EcoJudaism appoints its first ever executive director

Naomi Verber is channelling her passion for the environment into her professional life


Naomi Verber will be EcoJudaism's new executive director, beginning in May

EcoJudaism, the preeminent charity dedicated to helping UK Jewry do its part in tackling the climate crisis, has appointed its first ever executive director to oversee the charity’s growth.

Naomi Verber, who is currently the United Synagogue’s head of environmental policy, will take up the role at the beginning of May.

Verber says growing up in Stamford Hill, “despite being in the inner city”, she “practically lived outdoors, which gave me a real love for nature”.

But it was learning about the destruction of Brazil's rainforests at school that started her passion for the environment.

Speaking to the JC, she said: “After the class, I went to ask the head if we could set up a few extra bins for recycling paper. She angrily threw me out of her office for suggesting ‘goysha ideas’. As I fumed in the hallway, the activist in me was born.”

Verber previously served as a management consultant for 15 years before partnering with the Jewish environmental charity Sadeh to conceptualise, design and run Europe’s first kosher eco-hotel.

She joined the United Synagogue in 2021 and ran the Dorot programme, the US and Office of the Chief Rabbi’s environmental initiative. Under her leadership, the first United Synagogue forest was created, more than 80 per cent of US synagogues went disposable-free, and environmentally-responsible operating processes were established.

“In 2017, when I became pregnant with my first child, the environmental crisis was just starting to become a mainstream topic.

“I began to read more and more about it and woke up to the unnerving understanding that my lifestyle was actively destroying the world she would need,” she said.

She decided she had  “a duty to her to act, to do something, so that if the day comes that our children and grandchildren ask: ‘How did you let this happen?’, I will at least be able to say ‘We tried.'”

Verber believes EcoJudaism has “huge potential” to transform Jewish environmental activism across our entire community.

“After two and a half inspiring years leading the Dorot programme, I can't wait to begin this next exciting chapter in our community’s environmental activism journey,” she said, adding that she was now “excited to engage with all parts of the community to see how they are responding to the environmental crisis and which projects speak to them”.

While she said she was aware that “one size will not fit all”, everyone needed “to breathe clean air; we all need food security and a world to wonder at, regardless of how religious we are. This is an incredible opportunity for us all to come together to face the environmental challenges that impact us all in the same way.”

In her own life, the 42-year-old, who lives in from Childs Hill, Barnet, tries to focus on three areas, when it comes to making lifestyle changes and choices to help the environment – “What we eat, how we travel and what we buy”.

Verber, who became pescatarian about seven years ago, said that she was “broadly vegetarian or vegan during the week”, but on Shabbat, had fish “to make it special”.

In terms of travel, the family drives an electric car, but Verber said that she preferred to use public transport, and since deciding to avoid flying wherever possible, “a whole new adventure of international train travel” had been opened up to the family.

As for shopping, Verber tried “to keep consumption low by buying 'pre-loved' clothes, furniture and toys whenever I can.”

Caring for the environment goes hand in hand with her Jewish values, she said.

“It's Torah principles of protecting the world that God has given us and respecting the life of all of its inhabitants that underpins my work,” said Verber, adding that she believed it would be “the morality of Torah ideas that will ultimately move the Jewish community to take serious environmental action”.

Calling the appointment of Verber a “landmark moment”, EcoJudaism chair Abi Levitt said it would match the charity’s ambitions of making a mark within the Jewish community, and also beyond, as part of a worldwide, multi-faith environmental movement.

Levitt said: “[Naomi] has deep experience in transformative environmental work, a true understanding of the Jewish community and a passion for protecting our natural world.

“This exciting recruitment represents the next stage in the EcoJudaism journey to become a central environmental force, matching our vision of world-changing goals with a focus on frontline community-level action to achieve them.”

EcoJudaism works across the entire Jewish community to empower synagogues and congregations of all denominations to combat the climate crisis and provide them with the tools they need to make impactful and long-lasting changes.

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