Heal the Bay, Heal the World: In Memory of Dorothy Green

October 24, 2008

This essay is the first in an occasional series that will address Jewish life, the natural world, and those individuals and organizations that care about both. Special appreciation to my friend Carolyn Oppenheimer who was the first to remind me that we should not just about care about sustaining the Jewish people, but we should also give equal care to sustaining the world in which we all live.

While many of us are activists for various Jewish and non-Jewish causes, unless you live in Southern California or are familiar with the environmental efforts related to water quality issues, you might not know about the recent death of the Dorothy Green (1929-2008), a legendary environmental activist in the Los Angeles area.  Regardless of your personal passions and interests, however, a remembrance of Ms. Green’s life should give us all a reason to pause and reflect about the nature of Jewish leadership.

For those who are not familiar with Dorothy Green, no short summary can do her justice.  But nevertheless, her life can be partially described as follows:  by caring enough to help heal the Santa Monica Bay in southern California, she helped redefine an entire state’s approach to water policy and sustaining clean coastal waters. Prompted by her brother’s experience with sewage-polluted water in Marina del Rey, Green convened a group of like minded activists to create Heal the Bay, a tremendously impactful water quality initiative that is widely credited for redefining local and state policy related to the clean-up and preservation of the Santa Monica Bay.  In addition to Heal the Bay, Green started or assisted with the development of various other organizations related to water polices, as well as supported numerous other cause that were meaningful to her and her family. Even as she faced physical illness, she persevered, and in turn in, her longevity and devotion to her community and her causes have garnered her the reverence of multiple generations of local and national activists and policymakers.

Dorothy Green was Jewish, a daughter of Polish immigrants and a mother of Jewish children, and she credited the Jewish tradition in shaping her active community involvement. But in an era where we often try to categorize Jewish experiences in terms of involvement in Jewish organizations and contributions to Jewish charities, it is easy to lose sight that perhaps the most core Jewish value is the recognition of the power of partnerships to change the world. Whether it is a spiritual partnership, a social partnership or a partnership spawned out of the mutual desire to manifest acts of loving kindness, the recognition of the need for such partnerships and the drive to create them is fundamentally Jewish in nature.

First with her efforts related to Heal the Bay, and then in her other endeavors, Dorothy Green did exactly that – she created powerful partnerships that helped heal part of the world that mattered most to her.  By doing so she actualized a partnership that exists on a more profound level – mankind’s role in a partnership with respect to the sustenance and preservation of  all that is natural in creation. And even though Heal the Bay doesn’t have the word “Jewish” in it doesn’t in any way diminish the Jewishness of her efforts or the mission of the organization she created.  Jewish leadership manifests itself in many ways outside the crisp categories that oftentimes seem to define our conventional understanding of Jewish leaders.  And Dorothy Green is an example of that kind of uncategorizable leadership, raised in the Jewish tradition, and manifesting those lessons to make a Jewish impact.

So, as with every death, we should stop and take pause to reflect on the lessons of the life that has been lived, Jewishly or otherwise. And in those lessons we might find inspiration for us to pursue those causes that we recognize as just, regardless of whether the fit neatly into categories of existing Jewish opportunity. There are numerous organizations that are inherently and explicitly Jewish, and many times we can influence those organizations to meet the challenges we identify individually or collectively. But other times we need to start from scratch – creating new partnerships to achieve common goals. And helping bind those partnerships together may be the common Jewish values we share and the universal values all of mankind should share. The kind of values Dorothy Green demonstrated in her lifetime.

With apologies to the television show “Heroes,” the life of Dorothy Green reminds us that rather than a mission to “save the cheerleader, save the world,” a more fitting mantra for aspiring heroes might be “Heal the Bay, heal the world.”   That is what Dorothy Green did – and fittingly she should be remembered as a true Jewish hero.

One comment

  1. Thank you for a very touching article. Sviva Israel, an environmental educational organization based in Israel, is working to raise more true Jewish heros like Dorothy Green. Our Eco Connection brings together young Jews in the US and Israel through environmental learning and action.

    I am currently in the US to train teacher in New Jersey and Delaware to run the program with their students, and connect them to their peers in Arad and the Tamar Region of Israel.

    This is one example of how, in your words, we can “create new partnerships to achieve common goals”

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