living, and note how environmental inequality is very much an issue in the U.S. and beyond.

Black Americans, for example, are 34% more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in childhood asthma diagnoses — a number that rises to 41% with 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a September 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Black Americans are also more likely to live in areas more vulnerable to flooding and other effects of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change.

Tu B’Shvat and MLK Day is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about and take action toward achieving environmental justice for all. Below is a list of Jewish and/or Black-led organizations focused on improving the lives of all through climate action, fostering connections with nature, building greater access to sustainable farming and more.

Aside from giving to charities, we can use Tu B’Shvat to discuss how our decisions as a family impact the environment and how those actions could hurt people in more vulnerable areas. For instance, are we purchasing products with a lot of plastic packaging, which is known to wash up in poorer communities around the world? We may also look into our individual use of fossil fuels, and ask how we can do more to reduce the pollution we release into the air.

As always, we can turn to our kids for their thoughts on how to make our world a more racially and environmentally just place for all.

Wishing you all a day of meaning and reflection this Tu B’Shvat/MLK Junior Day.

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