The day the Earth stood stupid

Say goodnight, Earthlings.

That message — plus the slimmest of shots at an eleventh-hour reprieve — was announced to the people of the world last week. 

When this happens in science fiction — 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the classic — the planet pays attention.  The flying saucer lands; an alien, in this case played by Michael Rennie, emerges; a final warning is issued:  Stop it.  If you don’t, you’re doomed.

Back then, the “it” was violence — the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear midnight.  Last week, it was climate change — greenhouse gases, and the promise of ecological extinction.

“Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears,” ran the headline on the front page lead What does it take to grab us by the eyeballs?

It’s not that people who know our planet’s hair is on fire aren’t trying to get our attention. The “>National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's “>scientist after “>drought will spread and – in the “>The Climate Reality Project’s website features 18 disturbing but entertaining videos about the price of carbon and our addiction to fossil fuels.  ““> “>The Years of Living Dangerously,” Showtime’s climate change documentary series now being shot, has producers who know a little something about how to capture audiences: James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Those efforts use media to engage an informed, activist public.  Could such a citizenry make change?  There’s plenty we can do in our personal lives to reduce our carbon footprint.  Local and state policies in conservation, transportation, building design and urban planning can also curb greenhouse gas emissions.  But without federal leadership like killing the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a tax on carbon, and without global commitments with teeth to enforce them, it’s hard to imagine a path back from the brink. 

In the U.S., the same dysfunctions preventing anything else useful from happening — the Senate filibuster, the gerrymandered House, the corrupt campaign finance system — also hold climate change mitigation hostage.  So does denial.  And though some denial can be attributed to hoax propaganda funded by the fossil fuel industry, some comes from an infantile strain in the American psyche that should not be mistaken for religious freedom. 

Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gave a floor “>Reagan was a big fan of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and as president he often referred to it.  When he first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, he speculated that the threat of an alien invasion might get the Americans and the Soviets to cooperate.  If Michael Rennie’s ““>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the

11-year-old is focusing on the (re)Cycle of life

When Avery Sax discovered a year ago that she has a life-threatening malformation of blood vessels in her brain, it altered her life — in one way, for the better.

“I think everything’s completely changed for me,” the 11-year-old from Moorpark said. “I always think about everything as a good thing now. I used to think stuff was a bummer, and I was mad about stuff. Now I’m happy almost all the time. I know everything going on with me is not good, but I think of the bright side.”

The proof is in the enthusiasm of her voice, in the way she continues to pursue her favorite activities, and in her determination to create a recycling project that she hopes will improve a world in which her own future is uncertain.

“With my illness, I don’t know every morning when I wake up if I’ll be here at the end of the day, or tomorrow, or even next week,” Avery said. “But I do know the world will always be here, and other people will always be here, too. So I think we should just take care of the world, not for us but for future generations.”

To that end, the perky fifth-grader at Flory Academy of Sciences and Technology in Moorpark started a campaign called “Recycle With brAvery.” Originally a school project that began in February, Avery has expanded its reach and added a goal of collecting 100,000 cans and bottles by Earth Day on April 22.

The next collection drive is scheduled for March 30 and 31. Public contributions may be made at various rePlanet Recycling centers in the Conejo Valley, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Canoga Park and Irvine. Avery’s mother, Kimber Sax, said people should mention her daughter’s name when they drop off bottles and cans so their contributions will be put toward the cause by rePlanet, which has pledged to add an extra 10 percent to whatever is collected.

All of Avery’s efforts are the positive outgrowth of a frightening episode in March 2011, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage and was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Her diagnosis? An arteriovenous malformation.

“The arteries and veins in certain areas of her brain are completely malformed, twisted, knotted up. Because of that, blood flow in several areas branches off and goes to dead ends and creates other problems,” Sax explained. “We don’t know exactly where the bleed came from, but at one point she had 100 aneurysms.”

While doctors at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center are hoping that radiation will reduce the size of the malformation over time, there remains the problem that she could bleed again at any time, Sax said.

Avery, who also attends Chabad of Moorpark, said that part of what sustains her is her faith. That was especially true at the beginning.

“I was scared and all about everything, because I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Before every treatment, I said all my prayers. I said the Shema.”

Avery said she has refused to let her condition get her down. Instead, it has made her closer to her family, synagogue and community. And rather than living in a bubble, she’s hitting life head on. That means continuing to pursue her passions: singing, hiking, sketching and more.

When her hair started to fall out in places, other girls her age might have despaired at shedding their long, gorgeous brown locks. Avery managed to see the positive in the situation:

“When I lost my hair, the first thing I said was, ‘Let’s go buy some new hats.’ ”

Avery has even managed to continue cheerleading for the football team of one of her two brothers, despite the fact that her head isn’t supposed to be exposed to the sun. As a solution, she wears a hat that a family friend custom-ordered for her.

Kimber Sax, a former chief operating officer of Los Angeles Jewish Publications Inc. (the predecessor to TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of The Journal), said community support has been incredibly helpful. Sax, a single, full-time parent and cancer survivor, left her job as a consultant when her daughter became ill.

“Our financial situation is very, very tight,” she said.

Money raised through “Recycle With brAvery” ( makes its way to the Sax family by way of the Talbert Family Foundation, which provides financial support to families dealing with catastrophic illnesses. Avery has been a Talbert kid since last year.

Still, Avery said her plans for “Recycle With brAvery” have greater aspirations than her own assistance. It’s more about empowering others — especially young people like herself — and cleaning up the planet.

“Just one can of something from one person really can make a difference,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think they can do it, because they’re just one person, but every single … person can make a difference in the world. It’s less landfills to fill up and it’s less trash and garbage around, and it makes the world a more beautiful, nicer place to be.”

Avery hit upon this particular idea after seeing an aunt raise enough money through recycling to take a trip to Tuscany.

While most of the proceeds will go to the Sax family, Avery wants to make sure that some of the money raised is passed on to others in need, as well.

“Everyone has always been trying to think of fundraisers for me. I think: Why just fund-raise for me? There are so many other things in the world to be worried about,” she said.

At school, most of her classmates were unaware of the severity of her condition until she told her story when she involved them in her recycling project. It was originally intended by Avery to benefit the school, but the principal insisted that the funds go to her family.

“Most don’t truly understand how serious her condition is. She doesn’t look or act different. To them, she acts normal, not sick.” said principal Tammy Herzog.

Herzog said the outgoing girl’s response to her condition has been inspirational.

“She exudes happiness and cheerfulness and has never let this get her down,” Herzog said. “Any time you see a child struggling with such a major illness, it makes you realize what’s important in life and … how much we have to be grateful for.”

And just how strong and hopeful a young person can be.

“Avery is absolutely an amazing child,” Sax said. “If you ask her how she feels, she says, ‘I’m going to be fine. I just know it.’ ”

A grown-up children’s story

Inner child therapy is a psychological method aimed at giving voice to part of the adult psyche that remains eternally childlike. It purports that a vulnerable innocence
exists within our subconscious; when acknowledged, a more complete and mature life experience is attained.

For example, were my inner child invited to describe Parshat Noach, she might say:

Partners in Creation

Roger Gottlieb makes the case in his book, “A Greener Faith,” that we are in need of an ecotheology — to view the Earth in a more divine and holy way. He writes that
we have so separated ourselves from nature we don’t actually feel our interconnectedness with it; rather, we value the Earth only for what we can take from it. In order to have a meaningful teshuvah from the sins of taking the Earth’s resources for granted, we need a positive outlook with forward vision and hope.

Jews, it can be argued, already have an ecotheology. The Torah is clear when it discusses our relationship to the Earth.

This week, in Genesis, we are told, “God took the first human being, Adam, and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to watch it” (Genesis 2:15). Yet, a misinterpretation of an earlier verse has guided our human relationship to the Earth for too long. In the first chapter of the Torah, God says: “….Fill the Earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Dominion is too often read as “mastery over,” freedom to control and use at will, which easily leads to exploitation. However, there are many commentators who understand the word “dominion” as correlating to “uniqueness.” In this reading, humans have the unique responsibility to care for the Earth and its inhabitants. Rather than dominate, humans are called upon to make moral choices on behalf of the Earth, for we are the only creatures that God created with the capacity to reason and with the gift of free will; we alone have the capacity to destroy or protect the planet.

Gottlieb writes that we are not concerned by the signs of global warming, or in developing widespread renewable energy sources, or in how our progress has affected the planet’s ecosystem because we see ourselves as outside of nature, rather than integral to it. We substitute “environment” for “nature.”

Through semantics, nature has become an “issue,” something we can be involved in or not. Our sense of being unaffected by nature, as superior to nature, is a danger — indeed an idol — that the Torah warns us against. We must return to viewing ourselves as a part of nature.

Dr. Nathan Lewis, one of my congregants, a Caltech professor and expert in climate change, stated bluntly to me, “The next 10 years will determine what kind of planet we will live in; if we keep on this same path, we will leave our children a planet unlike the one we received.”

Lewis is most concerned about the irreversibility of our actions, even as he acknowledges that science cannot prove definitively what will happen. He argues that we shouldn’t be betting against the indicators that imply what can happen. Waiting to find out will be too late.

Many rabbinic texts detail our long tradition of ecotheology, explicitly supporting the idea that caring for the Earth is a distinctly religious imperative. Long before we started talking about fuel emissions, the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited inefficient use of fuels, saying: “Whoever covers an oil lamp [so that it burns less efficiently], transgresses the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, do not destroy” (Shabbat 67a).

Long before recycling was the norm, the 16th century manual Sefer HaHinuch taught that “tzadikkim, righteous people, waste not even a mustard seed in this world; they use their strength to conserve everything possible.” These texts illustrate that our ancestors recognized our responsibility to nature, and that our actions must be directed by the holiness of mitzvot.

We created this problem, intentionally or unintentionally; we are responsible for fixing it.

Lewis told me that we get more energy from the sun in one hour than all the energy consumed in one year. Using God’s resources and our brains, we can solve the challenges we face.

California is poised to become the environmental leader in our country. And religious groups around the country are joining its efforts. The Reform movement has a nationwide campaign for “greening” its institutions. The Pacific Southwest Region of Conservative Judaism continues to back its Green Sanctuaries campaign, partnering with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California is expanding that campaign to all synagogues that wish to participate.

We each can make a difference. I challenge us to try some, if not all, of the following:

  • Raise or lower the thermostat in your homes by two degrees;
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home;
  • Carpool, walk or ride a bike once weekly;
  • Invest in fuel-efficient transportation;
  • Reduce waste and recycle seriously;
  • Visit the COEJL Web site for more information and ideas.

Every change has an impact. We are called by God to live in consort with the Earth, as God gave us the awesome responsibility to be partners in creation. Let us strive to live up to that divine gift. As Pirke Avot teaches, “It is not up to us to finish the work, but neither are we free to ever stop trying.”

Now more than ever, we need this attitude toward our Earth.

This d’var Torah is an adaptation of Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s Yom Kippur sermon. To read the sermon in its entirety, visit ” target=”_blank”>
Green Sanctuaries:

Seven-Year Switch

We want to have everything, and we want it better, bigger and more spectacular than everyone else. Gas-guzzlers roam the roads, and our oil dependency forces us to redefine values and ideals, like democracy and freedom. In Las Vegas and Palm Springs, we must have lusciously green golf courses and lawns watered generously, while other areas are pumped dry or threatened with drought. We demand constant availability of fruits and vegetables, regardless of the season.

As the sages write in Pirke Avot: “Greed, desire and arrogance drive people out of this world.” Indeed, if we don’t wake up, these traits will drive the world away from us.

The first role God designated for humankind is the one we most blatantly ignore. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He ordered him to cultivate and protect the planet. And while we have cultivated the rich soils of planet Earth, in the last couple of decades it is achingly clear that if we do not do our best to keep the second part of the commandment — to guard the planet — we might lose it altogether.

This week’s parsha offers inspiration for re-establishing this much-needed balance. The Torah orders the Israelites to fallow the land every seventh year — the Shemita, or Sabbatical year. During that year, naturally grown crops are divided evenly among the whole population. There are no class differences. Even the animals are not prevented from taking their share. This idea must have been shocking and disturbing to agrarian societies in ancient times, and it is still revolutionary today.

The benefits of the seven-year cycle are immeasurable. First, the land recovers the trace minerals it needs without using ammonium-nitrate-based fertilizers, which endangers the aquatic ecosystems. Second, the social structure is corrected every seven years; the differences between the classes are eroded and a sense of unity and togetherness takes over. Lastly, the seventh year provides an opportunity to stop the insane race for provisions, power and glory. It allows people to reconnect to the precious gifts of their family and their inner self.

After seven cycles of Shemita, or 49 years, the Jubilee is to be celebrated. During the Jubilee year, not only would the land be fallowed but all slaves would be released and all nonresidential properties that were previously sold would return to the original owner.

The Jubilee made sure that there would be no lifetime slaves. Since absolute slavery was prevalent in biblical times, this system was a lesser evil that eventually paved the way to total abolishment of slavery in Judaism, long before slavery was relinquished in the rest of the world.

The Jubilee also guaranteed that shrewd businessmen and moneylenders would not be able to amass huge estates and create feudal societies. Instead, every 50 years, land distribution would go back to the beginning, when each household was granted land according to its size.

As urban dwellers, we are far removed from the daily reality of agrarian life, but the message of Shemita and Jubilee goes beyond the agrarian framework. Early mystics pointed out that the Shabbat, the Shemita and the Jubilee are part of the same seven-stroke cycle that extends to greater, cosmic cycles beyond our comprehension. Tuning in to this cycle, mentally and physically, blesses us with inner calm, with love and caring toward planet Earth and toward all humans. It teaches us the real values in life and pulls us away from greed, desire and arrogance.

And while modern life doesn’t permit many of us to take a sabbatical, we can turn our free time into quality time, helping ourselves and the planet. Spending more time with your kids, eating wisely and educating yourself about organic agriculture, global warming and air and water pollution are good beginnings.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at



Good Deed Indeed

Earth Day is about healing all creatures on the Earth. Here is a chance for you to do a good deed by entering The Good Deed Contest.

Here’s what you will do:

1. Do a good deed (an amazing one!)
2. Write an essay, telling what you did, what motivated you and what you got out of the process, and send it to:

The will receive a Baskin-Robbins gift certificate and get the essay printed in an upcoming issue of The Jewish Journal.

Answer this quiz question from the California Wildlife Center for a sweet prize:

What do you do if you meet a rattlesnake?

a. Throw rocks at it to make it go away.
b. Walk away slowly and quietly.
c. Hiss at it to threaten it.

Talk to the Animals

Here is another Earth Day-related event that you might want to check out:

California Wildlife Center Open House,

26026 Piuma Road, Calabasas, May 1, noon-4 p.m.

Unscramble what you will see there:


Penny for Your Thoughts

Go to and type in Pennies for the Planet. Find out how you can collect pennies and help save the big cats around the world through the World Wildlife Fund.


Kids Page

The Red Valley

Have you seen the Red Planet lately? A few weeks ago, Mars came closer to Earth than it has in thousands of years. Usually, Mars is 50 million miles away. Although it is now receding, it is still about 34 million away. That means that it’s 16 million miles closer than it has been in thousands of years!

On Mars, there is a valley called Ma’adim Vallis. Scientists think it was created by water that gouged out a lake. The name for the valley was taken from the Hebrew word for Mars: Ma’adim, which comes from another Hebrew word, adom (red).

Mitzvah Makers

Please tell us, in no more than 50 words, about a mitzvah that you or someone else did that you think would make a great story and be a great example to others.

Send your essay, including a photo of the mitzvah-doer,
to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010.
If you do not have a photo, you can e-mail the essay to . Deadline is Monday, Oct. 20, 2003.

You could win a $10 gift certificate.

Seeing Stars

F.W. Herschel, a Jewish astronomer who lived from 1738 to 1822 is one of the six astronomers represented on the Astronomers Monument at The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.