Foundation Focus

The Mom Who is Bringing Climate Change Activism to Atlanta

By July 10, 2024No Comments

Atlanta activist Joanna Kobylivker is the new Director of Adamah Atlanta, the Southeast chapter of North America’s largest Jewish environmental organization. By her own admission, Kobylivker is not a climate scientist, a homesteader, or someone with hard skills in environmental sustainability. She’s a mom, a pragmatist, and a proud Jewish woman who cherishes how our tradition respects the earth.  

Joanna walks the talk. She’s been a community organizer for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL), which conducted low-cost energy audits for churches and synagogues and gave grants to help them improve their energy efficiency.  

During COVID, when her son’s elementary school switched to Styrofoam trays and disposable plasticware to save water, she did something about it. “Nobody uses Styrofoam anymore, I mean, not even McDonalds! Styrofoam leaches polystyrene, especially when used to serve hot food, like oatmeal at breakfast or chili at lunch. In 2019, APS used 8.4 million Styrofoam trays.” Kobylivker kept fighting and brought compostable cutlery and plates into her school.  

At her son’s bar mitzvah at Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI), there was recyclable tableware and composting of leftovers. Afterward, Kobylivker launched the congregation’s first sustainable Sukkot event. “People brought food to the sukkah and took their dishes home so there was no trash or food leftovers. I lifted up an orange peel and asked, ‘Do you know how long it would take for this peel to break down on the ground? About two weeks. In a landfill, it will petrify, rot, and produce toxic methane gas.”  

Today at CSI, there is always compostable tableware, and leftovers are routinely composted.  
Eventually, Joanna applied for a Propel Grant through Federation to keep the GIPL work and other sustainability initiatives going in Atlanta. Through Federation CEO Eric Robbins, she learned about the merger of two existing Jewish environmental organizations, Hazon and Adamah into one.  

“The merger seemed like a great opportunity to affiliate with Adamah and bring that work to Atlanta. They have wonderful resources in outdoor education, all with a climate focus. We now offer a full menu of educational classes for synagogues, day schools, and camps. At our honey-making workshop, the kids were so into it!  It’s wonderful to reconnect people with nature — this is a big part of who we are as Jews, with all our agricultural holidays.” 

“What drives me is pure pragmatism as well as respect for land. And it all aligns with being Jewish,” Joanna believes. “Historically, Jews are problem solvers – we’re the people who make the desert bloom, who build pop-up hospitals in a time of war, who use drip irrigation and desalinated water. We have to be a loud, proud voice for caring about the earth. To me, sustainability and climate activism honor God and our children.” 

Through Adamah, Federation has just signed on to be part of The Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition — a network of Jewish community organizations that recognize the existential threat and moral urgency of climate change and commit to taking action. By working together, the impacts of individual organizations will be amplified, rippling throughout networks, neighborhoods, and beyond.  

Please consider making a gift to Adamah Atlanta through your Donor-Advised Fund.