Dahlia Rockowitz is an alumna of Avodah’s Service Corps program and climate justice advocate. Since completing the Service Corps in 2009, she has held multiple roles in the climate justice space, and recently became the Washington Director of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Avodah sat down with Dahlia to talk about the justice dimensions of the climate crisis and how she found her place in the climate movement.
How did you get involved with Avodah?
I was an Avodah Service Corps Member from 2008-2009 in Washington D.C. I served at D.C. Central Kitchen, primarily teaching nutrition lessons and coordinating an afterschool program. The work I was doing was focused on local food justice and anti-hunger efforts.
One of my big takeaways from Avodah was the importance of both direct service and system-level change. There’s an opportunity to get engaged at multiple levels. The local level action has to be paired with work to identify the underlying causes, the long-term impact, systems that aren’t working.
What was your journey like after the Service Corps?
From there, I had the opportunity to keep working on food justice issues Jewishly at American Jewish World Service (AJWS). I was focused on advocacy, demanding that the U.S. government be a force for good around the world.
Wanting to dig deeper into the climate issue and develop a broader toolkit of change-making strategies, I left AJWS and D.C. to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan, where I studied environmental policy and environmental justice.
Then, I spent the past two and half years at The Climate Reality Project, an organization founded by former Vice President Al Gore, to promote climate action. I was responsible for planning activism trainings for everyday people to learn about climate science, communicating issues surrounding climate change, energy and justice, as well as how to educate and advocate around climate.
The through line in my career to date has been really trying to build, contribute to, and deploy people-powered movements that align with my values and work towards justice.
How does your Jewish identity influence your commitment to social justice?
I grew up surrounded by Jewish community and received a strong Jewish day school education. I was socialized and educated to look at the world through a Jewish lens — it is fundamental to my identity.
It’s not necessarily about observance, though I value and practice Jewish rituals. A lot of it is how to make meaning out of the world. What are your values? How should you be treating other people? How do you build community? Judaism and social justice are one in the same to me. I appreciate that Avodah provided me with a venue and community to explore this more fully.
How does social justice connect to climate change?
To me it was a natural progression from social justice to climate justice. As I learned more about climate change, I came to understand that all of us will feel the impacts of the climate crisis, but we will not all experience it in the same ways. Historically marginalized communities will experience the climate crisis first and worst — and may already be feeling the impacts of the crisis — and may not have the resources to bounce back. In the U.S. justice demands that we center the experiences of Black, brown and indigenous people. And climate change exacerbates issues that exist in our society, which means that climate is an issue of economic justice, gender justice, and racial justice.
Learning about climate and environmental justice felt like finding the missing piece of the equation, and something we all need to be talking about more.
You recently started working at Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, what is that like?
For me, Dayenu is the place that brings my experiences together – climate justice and my Jewish values. We’re helping build a movement where Jewish people, institutions, and allies take action on climate. It puts all of these threads — climate policy, climate justice and Jewish advocacy — into one place.
My title is the Washington Director, so I primarily focus on policy work at the federal level. I help build relationships with climate organizations and Jewish institutions, arming them with the tools and knowledge to call for policy solutions that address the scope and scale of the climate crisis.
What’s it like to do this kind of policy work at the federal level?
The U.S. government’s policies and programs have such an oversized impact in our communities and around the world, and climate is no different. I help direct the focus and power of the Jewish community to call on the U.S. government to do everything it possibly can to address and respond to the climate crisis.
What is really exciting about this moment is that we have a new administration and a Congress that is supportive of climate action. We have a window that hasn’t existed in over a decade to make a real impact.
Scientists are telling us that we only have a few years to turn the tide of the climate crisis – and I believe we can do it. We have the understanding and the technology, we just haven’t had the political will. Now really is the time to show up on climate.
How should people get involved in the climate justice movement?
Climate change is a global phenomenon with a localized impact. So, it’s great to plug in at the local level, but work toward big picture, systems-level change. Check-out local groups that are working on climate, especially those led by frontline community members, who are often working class and people of color.
I would also definitely recommend visiting Dayenu’s website, where we have actions people can take right now, like calling your Senator to make sure COVID economic recovery efforts promote clean energy, jobs and justice. Or join or launch a Dayenu Circle, a community-based group focused on climate action.
Dayenu is also working to address the fear or anxiety around the climate crisis. Fear and anxiety often lead to paralysis, but if managed and approached in a curious way it can lead to meaningful action. And honestly, it’s also fun. That’s something that appealed to me about Dayenu and Avodah, as well, social change work is about community and creativity, and putting your values into action.