The former Aussie known in Israel as the ‘Green Rabbi’

Climate activism is the key motivation for DAVID PEARLMAN PARAN, who will be ordained next week. He talks to ITTAY FLESCHER.

“What can I do to propel Israeli society towards a sustainable future?” This is the question that will animate the leadership of Australian-born Rabbi David Pearlman Paran.

Next week, Paran will become the first graduate of Sydney’s Moriah College to be ordained at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem.

A former federal Rosh Chinuch of Habonim Dror Australia, Paran made Aliyah in 1994. He felt that the best way to realise himself as a performer and educator, and to make changes in Jewish society, would be to live in a rich and complex Jewish society in Israel rather than a place where Jewish and secular life are separated from one another.

After volunteering for many years as a climate activist and working as a Theatre Studies teacher, Paran began his studies for the rabbinate five years ago.

He has been surrounded by climate activists his whole life. He is married to Yael Cohen Paran, who served in the Knesset from 2015-2019 with the Zionist Union and later the Green Movement.

Paran sees environmental commitment as a means to articulating the vision of the Torah, which he believes was “given as a set of precepts about how to build an ideal society”.

Paran lives in Pardes Chana, where he has already been fulfilling rabbinic duties for the Masorti congregation Darkei Noam. He hopes to take on the senior position there after his ordination and continue conducting life-cycle events from bar and bat mitzvahs to funerals.

But the weddings he will conduct will not be recognised by the Israeli Rabbinate as his smicha (rabbinic ordination) is not Orthodox. The workaround for many Israeli couples is to add in an online wedding, conducted in the US State of Utah and recently recognised by Israel’s Supreme Court. In the past, Israeli couples who wanted non-Orthodox marriages recognised by the State had to travel overseas, which created a booming wedding business for nearby Cyprus.

Paran has been nicknamed the “Green Rabbi,” because of his climate activism. He believes environment is a higher priority for Israelis than the low political profile of the Greens suggests. He points to several surveys that indicate concern for the environment was quite a high priority for many Israelis, and to increasing media coverage of the issue, saying journalists are keener to cover stories about environmental issues than ever before in his 25 years living in Israel. 

Despite Israel’s very small size and minor contribution to overall CO2 emission, he thinks Israel has a major role to play in tackling climate change through developing technology that benefits the environment.

David Pearlman Paran helps a bar mitzvah boy lay tefillin (Shlomo Avni)

 “Israel’s drip irrigation has changed the world, saving millions of litres of water every year,” he said. “Israel is also a world leader in solar water heating and water preservation, and should lead the world in climate solutions, echoing the words of our sages, ‘If I am not for myself, who am I, but if I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, when?’”

Paran plans to integrate environmental education into his role as a rabbi. He wants to make his community plastic free.

He also regularly encourages his community to have communal dinners and other special events that bring people together, as he sees the task of tackling loneliness and isolation as an important goal in building sustainable communities.

Paran sees environmental commitment as a means to articulating the vision of the Torah, which he believes was “given as a set of precepts about how to build an ideal society”.

He hopes that once ordained, he can be a greater voice across religious communities in Israel regarding the importance of sustainability.

He gives the example of the idea of a shnat shmitta, a sabbatical year where the land and people rest every seven years. “This furthers social justice, equality and environmental protection through bringing in the idea of land custodianship and tying this to economic justice,” he said.

If his agenda seems ambitious, Paran has textual support for that, too. He concluded his interview with Plus61J Media by quoting the famous saying of Rabbi Tarfon from Pirkei Avot, “Lo Alecha Hamlcha Ligmor” – It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist.”

Top photo: David Pearlman Paran leads an outdoor service