When senior Miriam Renz began attending Stern, she quickly became an active member of the YU Environmental Society, then under the leadership of Jenny Wiseman. When Wiseman graduated in 2015, the club struggled to continue to exist. Last year, it was so inactive that it lost funding as an official club. Renz, along with her friend and co-president Chava Baum, have taken it upon themselves to revive the club this year.
“It’s tough, as any club head knows,” Renz said, reflecting on the experience so far, and explained that she and Baum have been working hard towards making it a more active and visible club on the Beren campus, and hopefully on the Wilf campus as well. Baum echoed these sentiments, and added “I love the environment too much for it to be inactive.”
Both Renz and Baum have the credentials to back up their positions as co-presidents. Renz worked at Eden Village Camp, a Jewish environmental overnight camp, and has interned at Walden Woods, a historic site in Massachusetts where Henry David Thoreau lived and did most of writing, for two years. Baum worked on a moshav in Israel and was a fellow in the Amir Project, an organization that partners with summer camps to create educational programming based on gardens and farms.
The mission of the YU Environmental Society is simple. They want to raise awareness of the effects that each person has on the environment, and once that awareness is raised, to run events that will positively impact the environment, such as recycling drives.
The main goal of the club right now, Renz explained, is to “really raise awareness in the student body about what kind of impact each person has on the environment, and also how the environment that we live in and that we grew up in and where we’re going impacts us. We want to show that it works both ways. Just as we leave an imprint on the environment, it leaves an imprint on us. It’s important to know what those things are—good, bad, and anything in between.”
Renz and Baum hope that, ideally, the club would do more than just raise awareness, and run events to actually help the environment. Renz explained, though, that raising awareness is the first step, and she and Baum have found that that has not yet happened yet. “People are unaware of their environment. They’re unaware of how intertwined our lives are with the world around us,” she said. The YU Environmental Society needs to achieve this first, crucial step of awareness before they can move on to events such as making potted plants or volunteering at a community garden.
Last semester, the club planned a mindfulness walk in Central Park which had to be postponed due to the cold weather, but will take place later this semester. The walk will center around the different plants and foliage at the park, and be infused with the words of Henry David Thoreau, who Renz calls her “guru.”
Renz and Baum are also planning a “Celebrate Cruelty Free Makeup” event. Baum that it will feature free makeup giveaways, student makeup demos, and hopefully a speaker.
The co-presidents hope to run other events as well that will engage students and interest them in various ways. They believe that the walk and the makeup event will approach the issue from different angles, but ultimately lead to the same kind of awareness.
Renz added a final thought: that her own philosophy is that people need to care more. “There needs to be more care and sensitivity,” she stated. “During this very politically charged time, climate change discussion and environmental discussion has fallen to side, because Earth doesn’t look like a person, and so it is easy to care less and pay less attention. The distance between humans and the planet and animals has grown a bit and that concerns me. I hope that what we can do is to remind people that we are part of nature. The world we live in is ours to care for, but not to hurt or destroy.”