Tradition & Innovation

The Year of the Sun

By Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

On April 8, 2009, something will happen that the world has not seen happen in 28 years: the sun will return to the place of its creation, at the very time of its creation. Or so the rabbis tell us. And the Jewish community will do what it hasn’t done in 28 years: gather to bless the anniversary of the birth of the sun.

(For a nice synopsis of this ritual, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birkat_HaHammah)

If you are over 50, you may be wondering why you don’t remember this from 27 years ago. That’s because this is such a minor event in the Jewish calendar that most people paid it no attention. One tradition even says that if the sky is overcast that day, forget it.

Indeed, the very nature of the celebration is an open question. At minimum, one gets up early in the morning and recites the blessing: Blessed are You our Gd, who fashions Creation. More expansively, one gathers in a group at sunrise and recites a host of prayers culled from Torah, Prophets, Psalms and the siddur.

So, if 27 years ago this was not a big deal, why ... now?

Because for Birkat Hahammah 2009, the Jewish environmental community is coming together around this rare opportunity to promote both a deep appreciation for the endlessly surprising and expansive wisdom of Judaism AND an awareness of our critical need to move away from fossil fuels and commit ourselves fully to developing alternative energy technologies, led by solar energy.

COEJL – the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – is coordinating a nationwide effort led by a partnership of Jewish environmental organizations including Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center (and BJEN) – to promote a year long effort of education, programming and celebration. We are calling this the Year of the Sun, with the highlight being on April 8, 2009.

Part of our celebration will be a Sun Covenant that you, your family, your synagogue or group can sign to commit to making changes that will promote the use alternative energy and limit the use of fossil fuels. This covenant will be posted on a website devoted to this celebration – which will go live around Sukkot. (look for it then: http://www.blessthesun.org)

Here in Baltimore, BJEN and Kayam Farm are teaming up to create a year-long menu of programs to engage the Baltimore Jewish community.

This confluence of contemporary need (to press the expansion of alternative energy) and a rare Jewish holiday celebrating the sun is extraordinary. Please help us make the most of it – personally, spiritually and politically.