A Reason for Jewish Optimism: Part 1

Posted on August 15, 2007

I recently attended a lecture in St. Paul by Israeli author Tsvi Bisk and in some very real ways, it changed my life.

First of all, Tsvi Bisk is an incredible speaker. He had a large room with a standing-room-only audience mesmerized for nearly two hours. This is hard to do under the best of circumstances but he pulled it off successfully. Part of it may have been his resonant voice, growing louder to emphasize some points and then pulled back to a soft this-is-between-you-and-me camaraderie. But most of it was the message itself:

We can

  • neutralize the war on terror
  • significantly decrease antisemitic propaganda around the world
  • bring both religious and secular, Diaspora and Israeli Jews together, and
  • put a dent in global warming

all in one program. And we can do it within twenty years or less.

The answer: become energy independent.

Not everyone agrees with this, but hearing Tsvi Bisk talk, it is hard to find fault with his logic, his passion, or his proposals.

Much of the detail about what he calls the Jewish Energy Project is detailed in his latest book, The Optimistic Jew, reviewed here on this blog. In the lecture, he summarized much of it with the following:

  • A great deal of the antisemitic propaganda and literature spread around the world originates in Iran (big surprise)
  • The vast majority of Iran’s income comes from the sale of oil
  • Reducing or even eliminating dependence on foreign oil will hurt these anti-Jewish, anti-Israel governments far more than sending more troops to the Middle East to risk their lives against roadside bombs and insurgent attacks
  • Energy is something that can bring together both young and mature, secular and religious Jews in Israel and the Diaspora; it is something consistent with Torah values and taking care of the earth
  • By showing our local communities, regions, states, countries that it is possible to reduce or eliminate dependence on foreign oil by tapping alternative energy resources and conserving energy, this is a grassroots campaign that can make a global difference. This is an important way we can become (again) a light unto the nations.

“I don’t care if it is down-up, top-down, grass roots, grass tops, so long as it is done,” said Bisk during the lecture. Everyone has a share in it, he emphasized. Everyone needs to participate.

Among attendees were representatives from the Alliance for Sustainability, who agreed with Bisk that energy independence and conservation are the keys not only to neutralizing the war, but to avoiding future wars that would, experts agree, likely be about either energy or water. Or both.

There was much discussion on the feasability of Bisk’s Jewish Energy Project, on its impact at the legislative level and the response (or lack thereof) from American and Israeli political leaders. Bisk quipped that the term “Israeli political leader” was an oxymoron, and admitted that this can only succeed if people demand it of their representatives and leaders. The payoffs for current political leaders to maintain the status quo is simply too tempting.

What, I wanted to know, can we, as individuals, as small communities, do right now?

That was where it got really interesting.

Continued in Part 2.


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