Wow. Just found out that Rabbi David Seidenberg is in charge of the Kol-Chai listserv, which used to be run by COEJL (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life). Someone posted in frustration over something minor, ‘who is in charge here’ and the answer came down – it’s Reb David, not us. Not anymore.

I must have missed all the transparent conversation about what was going on at COEJL. Is it growing or shrinking? Becoming more grassroots or less? How has the funding base changed? Any open hearted reflections on lessons learned? Any curious contrast between the rise of environmentalism and climate concerns in the US – and in the Jewish community, and the evolution of COEJL?

I remember talking to Barbara back in 2004 or 5 about a Philly chapter, and she told me – COEJL is not heavily invested in a grassroots strategy. Barbara works for Hazon now (and is probably doing an amazing job!).

Hadar, the wonderful DC COEJL staffer way back when is now the Washington Director of JCPA, which has done good things of late on climate change. Why aren’t staff people moving from Hazon and JCPA to COEJL?

Does it feel like not having a grassroots strategy worked out? I’d love to hear from COEJL board members from 2004-5 reflect on where we are today. But not the ‘we did the right thing at the time based on the information we had’ a-la Hillary Clinton on the Iraq war vote. I mean, has anyone who wielded power and influence learned anything and willing to share outside the boardroom?

COEJL made a decision to base itself organizationally on a coalition of large, mainstream Jewish organizations, rather than be owned by a chapter/member structure. Is there an evaluation of this? I wonder what old-timey Shomrei Adamahniks think. If I’m not mistaken, there were a few dissenters from that approach in real time. (Shomrei is one of the original Jewish environmental initiatives, established before the environment became part of Jewish continuity programs.)

My opinion is that top-down, unaccountable and undemocratic organizations can thrive by having deep pockets, powerful backers, or legions of forgiving donors. Tracing the rise of Hazon with the decline of COEJL is a powerful lesson for anyone who cares to listen.

Link: COEJL searches for new executive director