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BBYO Director Visits Vatican to Save Earth

Read this story in the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Hoffman one of 100 invited to climate conference

The pope’s call for a global response to worldwide environmental problems led to Atlanta’s David Hoffman joining 99 other young adults in Rome to search for solutions.

Hoffman, the environmentally conscious BBYO director at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, was selected to attend an interfaith panel in Rome to discuss climate change in late June.

He attended the 100-person climate change convergence the week before he left for BBYO’s summer kallah, where he applied what he learned in Rome to enhance teens’ knowledge of climate change and teach them about spirituality in nature.

The convergence was planned as a response to Pope Francis’ May encyclical on climate change, which was written not just for Catholics, but for people of all religions. The meeting, put on by GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment, was the first of its kind. Emerging leaders ages 19 to 40 from 20 religions and 40 countries came together to discuss how they can counter climate change.

“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone,” the pope wrote in his encyclical. “This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

Hoffman learned about the all-expense-paid trip to Rome through a Google search and was one of the handful of Jews invited to attend.

“When I realized that I couldn’t find anybody else who just happened upon the organization and the convergence through Google, that’s when I realized that I was so lucky to have discovered this, let alone that I got to come,” Hoffman said.

Every night during the convergence, a different faith group led a worship service. Hoffman experienced worship involving Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, indigenous cultures and more.

During the first full day of the convergence, participants marched through Rome into the Vatican with representatives from environmental organizations while the pope gave his weekly blessing, called the Angelus, to a crowd of 30,000 people. During the march, participants held banners and signs calling for climate action, as well as a large depiction of Mother Earth, among other items.

The pope called out to the members of the climate change convergence during his address.

“It was at that moment when the pope called us out that I realized how fortunate I was and how much impact we’ve had,” Hoffman said. “That was really incredible.”

Over five days, Hoffman participated in breakout sessions by religion, region and profession. In plenary sessions, he also heard from people who have taken direct action to deal with climate change issues and from people who have been directly affected by climate change.

Hoffman created a personal action plan at the end of the convergence about what he can do to combat climate change.

“I got to put what I learned in action immediately and see the successes and challenges that I was going to face,” he said. “I can’t even explain how happy it makes me to see that the goals that I set have already started to come to fruition.”

At the BBYO summer kallah, Hoffman taught teens using his action plan and the pope’s encyclical, seen through a Jewish lens. Hoffman facilitated discussions and led brainstorming sessions that resulted in the teens writing a motion for reusable water bottles to be included in every BBYO packing list and to turn off lights when leaving rooms at all BBYO events.

The motion was passed at the BBYO August executive conference, helping conserve energy and reduce waste for 18,000 Jewish teens around the world.

Hoffman made strong friendships with the other convergence attendees, and he continues to communicate with them on an active Facebook group. He learned a great deal in Rome, especially from his new friends from around the globe.

“I learned that regardless of where we come from or what we believe, all over the world, all different faiths, that every tradition emphasizes care for the earth, and it is our responsibility to take action,” Hoffman said. “That is a universal belief, and I had no idea because I was only focusing on the Jewish perspective.”

He encourages others to take steps for the environment and take action against climate change and said it’s not too late to make a difference. “If everybody took what they were passionate about and good at and in just a little way used that to take care of the earth, however they see their talent fitting in, then that would make a change.”

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