Ephraim bet Rachel v'Yakov
Ellis is a 13 year old who creates art. Art with metal on wood, art with melody on rhythm, art with pencil on paper, art with finger on keyboard, and art with paint on cardboard. They have a strange affiliation with the color orange, though they will insist if asked that it is not in fact their favorite color, and just their brand, whatever that means. When not making art, Ellis can be found playing D&D (which it could be argued is a form of art through storytelling), playing Magic: the Gathering (which it could be argued is a form of art through strategy), or procrastinating (which it cannot be argued that it is art). They are delighted to become a Jewish adult and to be participating in this amazing tradition.
Thank you so much to Jim for his wonderful work tutoring me and Mateo and to Miriam for curating the entire tutoring process for all my fellow Olim students. Thank you to Emily for working with us exploring the study of Torah, and thank you to Marina for not only helping me and the rest of the Olim students with our Mitzvah projects, but also for planning many of the events we’ve had along the way. Thank you to Sophie for working with us throughout the lockdown while we were all online. Thank you to Rabbi G for her work with us last year with Hebrew school, this year with our Dvar Torah, and creating the community that lent its resources to us so that we could get to this moment. Finally, thank you to my parents, who’ve had to put up with me for almost 14 whole years. I cannot thank any of you enough.
I’ve cared somewhat about climate change and the issues that come with it for a long time. It’s always seemed like the biggest political problem, the one that is most urgent, the most catastrophic. But when I joined my school debate team, I really began to understand what the deal was. The form of debate that I do is called Parliamentary, and for prepared topics, where we know the theme ahead of time, we have to do a lot of research, not only for each topic, but for both sides of each topic. We had an end-of-year big debate where we used some previous topics from the year, and because we didn’t know which ones, we had to prepare all of them. When my team and I actually got to putting together our notes from throughout the year, we had a 23-page document, which we nicknamed the Minefield for how disorganized and overwhelmingly long it was. Two of the five topics were related to climate change: one about the feasibility of nuclear energy, and another about giving climate reparations to developing countries. We used the studies, the statistics as weapons to overwhelm our opponents. In my experience, debate comes with a poker face. As you debate, you act as if what you say is correct, as if you are always right. Often, you forget your beliefs, your convictions, as you ruthlessly defend what you have been assigned to. You have a sort of poker face towards yourself, tricking yourself into thinking that you are right, whether or not you believe it. Every now and then, though, on a break, or once you’re done speaking, your internal poker face breaks, and you think about how you’re here presenting this minefield of information that you aren’t even listening to. When I hear myself debate, I don’t hear the arguments. I don’t hear how convincing what I say is, and what the implications of the content are, I hear how well I am debating, without the context of what I am debating about. I condition myself to not think about what I say. When I do, though, I want to do something about the problems I am suggesting, and get the government to implement the solutions I am presenting. I have debated myself into feeling like I can make a change. The mitzvah project seemed the perfect opportunity.
Originally, I wanted to do something political, but as I searched for organizations that it was feasible to work with, I realized I couldn’t be picky. I came up empty for volunteer work. What I did find was a 4-session workshop with the Audubon Society for teens wanting to make a difference. Despite the fact that I’m a teen and I want to make a difference, I hadn’t been expecting to do something like a workshop, and it took me a bit of time to adjust to the idea. Eventually, I did agree, and I went into the first of four sessions ready to learn. There were several professional climate activists and birders who spoke about what we could do and how we could do it. I came out of the fourth session with an idea, and some of the framework to get it done. Oh, and a lot of knowledge about birds and how they’ve been affected by climate change. The workshop preached the idea of a climate action plan, which was exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan of action for something to do to help the climate, whether that be a giant rally or a trip to Albany to speak with your state assembly person with a couple friends. I set my eyes on something small. Recycling. My school has an almost purposeful-seeming disregard for recycling. To everyone I know, a recycling bin is a blue trash bin with no important reason for existence other than for extra trash. So what can I, one kid in a thousand, do?
Earlier this year, the school formed a student government, and I happen to be quite good friends with my representative. I plan to work with the student government to bring awareness of recycling to the school. All I needed was a proposal of what they could do. For that, I needed an idea of what a middle schooler needed to be motivated to recycle. First, a reason to recycle. While recycling isn’t the biggest contribution one can make to stop climate change, it is a contribution, and it’s not time consuming or difficult. Next, the knowledge of what is recyclable. The fact that what is collected as recycling is inconsistent even throughout the city makes it difficult to know and remember what you can put in the recycling. The first solution was not too difficult. I have been venturing into video editing lately, and my school has shown that they can show a video or presentation to every student in the building. I decided to make a video to show to all of the students that explains what climate change is, why it’s a threat, and what they can do to help, including recycling. For the second solution, it should be enough to have correct signage throughout the school building to remind students what can be recycled. Moises, my representative in the student government, has agreed to show my video at the next meeting, so I am still waiting to know whether my venture will be successful or not. Either way, the Audubon Society workshop has taught me a lot when it comes to this kind of work, and I appreciate that.
Coincidentally, today is Earth day. That makes this the perfect time to keep climate change on your mind and do the little things to help stop it, preserving the fullness of the world. Turn the lights off whenever you don’t need them to conserve energy. Take public transportation to stop the emissions cars create. And recycle. Thank you.