The Pope went to Washington, and because I’m Jewish,

I went too. Two hundred of us moved our Yom Kippur 

services to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial so that 

we could support the Pope’s climate encyclical. It was 

the day of atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year 

where we fast and atone for our sins. And as the sun turned 

the Washington Monument a golden pink, we read 

our sins. Usually, these are for being preoccupied with 

ourselves and for ignoring spiritual development. This time, 

it was different.

For the harm, the hurt and the damage we have caused 

by not recycling, ve-al kulam eloha selichot  for all these sins, 

god of mercy,s’lach lanu m’chal lanu kaper lanuforgive us

pardon us, grant us atonement.For the harm, the hurt and 

the damage we have caused by killing off 10,000 species 

a year and letting rainforests be cut down,s’lach lanu 

m’chal lanu kaper lanu.For the harm, the hurt and 

the damage we have caused by using dirty fuels, 

ve-al kulam eloha selichot s’lach lanu m’chal lanu kaper lanu.

Over a distant loudspeaker, we could hear 

the Pope. At that same moment, as part of 

our service, we read the Prayer for the Earth 

from his encyclical. It was like we were reading 

it back to him. “Bring healing to our lives, that we 

may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may 

sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Usually, in the service, we read from the books 

of the Prophets. This time, it was different. 

The Rabbis quoted from many spiritual leaders 

including Martin Luther King who said all life 

is connected, tied to a garment of destiny. What 

affects one, affects all.I could see the Canada geese 

landing in the reflecting pool, the little bugs 

crawling on the ground, the airplanes flying 

overhead. We ended by chanting the Kaddish– 

the Jewish prayer for the dead – usually, we say 

it once for our ancestors; this time we said it 

again, for all the dying species.

At the Yom Kippur service, they asked us 

to finish this sentence: When I think of the world, 

it breaks my heart because… For me, it breaks 

my heart to think of the world that my grandchildren 

are inheriting. I lookat their little 3 and 4 year old 

hands as they reach for peanut butter sandwiches, how 

they spin for joy as they play with their dad, how they 

curl up at night feeling safe in their beds. They don’t know 

that resource wars have already begun, that millions 

of people are on the move running from rising sea waters 

and debilitating drought. When they are in their 20s and 30s, 

caught in wild weather and desperate for food, will they glare 

at me and ask why didn’t you do more?

What will I say? That it was different back then? That I was 

too dazzled by the conveniences of capitalism to join into 

a solidarity economy? That I kept using gasoline and didn’t 

get solar panels on my house because of the expense? That I 

didn’t stop oil companies from fracking and building 

pipelines because I had something more important to do? 

I’ll tell them I went to Washington because one Pope can 

make a difference. I’ll tell them I wrote a poem and shared it 

one afternoon with some people. People who want to 

sow beauty, not pollution and destruction; people who 

believe all life is connected. I’ll say that I looked into those 

people’s eyes and asked them to join in so that we can 

face the future together. Because united, we’ll share 

the burden of fear and act together. Because this time, 

this time, it is different.

Thea Iberall has been called ‘a shimmering bridge between heart and mind.’ An inductee into the International Educators Hall of Fame, she writes stories and poems that springboard from the personal into moral issues, scientific questions, and emotional truths. Thea’s visionary climate change novel, The Swallow and the Nightingale, is about a 4,000-year-old secret brought through time by the birds. One reviewer said, “The tale of the birds is such a metaphor for our life and times.” Thea is a member of Northeast Storytellers and is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network.