Jonathan Axelrad is so freaking excited about J-REC, the Jewish Response to Energy Challenge Conference. “We are very excited,” he says in his polite, even, lawyer voice. “It’s really building up and developing.” While chatting, he explains that, even with their expensive suits, his Green technology advocates are as passionate as any protester and, surprisingly, even the homeless can help.
So why do Jews need their own special response to the environment? Sounds kinda random. Like Koreans needing their own response to hurricanes or something.
Well, first of all, I noticed the little teaser you guys put on your site mentioned “tree hugging.” But this is the Jewish response to the energy challenge, and that’s about clean sources of energy for the future. We’re spending billions of dollars on mid east oil. That’s funding extremism. And we’ve got the ability to create innovative solutions for transportation and other energy needs right now in clean tech. That’s Tikkun olam–healing the world. That’s supporting Israel. And because as a community, we can make a difference. That’s why we should care.
You’re not the stereotypical idea of the energy-conscious environmentalist, are you? You’re an attorney.
I am. I’m a clean tech venture capital lawyer at Wilson Sonsini. And my co-chair works at Tesla motors, one of the largest electric car companies in the world.
So does this mean capitalism will be saving the world? Rather than activists?
It’s not an either/or equation. We’re also activists. We’re clean energy activists.
So you actually call yourself an “activist”?
But it’s still capitalism, right? I mean, somebody’s gonna be making a buck.
Well, one of our themes is clean economy. And you’re right, clean technology represents incredible, economic opportunities and fundamental issues of national competitiveness. China and India are innovating in these areas, and if the US and Israel want to compete, we need to invest here in R&D [Research & Development].
This is a big change from the image people have of altruistic, broke hippies.
Right. That’s one of the beautiful things about the clean technology industry. We can create wealth by solving environmental problems, and we can also help the Green technology movement, and create economic opportunities for a large portion of our population and also deal with fundamental issues of national security.
Any speakers you’re particularly excited about?
Yes. Yosef Abromowitz. He’s the founder of Arava Power Company in Israel. He’ll talk about how the Jewish people can be leaders in this area.
But what can the non-leader, average-IQ type person do?
They can approach the issue in a way that’s most relevant to them. If they’re interested in saving energy at home and saving money, they can retrofit their home. That’s saving money. You can tap a green mezuzah on your door and feel good about that. And you can support clean tech in Israel.
What if you don’t have a home?
Then focus your efforts on other responses to the energy challenge. Maybe transportation or food choices or getting involved with a local group working on the issues like the American Jewish Committee.
The Jewish Response to the Energy Challenge Conference will be held at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center on November 8th.