Composed of 12 affiliates all over North America, with another half-dozen branches in development, COEJL organizes proactive environmental programs for Jewish institutions and individuals. When the conference took place in Ojai, CA, in 1998, there were just three affiliates. This year, 30 regional leaders from 17 communities gathered for a weekend of education, training and coordination.
The conference blanketed a wide range of issues, including "Ten Fundraising Tips for Grassroots Groups," "Operation Noah: Protecting Endangered Species," "Building a Jewish Nature Trail," "Creating a COEJL Affiliate from the Ground Up," and "Using the Media to Convey Your Message" were among the seminars offered. Urban ecology, environmental health, climate change and food supply were discussed in both secular and Jewish community contexts. "Right to Know," a ballot initiative calling for labeling of genetically engineered food that will become big news come November, was another hot button topic.
Ian Murray, associate director of Shalom Institute Camp and Conference, where the event was held, believes that this year's conference accomplished what it had set out to do.
"It was really wonderful," Murray reports. "My favorite part of the whole experience was that they had every denomination of Jewish faith ... all respecting each other. Friday night they all prayed together."
Shabbat was observed over the course of the three-day conference, which also included prayer, singing, meditation and hiking. The weekend's meals accommodated kosher, vegetarian and vegan dietary concerns.
Said Murray, "There was such joy and a love of the environment and Judaism."<