Kol Nidre, Sermon: Ein Lanu Eretz Acheret – We don’t Have Another Planet

Rabbi Julie’s sermon on Kol Nidre, 2023/5784 

This past summer, my family visited Makhtesh Ramon, the massive crater in the Negev desert in Israel, the largest such crater on planet Earth.   The view of the Ramon Crater from above, from the lookout in Mitzpei Ramon, is breathtaking and otherworldly.  I have been privileged to see it with my own eyes three times in my life.

This time, a brand new visitor’s center explains not only the geology but also the special connection between the Ramon Crater and the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.   Raised in the desert town of Beersheva, Ilan changed his last name from Wolferman to Ramon – in honor of this beloved landscape – when he entered the Israeli air force as a fighter pilot.   At the edge of the crater, we watched video footage of Ilan Ramon entering the Columbia Space Shuttle in his orange jumpsuit with the Israeli flag patch on his shoulder.

When Ilan Ramon was training for the Columbia mission at the NASA space center in Houston, Texas, he was able to ask his childhood hero, Neil Armstrong about his feelings during the Apollo mission to the moon.  Surprisingly, the first man to walk on the lunar surface did not mention the moon at all.  Rather Armstrong told Ramon, “I remember the picture of the blue and delicate Earth, as seen from far away.”   This view of the Earth as a whole, only seen from outer space, is known as an earthscape.  When Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel in space orbited the Earth for the first time, he said, “I see the Earth! It is so beautiful.”  He was the first person to experience what space writer Frank White,  coined, the “overview effect.”   This shift in perspective, experienced by astronauts again and again, evokes a sudden sense of the earth’s beauty and vulnerability and an increased connection to all people and the Earth as a whole.[1]  Against the vast nothingness of space, when Ilan Ramon saw the image of the Earth – vivid, gorgeous, and bright, he said, “The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful, and so fragile.”[2]


The fragility of our planet, under the threat of global warming, was felt throughout the world this summer with the most extreme weather yet.  More than 40 million acres of wildfires burned in Canada, doubling the previous record and causing air pollution and eerily darkened skies right here in Montclair.   The summer of 2023 saw the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest temperatures in recorded history with the temperature climbing in some parts of China to 126 degrees Fahrenheit.    In Maui, the fires burned, fueled by drought and strong hurricane-induced winds, costing 97 lives.  And earlier this month, extreme floods in Libya, made up to 50 times more likely by planet-warming, killed 3,958 people.  In the next 30 years, experts predict there could be more than one billion climate refugees – people who are forced from their homes because of catastrophic extreme weather conditions.[3]

At dinner the other night, my kids were asking how to think about the hurricanes, and floods, the droughts, and fires we witnessed over these last few months.  Is this just weather or is it global warming, they asked?  Next thing I knew we were talking about rising sea levels and   Justus was reassuring our kids by telling them we live far enough from the coastline to be safe.  As a parent, as a rabbi, as an earthling, I find myself at a loss for words.  What do you say when your mother-in-law greets you on vacation with a comment like, did you hear the temperature of the Ocean off the coast of Florida reached 100?  Maybe you’re different, but I usually say, ‘I know’ or ‘that’s terrible’, and then switch back to whatever mundane, everyday, manageable conversation was happening before.  And I might have left these troubling and overwhelming thoughts buried in the back of my mind if not for a comment my twelve year old daughter said, in an effort to cheer me up. “Don’t worry, mommy, she said.  You’re lucky.  You’ll be dead by the time global warming completely ruins the planet.”

* * *

In the Book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, author and activist Jonathan Safran Foer makes a distinction between knowing and believing.  He argues, “if we accept a factual reality (that we are destroying the planet) but are unable to believe it, we are no better than those who deny the existence of human-caused climate change.”[4]   To make this point, Safran Foer tells the story of Jan Karski, a twenty-eight year old Catholic in the Polish underground, who traveled to the United States in 1943 to meet with world leaders and tell them about the atrocities the Germans were perpetuating in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Safran Foer recounts,

After surviving as perilous a journey as could be imagined, [Jan] Karski arrived in Washington, DC in June 1943.  There, he met with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of the great legal minds in American history, and himself a Jew.   After hearing Karski’s accounts of the clearing of the Warsaw Ghetto and of exterminations in the concentration camps, after asking him a series of increasingly specific questions (“What is the height of the wall that separates the ghetto from the rest of the city?”), Frankfurter paced the room in silence, then took his seat and said, “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you must be totally frank.  So I must say I am unable to believe what you told me.”  When Karski’s colleague pleaded with Frankfurter to accept Karski’s account, Frankfurter responded, “I didn’t say that this young man is lying.  I said I am unable to believe him.  My mind, my heart, they are made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”

[Justice] Frankfurter didn’t question the truthfulness of Karski’s story.  He didn’t dispute that the Germans were systematically murdering the Jews of Europe…  And he didn’t respond that while he was persuaded and horrified, there was nothing he could do. Rather, he admitted not only his inability to believe the truth but [also] his awareness of that inability.[5]

I am afraid we are like Justice Frankfurter.  The problem isn’t that we don’t believe the truthfulness of the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change, the problem is we have trouble believing that truth.  Our hearts, our minds, are made in such a way that we struggle to accept it.   Is it true, as with the Holocaust, we are unprepared to believe, to feel in our hearts, to respond to a tragedy without precedent in the history of humanity?  What will happen if we know, but we don’t believe it, and because we don’t believe it, we don’t act?

* * *

At the edge of the Ramon Crater, we watched video footage of Ilan Ramon talking with his wife and four children minutes before the Challenger burst into flames, disintegrating upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.    Somehow, among the wreckage, 37 pages of Ramon’s personal journal were recovered, and two pages were painstakingly put back together.   One of these two pages contained the hand-written words of the Kiddush for Shabbat.[6]    Va’yiculu hashamayim v’ha’aretz, v’chol tziva’am.  This secular Jew had written in his space travel journal, “Heaven and earth and everything associated with them were completed.  On the seventh day, God completed the work God had done.”[7]

This Earth, and all it contains, is our sacred inheritance.  We celebrate its birth on Rosh Hashanah with the words, hayom harat olam, today the world is born and we face its fragility on Yom Kippur with the words, mi va’esh, u’mi vamayim, who by fire and who by water.

We rarely think of this precious gift, from the perspective of the Earth as a whole.    One of my favorite rabbis, my life-partner, Rabbi Justus Baird suggests that the spiritual challenge of our current environmental crisis requires seeing our planet anew – through the lens of the overview effect, “in the images space travelers bring back, and in the words they use to describe the awe, majesty, and beauty” of the entire planet as one home for all of humanity.[8]

* * *

There’s an Israeli song called ‘Ein Li Eretz Aheret’ which means I have no other country.  This song has been voted again and again as Israel’s favorite song, and its title has become a popular catchphrase in Israel, even a bumper sticker.  Originally written in the midst of the first Lebanon war in June of 1982, during a time of internal division and growing casualties, the song came to symbolize a determination to recover what feels lost and out of reach.  Over the years, the song has become a “rallying cry” for different segments of Israeli society, from the left and right, the secular and religious; a song played on the radio on national holidays and reclaimed as an anthem by the current pro-democracy protests in Israel.[9]  And if the word eretz, is translated not as land or country, but as earth or world, the land that we all share as human beings, this song is a rallying cry for the climate crisis.

Ein li eretz aheret
I have no other world
Even if my earth is aflame…
Here is my home

I will not be silent
As the earth’s face has changed
I will not abandon reminding her
And sing right here
in her ears
until she opens her eyes

* * *

This Yom Kippur, I am asking us to open our eyes, to face the fragility not just of our individual lives, but also the fragility of our planet and the fragility of the lives of all who call Earth home.  Ein lanu eretz acheret.  We do not have another planet.   Our children and our grandchildren are depending on us not just to know, but to believe.   Not just to believe, but to feel urgency, and to act.   I am sure I am not alone in feeling at a loss for what to do.  The task is enormous.   And I have used that excuse many times to close my ears and my eyes and my heart.   I also believe climate change experts who tell us the worst case catastrophe is not inevitable.[10]   There are better possible outcomes if we move on them now.  If enough people care enough to act, we can still save millions, even billions of lives.  To my children and my unborn grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I say, I will not be silent.  As the earth’s face has changed, I will not abandon this planet we call home.  I will sing right here, in my ears, in your ears, in our ears, until we open our eyes.

I ask that we find a way, collectively as a Shomrei community, to keep our hearts open to the crisis facing our planet.  One way to begin is by starting a Dayeinu circle in our community, joining with over 100 synagogues around the country in a Jewish call for climate action.    And I am open to other suggestions.  Because as Jews we know the worst and most dangerous thing is indifference.  In the words of Christina Figueres, a leader in the 2015 Paris climate negotiations: “This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived.  All of us alive right now share the responsibility and the opportunity.”[11]  I can hear Ilan Ramon whispering in our ears, these words that he shared from the Challenger: “we pray in our hearts that all of humanity will imagine the world as we see it, without boundaries.”[12]   This magnificent earth is our home, ein lanu eretz aheret.   We have no other planet to pass on to the coming generations.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah.  May we be sealed for good in the book of life.


[1] wikipedia.org/overview-effect.

[2] Midland Daily News, Marcia Dunn, “Israeli astronaut views fragile earth”. Jan. 2023


[4] Jonathan Safran Foer.  We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, p. 21.

[5] Jonathan Safran Foer.  We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, p. 21.


[7] Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Shabbat at Home, p. 91.

[8] Rabbi Justus Baird, Nourishing the Spiritual Roots of the Climate Crisis, October, 2019.

[9] The Times of Israel, ‘The Song That Made a Country’, July 10, 2023.

[10] https://www.nottoolateclimate.com/faq

[11] https://www.nottoolateclimate.com/faq

[12]‘Ilan Ramon, the First Israeli Astronaut’, Feb 1, 2017 (www.youtube.com)


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