There’s a new Jewish environmental group saying ‘Dayenu’ to the climate crisis

Members of Dayenu protest outside the RBC, Toronto. April 14, 2022, (Credit: Ben Collins)

A new chapter of a Jewish environmental group held its first official action April 14, when it protested outside the Forest Hill branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.

The group, called Dayenu, originally started in the United States in the summer of 2020. The Toronto chapter called on the bank to divest funds from fossil fuels and redirect them toward green tech and renewable energy companies. The group also delivered a letter to the bank’s CEO.

Dayenu, which is Hebrew for enough, is so named because it is saying “enough” to the climate crisis. According to the group’s website, its mission is to “secure a just, livable and sustainable world for all people for generations to come by building a multi-generational Jewish movement that confronts the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.”

Ellis Goldstein, who held the role of Action Lead for the protest, said it was necessary to open a chapter of Dayenu here in Toronto because there is a need for Jewish environmentalism.

“We feel called to take care of the earth for future generations, and do that as Jews,” Goldstein said. “Faith is a very important motivator—caring about the earth, caring about all of the creations, our relationship with the different creatures and the plants and the water and the land.”

For that reason, Dayenu Toronto took a Jewish slant on their first protest. They planned it for the day before Passover started, and modelled the protest after a seder.

“We did (the protest) as a ritual… telling stories and reciting plagues,” Goldstein said. “We organized this action in that Passover seder style of gathering together, collectively reading through a script that we had prepared that tells a story and is also a call to action.”

Goldstein said about 15 people attended the protest. The script they read called awareness to how fossil fuel funding is a large part of the climate crisis, and why it should be considered a Jewish issue.

 Dayenu targeted RBC with their protest because it is the biggest funder of fossil fuel companies in Canada, Goldstein said, and because it is infringing on Indigenous land by funding the pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. The group sees itself as aligned with other activists and scientists who are also calling on big banks to halt their funding of environmentally damaging industries.

Some passersby engaged with the protest, but there has not yet been a response from RBC, Goldstein said. However, this is just the beginning for Dayenu Toronto.

“We’re hopeful that with all the pressure that they’re getting from various angles, we’re just adding our voice, adding more pressure to them,” Goldstein said. “We’ll see what happens in response to this. I hope we get more people who are excited about this… We’ll do other actions in relation to other Jewish holidays, and also show up in partnership with other climate organizers and groups in the city, and bring a Jewish presence to the climate movement in Toronto as well.”

As of April 20, a spokesperson from RBC had not responded to a request for comment.