Abbas claims Israel is harming the environment

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of violating “international laws related to the environment.”

“Our resources are being usurped, our trees are being uprooted, our agriculture is being destroyed,” Abbas said Monday at the United Nations climate conference near Paris.

According to the Times of Israel, Abbas said his government has made “great progress” in adopting climate change standards, but said that “continued Israeli occupation” infringed on its ability to do so.

In the same speech, Abbas said that he was open to peace negotiations with Israel.

“Our hand is still extended in peace to our neighbors,” he said.

Earlier at the conference, Abbas shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in five years.

8 Ways to Make Your Chanukah More Sustainable

This post originally appeared on Neesh Noosh

From foods to gifts, there’s many ways to add sustainable practices to your Chanukah celebrations. Please share your ideas in the comments section at the bottom!

1. Organic apples and potatoes
Apples and potatoes are ranked #1 and #12, respectively, on Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue. Take pesticides out of Chanukah and prepare your latkes and applesauce with safer, healthier and tastier organic apples and potatoes.

2. Wooden dreidels
Plastic is forever and we are literally drowning in it. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive floating vortex, comprised mostly of plastic, that stretches from the West Coast of the US to Japan.  It doesn’t need more spinning plastic dreidles!

3. Fair Trade gelt
More than half the world’s cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast where children are forced to work on farms without pay or safe conditions. Go guilt-free gelt, instead! Choose kosher certified gelt, produced only by adults at a democratically-run fair trade cooperative in Ghana.

4. Organic sour cream
If you like heaps of sour cream on your latkes, make sure you choose rGBH-free dairy (and organic, if possible). Otherwise, you’ll be eating sour cream made from cows that are fed a genetically engineered hormone fed to boost their milk production. The health impacts aren’t conclusive yet about rGBH but many scientists have expressed concern about a possible cancer relationship. And, it’s scary enough that rGBH is banned in Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

5. Heirloom potatoes and apples
If you want to have the most-talked-about latkes and applesauce, then prepare your dishes with heirloom potatoes and apples.  Heirloom plants can be hundreds or thousands of years old. Due to their uniqueness, they are not grown in industrial agriculture. With threats from climate change and questions about how to feed billions of people, heirloom plants ensure genetic diversity and environmental sustainability in the face of these global challenges. 

6. Beeswax candles
Honey bees pollinate every third bite of food we eat. However, Colony Collapse Disorder–a massive die-off of bees worldwide–threatens our global food supplies. Support your local beekeeper buy purchasing beeswax Chanukah candles.

7. Buy local 
When you buy Chanukah gifts from local shops, you are investing in your local economy, helping to provide good neighborhood jobs, supporting unique businesses and lessening your environmental impact. Buying food grown locally helps to preserve open space and food sources and your money is a direct investment in local farmers. And, with a short trip from their farm to your fork, the food will probably taste better, too!

8. Flax eggs or happy chicken eggs
You can use flax eggs instead of chicken eggs (1 tbsp flax seeds, 3 tbsp water) in your latkes.  If you prefer chicken eggs, choose ones that are pasture-raised.Such chickens are humanely raised on small farms where they spend their days in fields. They’re happier and healthier, so their eggs taste better!


Chanukah Sameach/Happy Chanukah!

Jews in the Anthropocene Epoch

I was at a screening last week for a new documentary on Zionism. A good-sized crowd of donors, activists and people concerned with Israel’s present and future turned out. There were speeches, the doc, more speeches, a Q-and-A. Then, just as the director thanked everyone for coming, and we all rose to leave, the owner of the theater leapt up and said, “Just a second!”

He introduced himself as Dr. Joel Shapiro, the founder of the Electric Lodge in Venice, the venue where we had all gathered. He told us that the entire theater runs on solar power — it actually sells electricity back to the grid — and that it has charging stations outside for electric cars. His goal, he said, is to make Electric Lodge a model for how theaters, museums and other institutions can go green and fight global warming.

Shapiro spoke in a torrent, but people were already halfway out the door. They had two hours for saving Israel, but he struggled to keep their attention to wedge in 30 seconds on saving the Earth.

Maybe, I thought, we need to step back and reconsider our priorities.

I am not, I hasten to add, suggesting we stop caring about, teaching about, fighting about Israel. I’m just wondering if it’s time to redirect some of our time, talent and resources to this other cause, as well.

Because here’s the bottom line: If the nearly 100 percent of scientists who concur on the causes and effects of global warming are correct — and at this point it’s just the rocket scientists over at Fox & Friends who doubt them — then the world won’t have Israel to kick around much longer. Or Jews. Or any of us.

On Oct. 24, scientists meeting in Berlin are slated to officially adopt a name for our epoch: the Anthropocene. Geologic time is divided= into eras, periods, epochs and ages. We all know ages — Jews appeared in the Bronze Age and, as peoples go, have had a remarkably long run.

Epochs slice a bigger chunk of time, according to measures taken from sedimentary rock, fossil and chemical indicators. We are currently listed as belonging to the Holocene Epoch, which started 11,700 years in the past.

But on Oct. 23, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) will decide whether to recommend that the massive changes humankind has wrought on our environment require a new nomenclature. Thanks to us, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now greater than they have been since humans appeared 2.6 million years ago, and oceans have reached peak levels not seen in 6,000 years.

“There have been hotter periods, such as the Jurassic, when there was no ice at the poles and there was a rainforest in Greenland,” Jan Zalasiewicz, a stratigraphic geologist at the University of Leicester and a member of the AWG, told the British newspaper The Telegraph, “but they came upon the planet slowly. The same thing happening in 50 to 100 years is off the scale.”

If only this renaming were just an academic exercise leading to a new Wikipedia entry. But epochs are marked by mass extinction — and our extinction levels are off the charts. Some 90 percent of the world’s large fish have disappeared in the past 60 years because of industrialized fishing, according to a 2003 report. One half of all wildlife on Earth has become extinct in the past 40 years, according to a report released just last month. That’s a rate 100 to 1,000 times the pre-human level. Swedish scientists have warned that human life cannot withstand an extinction rate far lower than that.

As a community, I know we are not blind to this. Our synagogues adopt green programs. A handful of our organizations work to educate and lobby for carbon-reduction and alternative energy. But here’s my question: Isn’t it time we all do more?

Every synagogue and Jewish institution needs to move climate change and environmental stewardship up the ranks of its priorities. There are a thousand ways to get involved: Pick the ones that leverage your strengths. Tell friends of Israel — for example Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — that the more he can do to reduce the exploitation of crude oil from the tar sands, the better for us all — including Israel. Screen the movie “Fuel” for your congregation. Make sure your elected representatives know it’s time for the U.S. to offer more incentives for people to use the many proven alternatives to gasoline. Make personal choices that reflect your concern: Solar in your homes and businesses, higher-mileage cars. You want to attract the next generation? Help them fight to make sure their children won’t be saying Kaddish for the planet.

Unfortunately, corporate interests and their legislative and media lackeys have politicized science and the solutions it offers. In many ways, the Jewish community is uniquely positioned to cut across those ideological divides. Polls show the majority of Jews of all political stripes are pro-environment.

Perhaps that’s because we understand that saving Israel and ensuring the future of Jewish people won’t matter at all on an uninhabitable planet.

Jews appeared on the scene some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Israel took shape over the past 100 years. These are blips in the realm of Big History — but we can use our time here to help preserve and extol the Creation that God deemed “Good.”

It is not enough to worry just about defending Israel and passing along our heritage. We also have to worry —really worry — about passing along our planet.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can
follow him on Twitter @foodaism

Everything is easier than doing good

Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah:

If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess.

But if we say we value goodness above everything else — and surely Judaism does — why aren’t there more good people?

A big reason is that it is easier to value other things — including, and especially, positive things — more than goodness. So it’s much easier to be just about anything rather than good.

It’s easier to be religious than to be good.

The history of all religions is replete with examples of individuals who seem religious, yet who are not good and are sometimes downright evil. The most obvious examples today are found within Islam. But Judaism, Christianity and all other religions have provided examples. It was mean-spirited observant Jews (observant of laws between man and God) whom the Prophets most severely criticized. God doesn’t want your ritual observances, Isaiah said in God’s name, if you don’t treat people properly. And too much of European Christian history produced people who valued faith over goodness.

It’s easier to be progressive than to be good.

Just as it is easier to be religious than to be good, it is easier to hold progressive positions than to be good. Too many religious people have equated religious piety with goodness, and too many believers in today’s dominant religion, progressivism, equate left-wing positions with goodness. I saw this as a graduate student in the 1970s, when the most progressive students were so often personally mean and dishonest. They seemed to believe that protesting against war and racism defined the good human being — so how they treated actual people didn’t really matter. Defining goodness as having progressive social positions has helped produce a lot of mean-spirited and narcissistic individuals with the “right” social positions.

It’s easier to be brilliant (and successful) than to be good.

Ask your children — whether they are 5 or 45 — what they think you most want them to be: happy, good, successful or smart.

Parents have told me for decades how surprised they were that their children did not answer “good.” One reason is that so many parents have stressed brilliance (and the success that brilliance should lead to) over goodness. Thus, many parents brag about their child’s brilliance rather than about their goodness. How closely do parents monitor their children’s character as compared to how closely they monitor their children’s grades?

Brilliance is probably the most overrated human attribute. And there is absolutely no connection between it and goodness. 

It’s easier to care about the earth than to be good.

Everyone who cares about the next generation of human beings cares about the earth. But we live at a time when many care about the earth more than they care about human beings. That is why, for example, the environmentalist movement in the West persisted in banning DDT, despite the fact that not using DDT to destroy the Anopheles mosquito has resulted in millions of Africans dying of malaria.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to fight carbon emissions than to fight evil.

It’s easier to love animals than to love people.

The secular West has produced many people who love animals more than human beings. Ask people who love their pet if they would first try to save a beloved dog or cat that was drowning or a human being they did not know who was also drowning. If my asking this question for over 30 years is any indication, a significant percentage would answer that they would first try to save their dog or cat. Why? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger.

Contrary to what is widely believed, love of animals does not translate into love of people. While those who are cruel to animals will likely be cruel to people, the converse is not true. Love of animals has little to do with, and can often substitute for, love of people. 

It’s easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.

The greatest moral teaching of the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “Love humanity [or “all people”] as yourself.” Why? Because it’s easy to love humanity; it’s much tougher to love our neighbor.

It’s easier to be intellectual and cultured than to be good.

The most cultured nation in the world created the Holocaust. The nation that produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Wagner also produced the Nazis and Auschwitz. For those of us whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by the art and culture produced by Germans, that is a sobering fact.

It’s easier to intend to do good than to do good.

It is a truism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nearly all the evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in history, were committed not by sadists, but by people with good intentions.

That is why, when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, only our behavior — not our intention, and not how much we feel for others — matters. 

The primacy of behavior over feelings may well be Judaism’s greatest message. 

A happy and healthy new year to all my readers.

Dennis Prager will once again be conducting High Holy Day services in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

Eco-friendly home reveals ‘greener’ pastures ahead [SLIDESHOW]

As scientists continue to warn us that our over-consumption of natural resources is putting too great a strain on our planet, the idea of sustainability — of reducing one’s carbon footprint, recycling and finding a cleaner, greener future — has never been more popular. And while the green trend has been picking up steam in the home-building world, there aren’t many places where it’s been more evident than at the new Vision House in Pacific Palisades, and in the work of its interior designer, Jill Wolff.

The Vision House is a concept of Green Builder Media, a leading national North American media company focused on green building and sustainable development, who previously constructed Vision Houses — state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious dwellings — in cities such as Orlando, Fla., and Aspen, Colo. Two years ago, Robert Kleiman, one of the co-founders of Los Angeles-based Structure Home, was looking to become more green in his own home designs. He noticed Green Builder’s leadership in the area and contacted the firm for help.

“It’s easy to learn individually how to build green,” said Kleiman, speaking by phone from his offices, “but it’s hard to teach a whole culture.” Kleiman knew that with Green Builder’s help, Structure Home could learn from the best, and so the Vision House Los Angeles was born. 

Wolff, the owner and founder of Jill Wolff Interior Design, has worked on more than 300 homes in the Los Angeles area over the past 25 years. The Vision House, however, presented a new challenge for her, and a learning experience. “I learned so much about green design and sustainability on this project,” Wolff said. 

Touring the home, which sits on a gently sloping residential street in Pacific Palisades, offers a master class in the use of space. The house sits on a long, narrow lot that “was actually the swimming pool for the house next door,” according to Wolff, who tailored much of her design, in concert with the architects, to make “it feel like it’s not just a skinny, narrow, bowling alley kind of house.”

The main entrance is at the center of the home, leading on one side into a spacious living and dining area with tall, movable glass walls that open onto a carefully landscaped back yard. On the other side, a downstairs office sports huge glass doors that let in ample natural light. Nothing about the home feels cramped or narrow. 

“From the exterior you have an anticipation of what it’s going to be,” Wolff said. “But when you walk through the door and you see the comfort level and the coziness and the warmth of the materials that are used, it takes you on a different trip.” Much of the home’s colorful and often-whimsical art was made by graduates of Otis College of Art and Design.

Wolff said she got her start in design at an early age. “I decided that I wanted to be an interior designer when I was 8 years old,” she said, laughing. “I decided that because my mom’s best friend was an interior decorator, and she had decorated our house, and I had loved the whole process of it. I thought it was so fun and so creative.”

After high school, she studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. “I was lucky enough to intern with a big-time Hollywood designer named Barbara Lockhart, and that just clinched the whole deal,” Wolff said. “I had all these great women that influenced me in my career, and I’ve been working ever since.”

The Vision House was an unusual project for Wolff, she said. “Since it’s a spec house, and I didn’t really have clients, I created a faux family … a kind of fantasy of who the family is going to be.” The house abounds with recycled materials, including a wagon wheel that has been turned into a mirror and corrugated cardboard shaped into surprisingly beautiful light fixtures.

The home also showcases technology such as hydronic radiant heating, solar panels and a gray-water system with ultraviolet disinfection. “The Vision House has the latest in technology, but I want people to see that if they’re clever and if they think about it, they can bring a level of sustainability into their own homes,” said Wolff. “Anything is a start.”

Most of all, Wolff shows that green living can be fun and fashionable: “I really want people to see that it can be comfortable, it can be cozy … and it can be unexpected,” Wolff said. “It’s not just green to be green. It’s green to create a better life for someone.”

How vegans do Passover

Holidays like Passover are a difficult time for Jewish vegans and animal activists, a time of mixed emotions. As much as we love and find relevance in the meaning of the holiday, it’s difficult to be confronted by a table full of the body parts of animals that we love and fight for daily. Some vegans forgo Passover entirely, and some who celebrate with their families feel pressured to defend their ethical choices, or pressured to eat things that conflict with their values. Some are no longer invited to their family’s tables at all.

Last year, my wife and I decided to start a new Passover tradition for our friends: a “veder,” or vegan seder. All of the traditional dishes were served — matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons — in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots.

This year was different. One of our guests, 5-year-old Felix, has been vegan her entire life. She did a great job reading the Four Questions. Yes, not exactly traditional, but the tradition that we are creating is our own.

Not only did we add some interesting new dishes like veganized deviled eggs, cashew-based artisan cheese and a couple of vanilla cakes, my wife and I added two new family members to our tribe: two beagles who were liberated from an animal testing lab in Spain. Frederick and Douglass, named after the former slave and abolitionist leader, were rescued last Thanksgiving by Beagle Freedom Project (  The nonprofit organization works to find homes for former laboratory animals.

Like our ancestors whose story we retell every year about their liberation from Egypt, Frederick and Douglass were liberated from enslavement, too. Hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals suffer in private and university laboratories all over the world as test subjects whose rights and dignity are taken away from them.

Douglass finding the afikomen

Freddie and Douglass’ story is an important story to tell at our veder, because theirs is unique. Most animals in vivisection labs never make it out alive. Most are killed during testing. The ones that survive experiments are killed because they are no longer useful to labs and have no monetary value.

Our veder is really not much different than most others except that as vegans and animal rights activists, we see animals as fellow innocent victims. We decide to include and remember the 10 billion animals who are killed for food each year in the United States, the hundreds of millions in vivisection laboratories, the animals enslaved in zoos, circuses, racetracks and water parks for human entertainment, and the millions killed for fur, leather, wool and silk.

Although being vegan is still outside the mainstream, it is in no way a rejection of the values we grew up with. In fact, the very teachings of Judaism encourage us to question authority, protect those who are most vulnerable, and take action against oppression and injustice — qualities that are common, if not necessary, to vegans and animal activists.

After retelling the Passover story, much food was eaten, and much wine was drunk. As the night was winding down, we noticed Douglass running through the dining room. He found the afikomen before our friend’s daughter! Yet another new tradition at our veder is born.

Farmer, rabbi and maple syrup maker, Shmuel Simenowitz melds Torah and environmentalism

It’s easy to spot Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz at a Jewish food conference, an environmentalist gathering or any of the other progressive-minded confabs he frequents.

Just look for the Chasid in the room.

Simenowitz is an anomaly: a haredi Orthodox Jew, black hat and all, who is equally at home—and equally uneasy—in a roomful of dreadlocked 20-something eco-hipsters as at a Chasidic celebration. He takes flak from the Orthodox for “wasting time” with the foodies and is chided by progressive activists for his commitment to ritual observance.

“I see myself as a post-denominational Torah Jew with Chasidic sensibilities,” he tells JTA, with more than a trace of self-mockery. “I’m an equal-opportunity offender.”

More seriously, he says, not only is there no contradiction between living a Torah-true life and reducing one’s carbon footprint, the two are intertwined.

“I grow my own food, I grow organically, I am a good steward of the earth,” he says. “That’s Torah. I’m a Torah Jew, and my world values are seamlessly integrated into that.”

Simenowitz, 53, is part of a small but growing group of strcitly Orthodox Jews who are getting back to the land—farming organically, raising animals, living lightly on the earth and doing it in the name of Torah.

Fifteen years ago he walked away from a successful career as an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer and moved from the New York suburb of Long Island to an organic farm in Vermont with his wife, Rivki, and two young children. They were becoming observant, and thought the big house and fancy cars wouldn’t help them “grow spiritually” or raise their children with the values they were beginning to hold dear.

The couple planted vegetables, set up a chicken coop and began making maple syrup from the hundreds of maple trees in their 14-acre sugar bush, calling their project Sweet Whisper Farm. Simenowitz used draft horses to plow the fields and carry the maple sap from the trees to his sugar shack, which is modeled on an 18th-century Polish wooden synagogue—one of hundreds destroyed by pogroms, Nazis and years of Communist rule.

Jewish student groups, observant and non-observant, would visit from the big city, and Simenowitz would introduce them to farm work while imparting a little Torah wisdom.

“When I get the yeshiva guys up here, they know their Torah but they need to get their hands in the dirt,” he says. “And when I get the tree-hugging crowd, they say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful sunset,’ and I say, ‘That’s great, but we need to do some learning.’ We’re like spiritual dietitians, giving everybody what they’re missing, trying to bridge that gap.”

Two years ago Simenowitz and his family moved to Baltimore, and they now live in an Orthodox neighborhood of families interested in getting back to the land. One neighbor keeps bees. Another spins her own wool. A third has an organic farm—just the kind of integration for which he and Rivki had been looking.

But Simenowitz still travels to Vermont each spring to work his sugar bush.

About a decade ago, after a disastrous maple harvest season, the sap finally started running on the eve of Passover, right before the first seder, and neighbors poured in from all over to help collect it as fast as they could. But as sundown approached, Simenowitz put down his bucket and said work had to stop. By the time he was permitted by Jewish law to continue working, all the sap had spoiled in the unseasonably hot sun—hundreds of gallons, nearly his entire crop.

The story was featured in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine, and “Someone passed a comment, saying, ‘What kind of God would let that happen when you’re out there doing his thing?’ ” Simenowitz recalls. “And I said, ‘Bottom line, you don’t get hurt doing mitzvahs.’ ”

After the story was published, people started calling from all over to adopt a tree in Simenowitz’s grove; his business was saved.

Simenowitz produces about 100 gallons of maple syrup in a good year, boiled down from 4,000 gallons of raw sap, which is collected from buckets he hangs from his tapped trees. He taps the trees in a pattern, he explains—a little higher or lower each year so as not to damage the tree. The sap is pumped into an evaporator inside the sugar shack, where the water is boiled off to leave behind the syrup, which is about 60 percent sugar.

The operation is kosher certified. There are two major kosher concerns with “pure maple syrup.” First, an observant Jew is required to turn on the evaporator because only an observant Jew is allowed to “light the fire” that cooks a kosher food item. Second, while the sap is boiling, farmers drip animal fat into the mixture to keep it from foaming over the top of its container.

“Traditionally they’d take a piece of pork fat, suspend it from a string and the foam would rise, touch it and go down,” says Simenowitz, who instead uses olive oil, pouring in a drop or two at a time.

Simenowitz, who sells all his maple syrup himself either in person or by mail order, says he sells out every year.

He makes his living as a traveling scholar-in-residence, lecturing about farming in Orthodox venues and teaching Torah to Jewish environmentalists and foodies through Ya’aleh v’Yavo, the Jewish environmentalist project he directs. He also picks up the occasional legal case, to keep the bills paid, and has been tapped by the city of Baltimore to do a comprehensive energy audit on a new Orthodox-friendly commercial building, including designing some of its energy-efficient infrastructure.

Simenowitz doesn’t attend Jewish food conferences anymore, saying he is “tired of being the poster child for the Orthodox.” Jewish environmentalists and eco-foodies need to ground their work in Torah, he says, if they want the Orthodox world to take them seriously.

“The Orthodox are late to the parade,” he acknowledges, but that’s understandable.

“The environmental agenda is often grafted onto a liberal social justice agenda that the Orthodox community can’t accept,” he says. “Part of my program is to fill that breach.”

Simenowitz works closely with Kayam Farm, an organic farm and Jewish educational initiative at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center just outside Baltimore. When he first visited several years ago, he learned that Kayam was based on his farm in Vermont, which the general manager’s daughter had visited as part of a group from the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

“That was really validating,” he says, “to see the seeds I planted take root.”

Balancing resources and lives — being Jewish and ‘green’

I entered the classroom, where more than 30 Jewish adults who had been studying together for the past semester buzzed in conversation. I began class by asking my students a simple question: “Are you concerned about what is happening to our environment and worried about what the future will be for your children and grandchildren?”

Without a single exception, everyone in the room said yes.

Read any newspaper today and you will find stories about the problems that are being created by global warming: water, air and soil pollution; destruction of ecosystems and rain forests, and, of course, our dependency on oil. However, human abuse of our earth is not a new issue or one that has developed solely as a result of technology. Sadly, man’s instinct to destroy the natural world dates back to biblical times.

It seems that we have always needed guidance in how to treat the earth. In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, we are commanded not to cut down fruit-bearing trees during a siege against a city, although we can cut down nonfruit-bearing ones for building materials. This prohibition on destroying (bal tashchit) teaches us two very important lessons: restraint in how we act upon the earth and the value of humility.

What better time could there be to limit the human tendency to act without concern for the earth than in a time of conquest, when we are easily carried away by our own sense of power? Even more significant is the idea of our responsibility for and to future generations. Bal tashchit prohibits us from destroying a source of food that will one day feed the people who survived the battles that are being fought.

Judaism has a lot to say about how to create a balance between using the resources we have and abusing or destroying them. The rabbis and sages greatly expanded the concept of bal tashchit to prohibit the wasting of everyday goods and materials, as well as clogging of wells, release of toxic fumes and chemicals and killing of animals for convenience.

The basic principle they established bears repeating today: While man may use the earth for his needs, he may not use any resource needlessly. But how do we weigh our needs against our excesses? Who decides what is a legitimate use and what is wasteful?

In attempting to answer these questions, we need to look at the purposes for which man was created in the first place. Our first answers are found in Genesis 1: 28, where we learn that man was put on the earth to “fill it and conquer/subdue it,” and in Genesis 2:15, where our Divine purpose is “to work it [the Garden of Eden] and to guard it.” Our marching orders seem clear, or do they?

From the beginning of time, we have had to face the challenge of balancing our obligation to use the environment for our own needs with the responsibility to preserve and protect it. Jewish tradition is rich with ideas, rituals and holidays that enable us to develop a sound Jewish environmental ethic keeping this tension in mind.

Every day, each time we eat, the Jewish menu of kashrut reminds us that the world is ours to use, but that there are limitations on how we can use it. The concept of restricted foods is incrementally introduced in the Torah — first, when God permits Adam to eat only fruits and vegetables and then, later in the Torah, when the Israelites are given a long list of animals, birds and fish that they are no longer permitted to eat — reinforcing the idea that we do not have unrestricted use of the world in which we live.

Jews have a special weekly reminder to help us balance our need to control the environment with caring for it. Shabbat is the original Earth Day: It celebrates the majesty of creation and tells us in no uncertain terms that the earth is for us to enjoy, but that we have a weekly obligation to let it rest, just as we are commanded to rest. On Shabbat, we relinquish our own work in order to pause and reflect on the wonder of creation, rather than to dominate and control it.

The concept of the sabbatical year, or shmita in Hebrew, also helps us develop a continuing environmental awareness by requiring us to refrain from agricultural activity, such as planting, plowing and harvesting during the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated in the Torah. Once again, we are required to limit our use of the earth, which is on loan to us, in order to fulfill our role as stewards.

Recently, much has been written about the concept of ecokashrut, which is the practice of using environmentally friendly, ecocertified kosher foods, goods and materials as a way of sanctifying individual use and consumption. Ecokashrut looks for Jewish solutions to contemporary environmental problems in traditional texts and ideas like tikkun olam (repairing the world), chesed (compassion) and tzedek (justice). It encompasses more than just the food we eat, but the clothing we wear, the cars we drive and the products we use to sustain us.

A Web site sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (

Begone, bygones! Green is the new blue and white


Let Bygones (Not) Be Bygones” (Nov. 7) infuriated me. Marty Kaplan is not happy that Barack Obama was generous to his opponents and their supporters in his victory speech, because in his opinion, they are guilty of lies and character assassination for suggesting the possibility that a Chicago politician who associated with the likes of the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers to launch his political career might not be trusted to always put the best interests of his country above his own political ambitions or the best interests of his political party.

I have never read a more mean-spirited opinion piece, and I urge The Journal to stop printing such garbage.

Steven Novom

The Republicans have smeared many American citizens and disrespected us as human beings, called us traitors, called us un-American, made the word “liberal” into a mocked, disrespectful term, etc.

And many of us would like some accountability. Especially of the kind that lies us into wars and gets our kids killed. Because I am not just going to “get over it.”

How do we get it? What can we do to make sure that happens, because I am behind that campaign?

Bill Davis
Secretary, Democrats Abroad
Melbourne, Australia

Marty Kaplan so eloquently expressed my own disdain for the politics of personal destruction practiced by John McCain and his campaign. We as Jews know only too well that words count and that there are people who can be whipped into committing dangerous acts when encouraged by a leader they respect.

I once had enormous regard for McCain, but it will take me a long time to forgive him after he condoned — expressly or tacitly — the ugly accusations against an honorable opponent. We can’t allow this to be excused as politics as usual. It is unacceptable, dangerous and profoundly un-American. Enough is enough!

Barbara H. Bergen
Los Angeles

It seems a bit disingenuous when Marty Kaplan writes, “Along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions,” right after making so many unsupported accusations against John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and President Bush.

The one quote he does supply is from McCain’s concession speech: “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him [Obama] but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together,” which surely supports the idea that McCain is indeed a class act.

Kenny Laitin
via e-mail

New Jewish Agenda

You could not be more right when you said green is the new blue and white (“A New Jewish Agenda,” Nov. 7). Our community has been slow to grasp this. AIPAC has been slow to grasp it in a meaningful way. There is a sentence or two in its annual policy document but not much by way of content in the annual conference.

The League of Conservation Voters is in the same building as AIPAC in Los Angeles, and I can’t get my friends in each to have coffee. Israel’s percentage of solar energy is 4 percent, which is 1 percent higher than California.

I encourage you to stay on this topic.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

Thou Shalt Not Lie

I can understand why Teresa Strasser would want to lie to her grandmother in order not to break the old woman’s heart by telling her that her Catholic husband was not Jewish (“Thou Shalt Not Lie…ish,” Oct. 31). What I cannot understand is the obvious relish she received from the ruse.

The article made me very sad. If we are lucky enough to live to our 90s, is it better to live out our last days being lied to by our loved ones? When everything else is taken away from you, do you lose the truth as well?

Pat Weiner
Los Angeles

Same-Sex Marriage

Orthodox Judaism doesn’t even recognize civil marriage for Jewish couples (Advertisement, Oct. 31). Besides, we live in a constitutional democracy, not a theocracy. Why do you care that same-sex couples wish to marry?

I am the proud, Jewish father of a wonderful girl, and I was born gay.

I will not tolerate anyone telling my daughter that her family is less legitimate than any other.

William Kaplan
Los Angeles

It is troubling that some Orthodox rabbis have joined with the Christian right to eliminate same-sex civil marriage. Banning same-sex civil marriage is about as relevant to Orthodox Judaism as banning the sale of shellfish.

Jack Rosenfeld
Los Angeles

Policy Statement

We are in complete agreement with your policy statement regarding accepting advertisements (Advertorial, Nov. 7). The Jewish Journal is a paper that speaks to the entire and marvelously diverse Jewish community in greater Los Angeles.

Middie and Richard Giesberg
Los Angeles

Larry and Me

Jews have always felt for the downtrodden and then allowed themselves to be used and abused (“Larry and Me,” Oct. 31). They seem to have short memories and choose to overlook important issues. Since Larry Greenfield disagrees with you, you consider him wrong. No, you are. You prefer to believe in fiction, not facts.

There are plenty of Jewish Republicans who see the world more clearly than you, but you ridicule them. Thank God for Greenfield, who presents the real world, not the dream world.

Robert Reyto
Los Angeles

The Dead Sea is dying and it’s a ‘man-made disaster’

EIN GEDI, Israel (JTA)—The beach at the Ein Gedi Spa at the Dead Sea would seem like an ideal place for a little R&R amid the frenzy of modern Israel.

Set in the quiet of the desert, it has stunning views of Jordan’s mountains and its therapeutic waters reputedly do wonders for the complexion.

There’s only one problem at this beach: The sea is gone.

In its place are empty lifeguard towers and abandoned beach umbrellas lodged in the parched earth that make a mockery of the Dead Sea’s quiet retreat.

The sea actually still exists, but it’s smaller, shallower and much more distant than it once was—some 160 feet from the original beach built at Ein Gedi. The Dead Sea is shrinking because nearly every source of water that feeds into this iconic tourist destination has been cut off, diverted or polluted over the last half century.

“This is a completely man-made disaster,” says Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an international environmental group. “There is nothing natural about this.”

A tram now shuttles visitors from the abandoned beach at Ein Gedi to the new beach, which sits at more than 1,300 feet below sea level. Thirty years ago this beach was submerged under water. In 10 years it likely will be dry, too, and the visitors’ ramp again will have to be extended to reach the sea.

By 2025, the sea is expected to be at 1,440 feet below sea level.

The shrinking of the Dead Sea has become an issue of grave concern for environmentalists, industries that produce Dead Sea-related products and Israel’s tourism sector, which worries that the visitors who come here from all over the world will disappear along with the sea.

To environmentalists, the shrinking of the sea is an environmental disaster that left unchecked could devastate the region in the coming decades.

The sea’s retreat already has spawned thousands of dangerous sinkholes. Created by retreating groundwater washing away salt deposits that had supported a surface layer of sand, the sinkholes have decimated beaches, nature reserves and agricultural fields in the area.

Future development along the northern rim of the sea has been suspended indefinitely, and the sinkholes have taken a toll on the area’s roads. Route 90, the Israeli highway that runs north-south along the Dead Sea’s western shore, has had to be rebuilt several times because of sinkholes opening up in its path.

In the meantime, the shifting groundwater has wreaked havoc with the natural oases and springs near the sea. Some natural habitats have been destroyed, and with them the feeding grounds of indigenous wildlife. Ornithologists say the annual migration of birds to this area—the third-largest migration in the world—has begun to taper off.

Perhaps most significantly for the people who live in the region, the economic consequences of the sea’s retreat have been staggering for agriculture and tourism.

“This has cost us more than $25 million since 1995, when the sinkholes started opening up,” Merav Ayalon, a spokeswoman for Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the largest Israeli town at the Dead Sea, said.

The kibbutz has had to close its resort village—though it still operates guest houses—abandon its groves of date palms and forego any expansion plans because it is virtually locked in now by mountains or unsafe, shifting ground.

Farther south, at the cluster of hotels on the Israeli side of the sea, hotels built decades ago along the Dead Sea’s shores have preserved their beaches only thanks to an artificial pool of sea water. The pool, which is connected to the Dead Sea, is maintained by Dead Sea Works, the massive mineral extraction plant whose operations have accelerated the sea’s disappearance through wholesale evaporation of water.

If not for the artificial pool, the hotels would be in the desert, since the southern portion of the Dead Sea no longer exists. Though visitors cannot tell that the hotels’ beaches are artificially maintained, hoteliers say they fear potential tourists are deterred from coming to the region because they think the sea’s retreat has left the hotels high and dry.

“Tourists from abroad don’t know exactly where the sea is located and where the sinkholes are, so they don’t come as much anymore,” said Avi Levy, who used to be the general manager of the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea but now works at the franchise’s hotel in Tel Aviv. “Also, I think, there is antagonism that we are allowing such a valuable site as the Dead Sea to be destroyed.”

Agricultural industries in Israel, Jordan and Syria siphon water from the rivers that used to feed into the Dead Sea, diverting the water flow for agricultural use. This, along with the dumping of sewage by these countries and the Palestinian Authority, has turned the Jordan River, the sea’s main tributary, from the voluminous flow described in the Bible to a muddy, polluted dribble that doesn’t even reach the Dead Sea anymore during the summer months.

In addition, companies like Dead Sea Works are removing water from the sea at a rate of about 150 million cubic meters per year to get at the lucrative minerals beneath the water. The minerals are used to produce chemical products for export such as potash and magnesium chloride.

Potash can be used to make glass, soap and fertilizer, and magnesium chloride can be used in the manufacture of foodstuffs and roadway deicing products.

The work of these companies has turned what once was the southern portion of the sea into a massive industrial site.

At the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, about 1.4 billion cubic meters of water per year flowed into the Dead Sea. That total has shrunk to 100 million cubic meters, much of it polluted. Today the only fresh water the sea gets is from underground springs and rainwater. With inadequate fresh water, the sea has become more salty and oleaginous.

Scientists estimate that the Dead Sea needs at least 650 million cubic meters of water per year in order to stabilize over the next two decades.

Short of a major change in water-use policy, which environmentalists say is imperative, the Dead Sea will continue to shrink at its current rate of 3.2 to 3.5 feet per year until it reaches an equilibrium in 100 to 200 years at some 1,800 feet below sea level, experts say.

There are two main ideas for stabilizing the Dead Sea.

Environmentalists want to restore flow to the sea from the Jordan River. But that would require a sharp reduction in the use of Jordan River water for agricultural and domestic consumption, as well as cooperation between the Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians. At this point, neither seems likely.

The other idea is to construct a canal to bring salt water to the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, some 125 miles to the south. Championed by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli real estate magnate Isaac Tshuva, among others, this plan envisions the construction of up to 200,000 new hotel rooms and the transformation of the desert along the channel’s route into an Israeli-Jordanian “peace valley.”

Notwithstanding the enormous financial costs of such an enterprise—$3 billion to $5 billion—scientists say bringing salt water to a sea that heretofore has been fed only by fresh water has unknown risks.

“A decision like this cannot be made without checking the ecological impact on the environment,” said Noam Goldstein, project manager at Dead Sea Works, which has made a fortune extracting minerals like potash, table salt and bromide from the Dead Sea. “It’s possible that with a canal the sea will turn brown or red. It’s possible it will stink because of the introduction of new chemical and biological substances into the water.”

The World Bank is conducting a $14 million study into the practicalities of the channel, dubbed the Red-to-Dead Canal.

For the time being, no solution to the problem of the Dead Sea has moved beyond the review stage. Meanwhile, with the Holy Land facing its worst drought in 80 years, the sea continues to disappear.

Good Morning America visited the Dead Sea in 2006


Red-Dead canal idea stirs controversy

HERZLIYA, Israel (JTA) – On aerial photographs, the shrinking Dead Sea juts into the surrounding desert landscape like a blue index finger.

As part of the effort to prevent this finger from becoming a mere smudge on the map by 2050, the World Bank is conducting a $14 million study into the practicalities of building a channel to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which is shrinking rapidly due to evaporation and upstream water diversion.

Proponents say the plan could rescue the Dead Sea while supplying desalinated water and hydroelectric power to the region.

“We will have to balance the technological, environmental and economic issues at the heart of this complex study,” Peter Darley, the team leader of the feasibility part of the World Bank study, said at a public hearing last week in Herzliya.

Similar public hearings were held earlier in the week in Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The governments of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, all of which stand to benefit from such a project, had asked the World Bank to fund and oversee the study on the implications of building a 112-mile long conveyance system—either a canal or pipeline—to bring the water to the Dead Sea.

The idea has come under intense fire from Israeli environmentalists and water experts, who argue that more time than the year currently allotted needs to be devoted to studying the possible scientific consequences of the project.

They cite the potential environmental damages the project could cause, whether it be to the fragile coral reefs of the Red Sea or the unique Dead Sea ecosystem. They say alternatives must be studied in tandem by independent-minded international consultants—not representatives of the three governments involved, as is currently proposed.

“It’s like asking a cat to guard a bowl of milk,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Bromberg and other critics of the canal plan charge that the Israeli, Jordanian and P.A. governments are interested in the canal solution because the international community might foot the bill for it as a massive desalinization or peace project.

Alex McPhail, the program manager at the World Bank who is overseeing the overall study of the project, says the bank is being methodical and scientific in its approach. He noted that the World Bank’s approach consists of three parts: a feasibility study, an environmental impact study and a report on alternative solutions.

“It’s an environmental question mark and that’s why we are doing these studies,” McPhail said. “It’s very important that we examine and understand all the potential environmental implications.”

Proponents of the canal project argue that the project could be a one-stop solution for replenishing the waters of the Dead Sea, generating energy, and providing drinking and agricultural water for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians.

The project also is being touted as a rare symbol of regional cooperation.

“There is an interest internationally in saving the Dead Sea and this could also help bring water to the region that badly needs it,” said Uri Schor, a spokesman for the Israeli Water Authority.

Addressing environmentalists’ concerns, he added, “That is why everything is being checked out first.”

“We need to check all the options. If the project is deemed unsuitable, then we won’t do it. But if there are no problems found, then why shouldn’t we pursue it?”

Some developers see the project dubbed the Red-Dead Canal as a potential boon.

Isaac Tshuva, the Israeli real estate magnate, has answered President Shimon Peres’ vision for a so-called Peace Valley to be built along the canal—a corridor of shimmering skyscrapers, casinos, man-made lakes and 200,000 hotel rooms. That’s more hotels rooms than currently exist in all of Israel. The vision is for a new tourist and industrial mecca that planners hope would draw as many as 3 million Israelis to live in the region.

The project, whose scale would be unprecedented in Israel, has been described as Las Vegas meets Dubai in the Arava Desert.

Its detractors roundly condemn it as an environmental nightmare.

In 2007, when Peres was Israel’s minister in charge of Negev and Galilee development, a government decision declared the Peace Valley project and the canal as national projects.

At the time, some environmentalists warned that political and business interests were being mixed too closely at the potential expense of the environment.

Baruch Spiegel, Peres’ adviser for regional affairs, rejects any such notions.

The government made its decision to prioritize the project because of Israel’s water crisis and the shrinking of the Dead Sea, he told JTA. The Dead Sea’s water levels are dropping by about 3.2 to 3.5 feet per year.

“This is a major vision of the president of Israel—to use water and energy as a catalyst for peace and stability,” Spiegel said, emphasizing that environmental concerns will come first and any development that follows will have to adhere to strict guidelines.

“All options are being examined very carefully,” he said. “But without a project, things will get worse.”

Some Israeli and Arab environmentalists say the Jordan River, historically the main source for the Dead Sea’s water, should be rehabilitated rather than undertaking such a complex and expensive project as the canal. They also suggest reforms in the chemical industries on both sides of the sea, which are blamed for contributing to the Dead Sea’s dwindling water levels.

Among the environmentalists’ main concerns is that mixing Dead Sea and Red Sea water could damage the Dead Sea’s unique ecosystem, leading to growth of algae that could change the color and buoyancy of the water. That would also damage the tourism industry that has sprung up around the Dead Sea in both Israel and Jordan.

Others note that if the salty marine water from a canal or pipeline were to leak, it could seep into the ground water and contaminate local aquifers. There are also concerns that the coral reefs of the Red Sea could be harmed by the pumping out of so much of its water.

“I’m worried,” Yehoshua Shkedi, chief scientist of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said at last week’s hearing in Herzliya. “I have a feeling not enough money or time is being given to research to answer major questions. Good studies have to be done.”

For Gundi Shahal, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which sits near the banks of the Dead Sea, the questions about the canal plan are not just academic.

“Who will take responsibility for the impact on our lives, livelihoods and what we call home?” she asked at last week’s hearing.

Save the Dead Sea by restoring the Jordan River, not a canal to the Red Sea

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Environmentalists in Israel and the Middle East have a clear vision on how to save the Dead Sea, which has been losing 850 million cubic meters per year thanks to water diversion upstream and mineral extraction at the sea.

This vision sees fresh water flowing again into the Dead Sea from the Jordan River, arresting the sea’s declining water levels. It envisions Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities that live along the Jordan River benefiting collectively from a revitalized economy based on shared water and sustainable tourism, including Christian pilgrimages to holy sites on the rehabilitated river.

This vision, however, could not be more different from that of the World Bank, Israeli President Shimon Peres or Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva.

Their solution is to build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which they say also will counter water scarcity in the region and bolster peace ties. Along the route of the canal, in the Arava Valley, Peres and Tshuva have proposed building artificial lakes, casinos, Dubai-style skyscrapers and 200,000 hotel rooms.

Ignoring the environmental impact of their plan is a grave mistake.

The Red-to-Dead canal plan places the fragile coral reefs of the Jordanian city of Akaba and the Israeli city of Eilat at risk. Pumping 2 billion cubic meters of water out of the Red Sea could alter water temperatures in the Red Sea Gulf.

Transporting seawater in a pipeline or open canal through the Arava Valley, an area where earthquakes regularly occur, likely would lead to spills and the salinization of groundwater. And the development ideas Peres and Tshuva harbor for the route of the canal would transform the unique desert landscape of the rift valley in the Arava into a Las Vegas-type strip mall.

The canal plan jeopardizes the Dead Sea as well. Scientists are now vocal in their concerns that mixing sea water with the unique minerals of the Dead Sea could lead to the growth of algae and turn the Dead Sea’s waters from deep blue to reddish brown.

By contrast, rehabilitating the Jordan River would strengthen existing but all-but-forgotten Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley by bringing an influx of tourists and investment to the struggling region. New infrastructure would have to be built to accommodate the tourists, helping revitalize a region that is home to 350,000 people.

Rehabilitating the river would not require restoring its historical flow of 1.3 billion cubic meters per year. We can make do with just a quarter of that, 350 million.

To do so, however, we have to stop drawing so much water out of the Jordan’s tributaries, including Lake Kinneret.

How? Studies show that Israel could reduce domestic water consumption by 30 percent by promoting a combination of policy directives, from education for water conservation to pricing reforms. Rainwater harvesting, waterless toilets and low-water-use appliances need to be supported by legislation and grants. Domestic water measures would save some 200 million cubic meters of water per year.

The balance would have to come from reforms in the agriculture sector, which consumes about 500 million cubic meters of fresh water per year. Water authorities and environmentalists already agree that Israeli agriculture should be based solely on recycling treated sewage water. But while the water authorities want the savings to go toward satisfying increased urban demand for water, environmentalists want to see the saved water returned to nature, including the Jordan River.

The vision of Friends of the Earth Middle East is to decouple population and economic growth from increased freshwater demand. Our region, not Europe, should be the model for ingenuity in water conservation.

As for the Dead Sea, we believe the sea’s water level should be stabilized, not restored to its historical levels, last seen around 1930. Some 850 million cubic meters of water would be needed per year for stabilization.

If the aforementioned water reforms are applied in Israel and Jordan, a revived Jordan River could supply 500 million cubic meters of that, solving 60 percent of the problem. The 350 million balance must come from the mineral extraction companies at the Dead Sea, which are responsible for 40 percent of the water that leaves the Dead Sea every year.

It’s time that the Israeli and Jordanian publics demand that the enormous profits being earned by these companies—Dead Sea Works in Israel and the Arab Potash Company in Jordan—be invested in new technology to extract minerals without evaporating so much Dead Sea water.

The demise of the Dead Sea is man-made. Environmentalists should not be condemned for insisting on looking at the causes of the demise: upstream water diversion and mineral extraction.

Our vision is based on water sharing, water conservation technologies, sustainable agriculture and sustainable tourism. The Peres-Tshuva-World Bank vision may lead to ecological disaster.

Gidon Bromberg is the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East,, a regional environmental organization that brings Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to work together in a common effort in search of peace and sustainability.

VIDEO: A Sacred Duty — A Jewish response to threats to our environment

From the Internet Archive:

A Major Documentary on Current Environmental Threats and How Jewish Teachings Can Be Applied in Responding to These Threats.

Produced by Emmy-Award-winning producer, director, writer, and cinematographer Lionel Friedberg, A SACRED DUTY will take its place alongside Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and Leonardo di Caprio’s THE ELEVENTH HOUR as another powerful expose of the dangers of global warming. However, it goes beyond the latter two films, by showing how religious responses can make a major difference and why a shift toward plant-based diets is an essential part of efforts to reduce global climate change and other environmental threats.

This item is part of the collection: Open Source Movies

Producer: Lionel Friedberg and the JVNA
Audio/Visual: sound, color
Language: English (hebrew Subtitles)
Keywords: Global warming, ecology, enviroment, Judaism, Vegetarianism, Israel, Tora,

From security to the environment — L.A. and Israel exchange ideas


L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Western Wall. Photo courtesy the Mayor’s Office

Last week’s emotion-packed visit to Sderot by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a delegation of senior city officials, leaders of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Israel Leadership Club and several Los Angeles clergy might have received much of the trip’s media coverage during the group’s weeklong stay in Israel. However, it’s the meetings between city and Israeli experts in homeland security, counterterrorism and green technology that could have a significant effect on the way Los Angeles and Israel protect their citizens, institutions and natural resources.

Security and anti-terrorism personnel held working meetings at Ben-Gurion Airport and at the Israeli National Police Training Center, while energy experts shared expertise at Tel Aviv’s partially cleaned-up Yarkon River and during a CleanTech roundtable that showcased the best in Israeli green ingenuity.

At Ashdod Port, the clearinghouse for almost all goods imported to and exported from Israel, officials from the Port of Los Angeles explained to their Israeli counterparts how they have significantly reduced air and water pollution.

Although most members of the Los Angeles team began their trip in stiff business attire, the combination of intense heat and the laid-back Israeli style of conducting business prompted many to doff jackets and remove ties.

At Ben-Gurion Airport, the country’s bustling hub of incoming and outgoing civilian traffic, Nahum Liss, director of security planning, control and projects for the Israel Airport Authority, noted how two fatal terror attacks at the airport in 1973 and 1976, respectively, led to today’s stringent security measures.

“I was sitting about 30 meters away when a terrorist blew himself up, along with one of the women doing a security check,” Liss recalled, his ordinarily booming voice growing quiet.

As tragic as this and other attacks have been, they have added to the learning curve, the airport executive stressed.

“We can tell you how to prevent such cases,” Liss told Gina Marie Lindsey, director of the Los Angeles World Airport, LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara and others. “The challenge is finding ways to minimize the hassle to passengers and disruptions to airport operations.”

Liss said Ben-Gurion’s new arrivals terminal “was planned from day one with security personnel.”

While leading a tour of the sparkling facility, a huge open space with soaring glass windows on the entry side, he pointed out the absence of the kind of armed personnel you see in many major American airports. Starting from the sidewalk and ending with the section where security officers hand-searched the luggage of a youth sports team, Liss noted the absence of armed personnel.

“We’re fighting for every tourist and don’t want to remind them of what they saw on CNN the day before,” he said. Nor are there any sniffer dogs, Liss pointed out, “because they remind many Israelis of concentration camps during the Holocaust.”

Instead, Liss said, airport security is almost invisible.

“There are layers of security,” Liss said, glancing at a clean-cut plainclothes guard with short, cropped hair loitering just outside one of the entrances to the terminal. “There are personnel stationed outside watching the cars and passengers,” he said, as well as structural precautions like concrete balustrades preventing cars from getting too close to the terminal and shatterproof glass enmeshed with steel on the windows.

The airport also employs the most advanced technology, from cameras to luggage scanners, and relies heavily on the intuition of security personnel, who believe someone carrying a bomb behaves differently from other passengers. Which is not to say that even the most innocent of passengers is not occasionally subjected to a thorough interrogation.

“We have much to learn from you,” Villaraigosa said, clearly impressed, just before signing a memorandum of understanding that will bring Israeli airport experts to Los Angeles for regular inspections, beginning in the near future.

“It’s not lost on us that Michael Chertoff,” head of U.S. homeland security, “signed an agreement with Israel to share technology and methods to improve homeland security,” the mayor said. Lindsey, however, admitted that Los Angeles International is more difficult to secure than Ben-Gurion Airport.

“We have nine terminals, and whereas Ben-Gurion has one central concourse and the baggage area is more centralized, we have several,” Lindsey said. “Even so, we hope the Israelis will share their experience on how to better secure the airport’s periphery.”

Green endowments mean big returns for nonprofit

Two years ago, Camp Ramah in California embarked upon a major solar energy project, effectively becoming the first Jewish overnight camp west of the Mississippi to adopt greener energy options. With the installation of a solar energy system atop the dining hall of our 75-acre Ojai campgrounds, Ramah has become a leader in the Jewish community when it comes to reducing environmental pollution and dependence on foreign oil. The system purchased by Ramah is designed to reduce toxic emissions by approximately 4.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 11,000 pounds of nitrous oxide and 35,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide over the life of the system.

Jewish tradition teaches us to respect nature and the environment. The basic principle of environmentalism is found in the Psalms — “To God belongs the earth and all it contains” (Psalms 24:1). By both using and educating about solar energy, Ramah is creating generations of Jewish leaders who will embrace the principles of environmental stewardship. By decreasing our use of traditional energy sources, Ramah is also helping America and Israel to become more secure by reducing the world’s dependence on oil. The 800 campers we house every summer will learn respect for the preservation of our planet’s natural resources and the power of partnering with nature to benefit the planet’s inhabitants now and in the future — as well as learning the importance of tzedakah, which is making this all possible.

Ramah’s solar energy installation was made possible by a donor who wanted to make an environmental and educational impact, as well as generate good financial return for camp. Ramah alumnus and parent David Braun donated $500,000 toward the project. Here’s how he views his gift:

“The donation is a gift that keeps on giving as savings continue to be generated for decades, greatly increasing the ultimate size of the donation,” Braun said. “By lowering Ramah’s long-term overhead it will effectively increase the monies available for other functions of camp.”

Ramah also has a traditional cash endowment fund that Braun could have chosen for his donation. But the long-term savings generated by Ramah’s solar energy project make a strong case for providing new options for donors who wish to help the Jewish community and the earth simultaneously.

In 2007, Ramah’s solar energy installation generated $36,000 in savings for camp. With a net cost of $475,000 for the project, that is a 13.2 percent annual return on investment. As electricity costs rise every year, Ramah’s solar energy installation will likely generate even greater savings with the passage of time.

Going green is a new way for institutions to think about fundraising. A solar installation need only generate 5 percent to 6 percent in savings in order to keep pace with a traditional endowment, which would need to generate an 8 percent annual return in order to for the endowment principle to keep up with inflation. Thus, the solar installation reduces an institution’s carbon footprint and provides a financially viable alternative to cash endowments. Jewish institutions can investigate for themselves whether going solar will reduce their electric bills by 5 percent of the original installation cost per year, and may consider soliciting major gifts to fund their transition to greener energy options.

By investing in energy-saving alternatives, Jewish nonprofits would, in effect, be cultivating a new community of donors who are interested in making an environmental impact, and who have not yet been involved in Jewish communal giving. These donors would use their clout to help the institutions they support fulfill the moral imperative to reduce the threat of global warming in our time. They would also help reduce the world’s dependence on oil-rich countries that threaten Israel’s and America’s long-term security. On a national level, we could create a Jewish community solar capital fund, which might bring an environmentally conscious group of donors together who want to make this kind of difference in the Jewish community. Jewish organizations could access the fund to create their own solar energy systems, thus tapping into the savings generated by reduced electricity costs and freeing up cash for programs.

As it stands under current tax law, nonprofit organizations that choose to make the switch to solar energy are at a distinct disadvantage compared with their corporate counterparts. Currently, corporations choosing to install solar energy systems receive myriad benefits, including generous tax credits, as well as an accelerated five-year depreciation cycle. Because nonprofits are tax-exempt, they are not eligible to receive these money-saving incentives that would make going green that much easier.

Let us unite as a community to herald a new age in energy conservation, both to reduce our carbon footprint and to create a more secure world. As a community, we can do something to change the status quo. I have been in contact with a number of elected officials who are working to create new legislation that would allow nonprofits to take advantage of tax benefits available to corporations.

In February, I was privileged to attend the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly Convention in Washington D.C. While in our nation’s Capitol, I met with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas) and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Philadelphia), who are members of the House Ways and Means Committee. I also met with senior legislative assistants for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who has been active in pushing for legislative change on this issue, and Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Los Angeles), who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Thanks to these elected officials, discussions are now underway in Congress to change legislation, leveling the playing field for nonprofit organizations to embrace energy alternatives. It is my hope that within the next six months to a year, new legislation will pass that would encourage motivated donors to purchase solar installations and rent them out to nonprofits, all the while receiving the tax write-offs available to corporations. Once all tax benefits are received, the donor would then “sell” the installation to the nonprofit. These tax benefits would greatly increase the monetary savings a solar energy system would provide.

In going solar, we feel confident that we’ve invested our donor’s funds well. With a change in legislation, we could have built a system that was 60 percent to 70 percent larger, increasing our annual savings significantly. Let’s write our representatives and encourage them to act now to help America’s nonprofits go green. The 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States stand to gain much from the effort, and true to its tradition of tikkun olam, the Jewish community would lead the charge toward environmental stewardship on the national stage.

Rabbi Daniel Greyber is the executive director of Camp Ramah in California and the Zimmer Conference Center of the American Jewish University.

The poisoning of Beverly Hills High

Joy Horowitz’s “Parts Per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School” (Viking) is a dense 350-page book detailing a four-year fight between 1,000 litigants who claimed oil wells at the school caused diseases, such as cancer, and defendants — including the oil companies, the city of Beverly Hills and school officials — who said there had been no harmful effects from the (profitable) derricks.

Could it be true that leakage from the derricks and power plant caused incidences of cancer up to three times more than normal, as some experts claim?

Or were people like Erin Brockovich, the celebrity environmental paralegal who took on the case, “ambulance chasers” and “fear-mongerers” relying on junk science, as defendants like Beverly Hills city officials and school administrators said?

As the case is being appealed — with a partial settlement offer of $10
million from one oil company — Horowitz, who will receive the Environmental Hero of 2008 award from the Environmental Relief Center on Jan. 31, believes the wells continue to endanger.

The author of “Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter’s Story,” and the recipient, with her siblings, of the settlement of a case against tobacco companies fought on behalf of her late father, Horowitz spoke to The Jewish Journal about the complicated nuances of the lawsuit, why she thinks her message in “Parts Per Million” has been silenced, how the Jewish community sits at the center of the case and to what lengths people will go to protect their lifestyle.

Jewish Journal: How did you become involved in this story?
Joy Horowitz: I graduated in 1971 and went to my 30th reunion — it was a year late, in the summer of 2002. A lot of my classmates, whom I was looking forward to seeing, had died. They’d had cancer — some of them had multiple cancers. When you’re a person in your 40s, that’s too young. Then the following February of 2003, that’s when Erin Brockovich descended on Beverly Hills and started making these allegations between cancer and young graduates. I was very skeptical, but the more I looked into it, the more I found that what was being said publicly was not the reality of what was going on.

Parts Per MillionJJ: What was going on?
JH: You’ve got these two industrial sites [the oil derricks and the Sempra power plant], operating at a high school in Beverly Hills.
Over time, there was a major litigation filed, and the number of people with cancer mushroomed. What started off as about 28 graduates with cancer mushroomed into 1,000 plaintiffs, some 400 with cancer. The community said these emissions are inconsequential to the children’s health. There are epidemiological studies that suggest otherwise.

JJ: What kind of evidence was there linking disease to the oil wells and power plants?
JH: It depends who you talk to. As far as Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) goes, there were three epidemiological studies:
1) The Los Angeles cancer registry found threefold excess of thyroid cancer among young men living adjacent to Beverly Hills High School. But the author of that study said that her findings lacked statistical significance, so it wasn’t really an issue. (Her husband was working as a consultant for one of the defendants.)
2) Richard Clapp’s study, out of Boston University’s School for Public Health Research, found excess rates of cancer among graduates of BHHS from 1990-2000 — threefold for Hodgkin’s disease, twice the expected amount of thyroid cancer and elevated rates of testicular cancer — but he was working for the plaintiff’s law firm, so his study was ruled inadmissible by the judge, because it hadn’t been peer-reviewed and published.
3) There was a study that was never made public by Philip Cole, a retired epidemiologist who did a lot of work for industry at the University of Alabama. The school district cited Dr. Cole’s study as evidence that there wasn’t a higher rate of cancer among students at Beverly Hills High School, but the study was never made public, so I don’t know what the study is.

JJ: In November 2006, the judge summarily dismissed the first 12 plaintiff’s cases. In October 2007, Frontier Oil offered a $10 million settlement to plaintiffs. Why do you think that happened?
JH: For a couple of reasons. In order to get to trial relatively quickly — it still took three years — they had both the defense and plaintiffs agree to select six cancers. The strongest cases never got to court.
The other thing is the defendants, which included Sempra and Chevron, Frontier Oil and Venoco, continued to be willing to spend an unbelievable amount of money to defend these cases.

JJ: What do you think should be done now?
JH: Nobody has ever done a cohort study comparing the population at [this] high school to another high school. That would be a really good first step.

JJ: Why didn’t they do that?
JH: They didn’t want to invest in that. Had they invested in that, as opposed to all this money they spent on the lawsuit, that might have been an interesting step, but instead, they took great pains to keep information from getting public.
By and large, public health officials hate doing cluster investigations, because they’re almost impossible to determine, to establish a link between environmental factors and clusters. And statistically, it could just be by chance that there are all these extra cancers in this particular area. Historically, there have been very few proven. Most of the clusters that are proven are among occupational workers exposed to very high levels of carcinogens. The classic one is asbestos exposure, and mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lung), which my dad got from smoking Kents with a filter. My dad died in 1996.
JJ: Was that part of the motivation for your book?

Take Tu B’Shevat to heart and start healing nature

These are the times for which Tu B’Shevat was created. The rabbis who envisioned this holiday were prophetic: They knew we would need to be reminded on a regular basis about howimportant trees are to our lives. And trees have never been more important to our survival than they are today.

Trees heal and protect us. They are our planet’s life support system. In our collective ignorance, we’ve unwittingly done so much damage to the natural systems upon which our lives depend that their ability to support us has been severely compromised. Climate change is just one consequence unfolding today.

So what do trees do? Most of us know they produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. Less obvious is the crucial role trees and forests play in moderating climate, preventing floods, filtering water pollution, ensuring water supply, lowering energy demands and preventing skin cancer.

Trees don’t ask for anything as they perform these services. As a result, humans forget how important they are. When we forget or no longer understand our need for trees and forests, we also neglect the need to plant, nurture and protect them. The result? Havoc.

Throughout history, as civilizations have forgotten and allowed forests to be destroyed, they’ve perished. It’s a fairly simple cycle. When trees and forests are cut down, they are replaced with deserts. Floods, erosion, desertification, drought and famine replace fertile soil, abundance and stability. Our rabbis knew this. People forget.

Today, climate change provides an urgent reminder of the connections between trees and life support. At the most basic level, more trees equals more carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.

But in Los Angeles, trees do much more. As trees shade asphalt surfaces, they reduce overall urban temperatures. Properly planted trees can reduce the “urban heat island effect” by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As trees shade buildings, they reduce our need for air conditioning. One mature tree located for maximum shade can reduce a homeowner’s energy bills by as much as 10 percent.

Perhaps even more important is trees’ potential for reducing what is the largest single use of electricity in the state of California — the 20 percent of our state’s energy required to run the pumps that bring water to Los Angeles.

But don’t Los Angeles’ trees use this water? To some extent they do. But over their lifetime, if appropriately planted and cared for, trees can provide amazing water conservation services. Essentially, trees recharge our groundwater. Think of them as nature’s sponges.

Imagine a typical L.A. winter rainstorm. First picture the water as it hits our typical cityscape of driveways, parking lots and streets. The drops hit the ground and quickly surge, picking up toxins and trash and washing through storm drains into the sea, polluting, wasting and costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year in water and flood control costs.

Now picture this rainwater as it lands on a tree. Imagine a healthy, mature tree — one surrounded by mulched earth. Here the rain’s fall is broken as it hits the canopy of leaves, where it is softened and slowed down. From there, the water drips gradually into the ground, cleaned and filtered through the soil as it goes.

A very large, mature oak tree (with a 100-foot diameter canopy) in a deeply mulched setting can retain as much as 57,000 gallons of water — two swimming pools’ worth — over an average year. That’s water that, if allowed to soak into our local aquifer, could help replace the water we transport (with fossil fuels) from the Colorado River and other distant sources.

What I’ve just described is the forest’s natural water cycle — it’s what operated in our region before we came along and in our ignorance, disregarded, overpaved and broke it. At TreePeople, the organization I’ve led for more than 34 years, our dream is to restore this cycle and in the process heal our city and make it sustainable.

How do we do that? We are working with volunteers from communities across the county to literally break up the concrete and asphalt and put the forest back in place. We are educating people about all the things that a forest can do and engaging them to bring those natural cycles back.

Clearly we have a big job. At one time, Los Angeles was a lovely, natural ecosystem. Now the city is two-thirds paved.

We have become one of the most unsustainable urban areas on the planet. But we can turn that around. And it can start with you this Tu B’Shevat if we take Tu B’Shevat to heart and engage in stewardship and healing of nature, so that nature can heal and protect us.

Everyone can play a role in this healing. You can plant trees in your home landscape, schoolyards, streets and parking lots. You can do this as an individual, a family, a congregation, business or club. You can plant fruit trees with low-income families to help increase their access to nutrition. You can work with your neighbors to green and beautify your neighborhoods and restore your connection with community.

You can also be an advocate for sufficient county and city funding to ensure that public trees are properly cared for.

To successfully do this healing work requires learning the tree lessons we’ve forgotten and adding new skills of community engagement to ensure the new trees can both survive and thrive.

TreePeople can be a resource. We provide training, tools, resources and volunteers to help people bring green to schools, streets, parks and damaged natural areas.

These truly are the times Tu B’Shevat was created for. To honor the deepest intent of the holiday, consider making a deeper commitment to trees and the environment. Consider making it a priority to heal and restore our natural systems all year round. In the balance is a chance to repair the significant damage we’ve done, and a chance to be a healing force that benefits us all.

Andy Lipkis is the founder of TreePeople.

Not so awful being green, honorable menschen

Greening Hypocrisy

Just read your article in the green edition of The Jewish Journal and bravo (“End Hypocrisy Now,” Jan. 4). Thank goodness someone finally said something. I am a filmmaker and environmental educator living in the Fairfax district, and I can’t tell you how shocking I find the indifference to the problems at hand from the Orthodox community as a whole. It absolutely astounds me. I have taught the course I created to a number of schools in Los Angeles and until just recently have had no interest from religious day schools. Thankfully, I will be teaching at YULA next week and Shalhevet in February, but I’m amazed by the wall I have faced. As you put so well in your piece, it seems that of all people Orthodox Jews should embrace the concept for their sake, for Israel’s sake, and for the sake of the planet that Hashem created for them. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work.

Dave Chameides

What a great editorial. Thank you!

You are right — the one thing Jews agree on is the need for America to achieve energy independence. And not just Jews think so!

Thank you also for the example you set in driving a bio-diesel car and for the cleverness to show its ease in a video.

I just hope you’re not in the hospital right now … ha, ha!

Brave — Kudos!

Jennifer Kutner
StandWithUs Publicist

Congratulations Mr. Eshman, another article on the need for a Green Revolution, energy independence and global warming. While you’re patting yourself on the back at the next dinner party, consider just a few ways that innovation has been treated in the United States in the last 30 years, mostly by those on the left side of the aisle.

Consider the following: Nuclear power provides a huge chunk of energy in France and just a small percentage of that in the U.S. The nuclear power industry has been stymied by those who alarmed the population of “pending disaster” if these power plants proliferated across the country. As a result, no new nuclear plant has been built in many years. I don’t think that France “glows in the dark” from it’s use of nuclear energy.

You might have used your editorial power to better effect if you would ask your readers to truly support sources of power, other than oil, with constructive action to help companies through the tangled web of regulations, which have prevented the above ideas from becoming reality. It’s truly sad that a great number of our country’s “intellegentsia” have wasted so much time and money doing the exact opposite.

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Go Neutral

As the lead staff person in the Los Angeles Jewish National Fund (JNF) office, I was elated to open our mail and find your Green Issue (Jan. 4). I flipped instantly to Jane Ulman’s cover story, “What Would Noah Do?” as I was an attendee at the meeting with the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. JNF, as many realize, has been a leader in environmental preservation, so our attendance at such an event was a natural fit. I was happy to see you mentioned our organization’s online calculator to help families and individuals see their carbon footprint.

My face and excitement fell, however, when I turned the page and read the paragraph about our new green initiative, GoNeutral. Ulman states, “Jewish National Fund kicked off its Go Neutral campaign for individuals or organizations that want to reduce their carbon footprint by planting trees.” This is, in fact, only a piece of GoNeutral. We, of course, still very much believe in the importance of planting trees in Israel, and certainly this is a component of our initiative. However, GoNeutral also includes pieces of education for youth ages K-university level on how to reduce their effect on the environment (not just through tree planting, of course), as well as the opportunity for people to contribute to the numerous environmental projects JNF is involved in abroad. These include the halting of desertification, boosting water supplies through reservoirs and water reclamation, and helping farmers produce agriculture more efficiently.

JNF has, for some time, been committed to keeping our environment healthy, and we are anxious to work with synagogues, schools, and individuals to continue to make a positive impact on our planet.

Lindsey D. Brengle
Campaign Executive
Jewish National Fund

More Greening

In an effort to be “greener,” we purchased a Honda Civic GX, a natural gas powered car, early last year (Green Issue, Jan. 4). The car has been driven about 20,000 miles. In some analyses, the car (because it does not have a battery in need of disposal at the end of its service life) is considered even “greener” than a Prius. I would like to see more of this type of car and fewer large SUVs in my synagogue parking lot.

Bill Friedman
Studio City

All issues should be green! It is about time that The Journal has dedicated space to this important Jewish issue and value, which just happens to also be one of national and global importance.

I would encourage The Journal to include a Green column in each issue, just as you include a short drash on the weekly parasha.

David Aaronson
Los Angeles

Deserving Menschen

Love your item about “Mensches” (or is it menschen?) (“Mensches,” Dec. 28).

Delighted to see what you wrote about Benji Davis and David Landau. Can you add a P.S.? They grew up at Beth Am and attended Pressman Academy. Forgive my chauvinism.

Marjorie Pressman
Via E-mail

I am a member of the Valley chapter of the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club that meets at Temple Adat Ari El at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. It seems to me that when The Jewish Journal uses a Yiddish noun with an English spelling, The Journal would make an effort to do so correctly. Although many English nouns are pluralized by the addition of an “s” at the end of the noun, very few Yiddish nouns do so. In addition, as in the noun “sheep,” there are Yiddish nouns that are spelled and pronounced the same way whether singular or plural.

Converting to Green: How many skeptics does it take to screw in a CFL light bulb?

All right, I admit it. When it came to believing that I could make a difference in the fight to stop global warming, I was a skeptic. Sure, I drove a Prius, and I dutifully deposited my Fiji bottles in the nearest blue recycling bin. But the truth is, I mostly did these things to make my wife, Cami, feel better. She’s been such a true believer for such a long time that I had no real choice in the matter if I wanted to keep the peace at home.

So I humored her passionate activism, I indulged her fears in the dire predictions being offered up daily by scientists and by the media. Not that I didn’t believe that our consumer society is on the fast track to destroying the planet — I just didn’t think that anything I did was going to derail the inevitable.

On more than one occasion, I slipped and admitted to my wife my true feelings on the subject. That we were hypocrites. Limousine liberals. Driving a Prius might make us feel better about ourselves, but it didn’t compensate for all the carbon we were emitting by employing the small army of people who help maintain our not-so-modest home — from gardeners to house cleaners to handymen. These are people who commute from faraway places in cars far less efficient than ours. If we really wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, we should sell our house, move into a high-rise, and take public transportation.

We had this argument at least a dozen times. And each time, my wife held her ground, insisting that doing something was better than doing nothing. She said if everyone did something, it would make a difference.

So I’d grudgingly go back to carrying my own canvas bags to the supermarket, unplugging my cellphone charger, even trading in my Fiji water for a refillable aluminum bottle. Until one day, the light bulb went off over my own head. Literally.

I was replacing an incandescent bulb with a more efficient compact fluorescent bulb, and when I turned it on to test it, I suddenly realized that the skepticism I’d been carrying with me for all this time had given way to something else. Something that felt a lot like satisfaction. The solution was never going to come all at once; it was a process. By doing these small things, however reluctantly, I’d begun to believe that I really was making a difference. And that was the whole point of doing something, of doing anything that contributed to the solution.

Having taken these few halting, reluctant steps, I found myself looking forward to taking more steps. Carrying the canvas bags to the supermarket stopped feeling like a hassle. I went out of my way to carpool with people I knew were attending school events and business meetings. I had solar panels installed at our house. I even headed up an effort to make more energy efficient the physical production of the television show I produce, “24,” as part of News Corp.’s Cool Climate Change initiative. I’d finally joined Cami on what had been, until now, her solo journey.

Perhaps most significantly, I realized that our actions, small and large, were starting to change the behavior of the people around us. Because we’ve been making choices to reduce our carbon footprint, the people around us are starting to take their own first steps to reduce theirs. Our children are getting pretty good at turning off the lights when they’re not in a room, and turning down the heat. Some of our friends have started replacing their incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

Now and again, that familiar skepticism comes back. Bringing my own mug to Starbucks still doesn’t seem like much of an answer to the massively rising energy consumption happening in India and China. And I’m waiting for a DWP audit to find out how much energy those solar panels of mine are really producing. But even if it doesn’t turn out to be as much as I’d like, we’re still doing better than we would have been doing without them — and not nearly as good as I hope we’ll all be doing in the future.

Howard Gordon is the executive producer of Fox’s “24.”

End hypocrisy now

Quick, name one thing that 99 percent of all American Jews agree on. Impossible, right? We are the People who pride ourselves on our contentiousness, who revel in our stiff-neckedness, who love to remind the world that where there are two Jews, you’ll find three opinions.

But it’s not always so.

According to the American Jewish Committee’s 2007 annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, Jews are actually just one percentage point short of total agreement on a topical political issue: energy independence.

“In your opinion,” went one survey question, “how important is it that the United States achieve energy independence? Is it very important, somewhat important, or not important at all?”

Eighty-two percent of respondents answered, “Very important,” and 17 percent answered, “Somewhat important.”

I’m no math whiz, but by my reckoning that means 99 percent of American Jews recognize that America’s dependence on foreign oil must end. The reasons, clear enough to many during the first oil crisis in 1973, have only become more painfully obvious.

First, there is the fact that burning fossil fuels speeds up global warming — bad for the Jews and the other 99.75 percent of humanity.

And bad for Israel. In its 2000 report to the UN Convention on Climate Change, Israel listed the dire consequences it faced as a result of global warming. Drought, eroded beaches (goodbye tourism), hotter summers, crop devastation. The list has eerie echoes of the Ten Plagues, except no one will be debating whether it really happened.

But say your concern over Israel doesn’t extend to what will happen to it a whole 10 years from now. Say you only care about the threats it faces today.

Well, then: More immediately, our oil dependence forces us to do business with anti-democratic wing nuts like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Wahabi-loving, Israel-hating Arab regimes. Furthermore, America’s lack of leadership in developing replacement technologies for oil drives nascent powerhouses like China and Russia into the arms of Iran, another enemy of Israel. You’re worried about Iranian nukes? Choke off the money that regime gets to pay for them.

“As the U.S. continues to invest in the oil economies of the Middle East and the Muslim world,” writes Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, “these economies continue to use their oil revenues to spread radical Islam, promote anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas and, in some cases, develop unconventional weapons. Every time an American goes to a gas station he is sending money to America’s enemies.”

We know this: A portion of every dollar we spend at the pump flows directly to the people trying to destroy Israel and kill us. Ninety-nine percent of us know this. And yet, we just keep on pumping.

I spend more time than most people in the parking lots of Jewish institutions: Synagogues, day schools, country clubs, agencies. You would think that if we all agree that high fuel consumption is bad for the Jews, our parking lots wouldn’t still be full of low- or even mid-mileage SUVs and luxury cars. But they are. You would think if 99 percent of Jews want energy independence, temple boards would reserve precious parking lot space for members who drive high-MPG cars. But they don’t.

“Self-interest is a powerful root from which all sorts of idealism can grow,” the philosopher Michael Walzer once wrote. In other words, it’s not noble to be green, it’s irresponsible not to be. Driving a gas guzzling car is anti-Israel. If you show up in your Mercedes M-class or Range Rover or Tahoe to a StandWithUs or AIPAC meeting, you might as well have stayed home. Mazel tov: The gas you just wasted to show your support for Israel will help fund a Hamas operative in Gaza.

Our children might look back and wonder, rightly, if we have some kind of death wish. They might ask how we can so fervently and with such unanimity believe one thing, yet so blithely do another. There is a relative handful of us who have switched to hybrids or biodiesels, but for the majority, the gap between what we believe and what we do is as deep and wide as, say, the Persian Gulf.

But no one’s perfect, you say. For those of you devoted to Mercedes — worst average fleet mileage besides Chrysler — there is another way to help. Two Jewish organizations have made energy independence the cornerstone of their activism, and you can help them.

The American Jewish Committee has been deeply involved in its Green Project, to transform itself into a model of energy efficiency and conservation. Its Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Bonus Program provides cash incentives to full-time AJC employees to purchase new hybrid cars. It’s a program that synagogues and day schools can emulate, offering even symbolic discounts to parents who drop their kids off from a hybrid.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress spearheaded the inclusion of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA) as a provision of comprehensive energy legislation (the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) signed by President Bush into law. The bipartisan act makes available millions of dollars to develop joint Israeli-U.S. projects in alternative sources of energy, including solar, hydrogen and biodiesel.

The idea for the provision was a natural, according to the AJCongress’ Gary Ratner. Israel and the United States share technological expertise and geopolitical interest in these alternative energy sources, he told me. “We need to be doing more of this,” he said.

Yes, we do. And, what has become unavoidably clear, given the state of Israel and the state of the earth, “we” means “you.”

Or, at least 99 percent of you.

Rob Eshman shows off his new bio-diesel-powered station wagon (March, 2007)

Eight ways to help heal the earth on Chanukah

There are three levels of wisdom through which Chanukah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis — what some of us call “global scorching,” because “warming” seems so pleasant, so comforting.

We can encode these three teachings into actions we take to heal the earth each of the eight days.

1) The Talmud’s legend that for the Maccabees to rededicate the Temple desecrated by the Seleucid Empire, it took only one day’s oil to meet eight days’ needs: A reminder that if we have the courage to change our lifestyles to conserve energy, it will sustain us.

2) The vision of the prophet Zechariah, whose visionary passages are read on Shabbat Chanukah, that the Temple menorah was itself a living being, uniting the world of nature and humanity — for it was not only fashioned by human hands in the shape of a tree of light, as Torah teaches, but was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it. What better symbol of how intertwined we are with the wounded earth that sustains us?

3) The memory that a community of the powerless, led by people as determined as the Maccabees, can overcome a great empire, giving us courage to face our modern corporate empires of oil and coal when they defile our most sacred temple — Earth itself. And the reminder, again from Zechariah that we triumph “not by might and not by power but by My Spirit [in Hebrew, b’ruchi, or “My breath,” “My wind”], says YHWH, the Infinite Breath of Life.”

We are taught not only to light the menorah but to publicize the miracle, to turn our individual actions outward for the rest of the world to see and be inspired by.

So this Chanukah might be just the moment to join in The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant for taking action — personal, communal and political — to heal the earth from the global climate crisis.

After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they are needed and with minimal impact on our climate.

No single action will solve the global climate crisis, just as no one of us alone can make enough of a difference.

Yet, if we act on as many of the areas below as possible and act together, a seemingly small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis. We can, as in days of old, turn this time of darkness into one of light.

Day 1 — Personal/household: Call your electric power utility to switch to wind-powered electricity. (For each home, 100 percent wind power reduces carbon dioxide emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)

Day 2 — Synagogue, Hillel or JCC: Urge your congregation or community building to switch to wind-powered electricity.

Day 3 — Your network of friends: Instant message buddies and members of civic or professional groups to which you belong and ask them to connect with people like newspaper editors, real estate developers, architects, bankers, etc. to urge them to strengthen the green factor in all their decisions, speeches and actions.

Day 4 — (Which this year is Shabbat) Automobile: If possible, choose today or one other day a week to not use your car. Other days, lessen driving. Shop online. Cluster errands. Carpool. Don’t idle a car engine beyond 20 seconds.

Day 5 — Workplace or college: Urge the top officials to arrange an energy audit. Check with the utility company about getting one free or at low cost.

Day 6 — Town/city: Urge town/city officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level.

Day 7 — State: Urge state representatives to reduce subsidies for highways and increase them for mass transit.

Day 8 — National: Urge your senators to strengthen and pass the Lieberman-Warner America’s Climate Security Act.

Give our planet a Happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, the author of books on “down-to-earth Judaism” and a frequent speaker at Jewish institutions. Rabbi Jeff Sultar is director of The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant. For more information on the covenant, contact Sultar at

For an easy letter to send your senators, visit

Chanukah — it’s not just about a miracle anymore

One of the Jewish calendar’s most widespread and public observances, the Chanukah holiday has traditionally emphasized two miracles: the military victory of Jewish rebels over Greek invaders and the one vial of oil that lasted for eight nights.

However, just as other holidays have seen their historic purpose shaped to contemporary narratives, Chanukah is increasingly being used as a vehicle for other Jewish agendas that seem to stray far from the holiday’s original meaning.

This year, much of the focus is on global warming. The Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based group focused mainly on environmental issues, has launched the Green Menorah Covenant campaign to promote improved energy efficiency among Jewish communities. The campaign, which is timed to coincide with both Chanukah and a U.N.-sponsored conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, follows a similar effort begun last year to encourage switching to more energy-efficient lightbulbs.

A Light Among the Nations, a project of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), aims to get Jews to switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs during the holiday. This year, the program is being tied to JCPA’s anti-poverty campaign, which in December will focus on energy.

The JCPA was also involved in the creation of Ner Shel Tzedakah (candle of righteousness), a joint initiative of the Reform and Conservative movements that aims to teach about poverty by encouraging families to donate their holiday gifts to organizations assisting the poor.

The most famous figures of the Chanukah story, the mythic Maccabees, have been appropriated as symbols of Jewish sport — no small irony, considering the Maccabees rebelled against the worship of athletic prowess that characterized Hellenistic civilization.

And on the Shabbat that falls in the middle of Chanukah on Dec. 8, rabbis are being encouraged to tie their sermons to the struggle for Soviet Jewry, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year.

Jeffrey Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and author of a book about Judaism’s encounter with sports, said that sports teams should more aptly be called the “anti-Maccabees.” The shift in thinking about the Maccabees, Gurock said, is linked to the Zionist thinker Max Nordau, who sought figures in Jewish history as models for what he called “muscular Judaism.”

“It was an appropriation of a particular moment in ancient Jewish history that’s [been] revived and used in modern times,” Gurock said. “Jews were fighters in the ancient world. And they want to go back to this image of Jews.”

Chanukah has more to do with ancient miracles than with environmentalism or concern for the poor. The holiday marks the victory of Maccabean rebels against their Hellenistic rulers in the second century B.C.E. and the subsequent miracle of the temple oil lasting for eight days.

Rabbi Leon Morris, executive director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning in New York, said he has no problem with added layers of meaning being added to the Chanukah story, provided it doesn’t eviscerate its underlying themes.

“I think every holiday gives us an opportunity to look for contemporary resonance of the holiday’s themes in our lives,” Morris said. “The roots of Chanukah are sufficiently complex to open up a variety of contemporary issues to weave into our own understanding.”

Morris also noted some further ironies in the contemporary American celebration of Chanukah. The holiday, which invites thinking about the tension between Jewish particularism and Hellenistic universalism, is played out against the backdrop of the dominant culture’s celebration of Christmas. Chanukah’s timing to the winter solstice, Morris speculated, may also imply something about non-Jewish influence on the holiday.

“I guess the question we should ask is not whether these interpretations are legitimate, but what’s prompting them,” Morris said. “As contemporary Jews look at the liturgy, narratives and stories, what is it that’s sparking these different sorts of ideas?”

In the case of poverty, the spark was in part mounting concern over the growing commercialization of the December holiday season.

“Our thinking was to raise the profile of the issue of poverty,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. “I think a lot of families these days are feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism that has become a focus of the holiday.”

Grafting a concern for the environment on to Chanukah celebrations is clearly motivated by the contemporary awareness of climate change and its related risks. But as many note, it may not be such a stretch of the imagination to see resource conservation as a lesser moral of the Maccabbean tale.

Rabbinic tradition, with its reluctance to glorify military triumphs, emphasized instead the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days, and it’s but a short leap from rescuing a lone vial of oil to preaching the necessity of conserving natural resources.

“It’s substantively a part of the holiday because there was a time when we really needed to have a little energy go a long way. And we call that time Chanukah,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of JCPA. “By the same token, we think we’re at a time in our world history where we need to conserve and husband our energy.”

Likewise, Gutow said Chanukah also recalls a time when the Jewish community was poor in resources. “It was a time when we were at a nadir of our ability to find energy and to use it,” he said. “And it ties in well to the difficulties that poor Jews and poor Americans have. It makes perfect sense to me.”

Israeli pollution control unit offers breath of fresh air

Not only is pollution dirty, smelly and disgusting, it can also kill.

The World Health Organization estimates that each year more than 3 million people die worldwide due to causes directly linked to air pollution, mostly due to vehicle emissions and industrial pollution.

Controlling industrial emissions is not an easy task. Pollutant gasses and particles emitted in industrial processes can flow at different rates, with different particle sizes and at high temperatures. A pollution control system can be effective for cleaning medium-size dry dust particles, for example, but will not be effective in dealing with fine particles captured in steam mixed with pollutant gases.

” target=”_blank”>Vortex Ecological Technologies, which cleans both pollutant gases and fine particles, is being touted as a breakthrough.

Many scientists note that carbon dioxide emissions are the leading cause of global warming, and the issue has been raised to prominence by former Vice President Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

According to CEO Avi Harel, Vortex can neutralize 99 percent of the sulfurous gas particles emitted by the burning of fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent to 15 percent.

“That’s enough to make a difference,” he said.

Harel explained that Vortex’s pollution control systems manipulate the physical forces created by the rapid spiral motion of gas and liquid inside a special, patented compartment called the Advanced Vortex Chamber (image, right), which separates fine particles and gases.

When gas enters the chamber it is accelerated and twirls into a vortex manipulated by various blades and air funnels — and without moving parts. This separates pollutants out without the risk of wear or clogging the machine and cleans industrial emission and liquid from particles and gas pollutants inexpensively and efficiently.

These aren’t particles that just pollute the air, Harel explained.

“You can use our system for very fine particles that may otherwise lead to cancer,” he said.

Not only does the Vortex solution create results that improve the environment, it enables otherwise-polluting businesses to continue operating. A lime plant near Zichron Yaakov in the north of Israel was forced to close due to excessive pollution when the area around the plant became covered with white impurities. After the installation of Vortex’s system, the plant was able to re-open.

“We cleaned the air and the water,” Harel reported.

Founded in 1996, Vortex has always attempted to combine the “green” motive with business practicality, Harel said.

“The idea is to deal with pollution from both a business point of view and the green ideas point of view,” he said. “We provide an affordable means to deal with pollution. A lot of companies complained that the cost of dealing with pollution was unaffordable, and so we went to the market with something that is more efficient and low maintenance.”

The lime industry has become a primary recipient of Vortex’s expertise, with its solution installed at many lime companies, a major concrete company and pipe production operations. Vortex also hopes that medium-sized power plants will use the system.

“Any industry that has pollution can use our system,” Harel said, citing its flexibility.
“It’s relatively easy to apply and integrate the system to existing plants, because of its small size and high speed,” Harel said. “Up to now, [other air pollution control systems] required building new plants. Our system is much smaller and can be put in the existing buildings.”

The systems are not only useful in factories and industry but also can be used in ships, which produce 5 percent of the world’s pollution. In Europe alone, pollution from ships is greater than the pollution of all the cars, trucks and factories.

As a result, Vortex has been conducting tests for the MAN Diesel company, a major international manufacturer of diesel engines for ships. In the latest tests, MAN reported that Vortex’s systems had proven the best in reducing pollution.

In addition, Vortex’s unique technology allows for the reclamation of pollutants — many of which remain useful in industrial production. For example, shipping companies can reuse gasoline and save millions of dollars each year in potash, an essential manufacturing element. In mining, as well, the material that is captured can be reused.

“If you capture material that can be reused or if you sell it, you can pay back the cost of the system pretty quickly,” Harel said.

Beyond the reusability, the simplicity of Vortex’s system helps to reduce maintenance costs — thus making it a more economical choice for industry. By lowering the price, industries that may not otherwise want a pollution-control system would be more likely to use one, even though it may not be required.

“When you have filters you have to clean and replace them,” Harel said. In our case, you don’t have to do it. There are no moving parts in our system; it is static,”
Harnessing the potential to allow for industry to continue producing in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way, Vortex Ecological Technologies seems poised to make a difference in curbing industrial pollution.

“We have a proven technology, a proven product and we are looking for partners,” Harel said.

“We are looking to cover more and more applications worldwide for the benefit of the environment and for business. I hope that the green ideas and green solutions we are developing can help people and help the world.”

The River Jordan’s survival is at stake as pollution peril grows

Standing at Israel’s Alumot Dam, a 30-minute walk south from the Sea of Galilee, it’s a typical midwinter day: deep blue sky, birds everywhere and a brisk breeze that carries a nauseating stench. Reduced to a thin stream by this point, the Jordan River stops. A few feet south of the dam, untreated sewage gushes directly into the riverbed.

In 1948, the lower Jordan carried 1.3 billion cubic meters of fresh water. Today, it’s less than 10 percent of that — and it’s hardly fresh. About half of what’s left comes from small tributaries, springs and Syria’s Yarmouk River. The other half is runoff from farms, diverted saline water and raw sewage.

The blame lies on all sides. Israel reroutes 60 percent of the Galilee’s water for its farms and kitchens; Jordan maintains a major canal that diverts from the Yarmouk; upstream, Syria has more than 40 dams. Jordanian septic tanks allow untreated sewage to seep into the water basin, while Israel turns a blind eye to local authorities’ direct dumping of waste.

It’s all aggravated by decades of war. Most of the valley is a closed military zone along both banks, its misery effectively concealed, and in spite of the long-standing Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, both countries find it hard to cooperate while conflict remains between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians.

Such deterioration would be alarming anywhere, but there’s something particularly disturbing in a place that resonates so profoundly in human culture. As Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) exclaimed: “Half of humanity sees this river as holy!”

The Tanakh and Christian scriptures often reference the valley. In Deuteronomy, Moses is shown the Promised Land from the eastern side before he dies and is buried there; the New Testament describes Jesus’ baptism in the river. Both books are also revered by the world’s billion Muslims.

“The Jordan is one of the few wild rivers left in Israel,” commented Los Angeles-based Rabbi Michael Comins, author of “A Wild Faith” (Jewish Lights Publishing, due out in April). “It’s no coincidence that the Torah was given in the wilderness, that the Prophets heard God in the wilderness and that we do, too.”

Yet, if visitors of any stripe were to enter this wild river’s lower reaches, Bromberg said, “[they’d] be likely to come out with a rash.”

FoEME is fighting to reverse the downward spiral. A tri-national nonprofit, with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian directors, FoEME is a rarity: a joint Arab-Israeli body acting to address vital shared concerns.

Both Nader Khateeb and Munqeth Mehyar, FoEME’s Palestinian and Jordanian directors, say they’re mindful of those who oppose cooperation before a resolution is found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that they’re equally aware that time is short.

“The ecosystem is so small, any action effects the others,” Mehyar said. “You can’t say that you won’t talk to the other side — you’re hurting yourself.”

“Ironically,” said Mira Edelstein, Israeli coordinator of FoEME’s river rehabilitation project, “the cooperation on polluting the Jordan has been fantastic.”

Meandering about 125 miles south along Earth’s lowest point, the lower Jordan represents the meeting point of all three peoples and the ecological intersection of Asia, Africa and Europe. Approximately 500,000 birds migrate through the valley annually, and many flora and fauna find their northern and southern limits here. Early humans emerging from Africa moved through the valley, and just outside biblical Jericho, archeologists have found evidence of humanity’s first farms.

In the eyes of FoEME’s activists, the valley’s unique environmental characteristics and central role in history make its survival an issue that reaches beyond the region. “We’re losing it,” Khateeb said. “And it’s not important only for us, it’s very important for the whole world. We want to see it on the world agenda.”

In order to grab international and local attention alike, FoEME has initiated a number of creative projects, but the obstacles these often face demonstrate the expected complications of Middle Eastern life. An ambitious journey down the entire lower river valley was planned for November, for instance, but had to be drastically curtailed when the IDF limited it to the last mile and a half of clean water before Alumot.

Ultimately what FoEME proposes is a limited restoration of the river: controlled access, sustainable management plans, providing farmers with recycled water and returning fresh water to its source. “Nature is a legitimate consumer,” Edelstein said. “It’s not wasting the water to let it run down the river.”

At minimum, Bromberg believes, the Jordan needs at least 300 million cubic meters of clean water. “Without it,” he said, “the river will no longer live.”

Though reclamation can seem prohibitively complex, in California, Inyo County and the city of Los Angeles recently witnessed a successful restoration that highlights the possibilities. Sixty-two dry miles of the Owens River — arguably in worse shape than the Jordan — now flow again after nearly a century of its water being diverted to Los Angeles.

“It’s expensive, and it’s hard,” Edelstein conceded, “but we have to do it, if we want to build a sustainable life here.”

Comins agreed, saying, “When I go to Israel, I don’t want to see a plaque that says ‘The Jordan River once flowed here.’ I want to see it as David and Amos did.”

As with all things in this part of the world, much depends on the grinding of diplomatic wheels. Acknowledging this uncertainty, the leaders of FoEME maintain a certain white-knuckle optimism.

“Conflict actually increases our strength,” Mehyar said, “because we can see the foolishness of it.”

“In our area you cannot give up,” Khateeb said. “Because if you give up, you’re finished.”

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer who has been covering the Middle East since the early 1990s.

Smug Alert

Click the BIG ARROW to see Rob Eshman’s new
bio diesel VW and watch him drink a bio diesel Martini

Last week I bemoaned the fact that former Gov. Tom Vilsack, the only presidential candidate with the ideas and track record to wean America off foreign oil, droppedout of the race.

This week I decided I wasn’t going to just sit there and moan, I was going to do something about it.

So I bought a car.

And not a Prius. At 40 miles per gallon, the hybrid car to the stars is a gas-guzzler compared to my new baby: a 2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI, a diesel car that gets 30 to 40 miles per gallon … of corn oil.

I’d been writing and speaking and boring my family for some time now on how absolutely stupid it is for Americans to be dependent on foreign oil. Our petroleum economy lines the pockets of Middle East potentates and other facilitators of extremism and terror. It directly endangers the state of Israel by strengthening its enemy’s regimes. And, whether the oil we burn is from Texas or Saudi Arabia, it contributes to global warming.

The enormity of our stupidity is dwarfed by an even bigger stupidity: We have the technology, now, to solve this problem.

Take my new car, for instance.

Two days after I bought it, I took my car to the appropriately named USA gas station at Glencoe Avenue and Mindanao Way in Marina del Rey and pulled up to a pump marked, “BioDiesel.” I filled up my tank, and I drove away.

That’s it.

The fuel now powering my car is made in America from canola, corn, soy or other new and recycled food oils. Almost any off-the-assembly line diesel engine can run just fine on it.

“Aren’t you afraid of enriching those Midwest corn oil shieks?” a friend of mine said as we tooled around.

Oh, what a world it would be: Saudi princes actually out looking for real jobs while Kansas corn farmers blow wads of cash in Macao.

Biodiesel itself has the consistency, smell and, yes, taste of Mazola. Made from food oils and alcohol, it disintegrates into harmless organic matter when spilled. It’s as toxic as table salt.

And biodiesel is virtually carbon neutral — whatever carbon dioxide it releases when burned is offset by the carbon dioxide the plants absorb when they grow.

At first, when I walked into the gas station kiosk to pay for my biodiesel, I was crestfallen. I don’t know what I expected — maybe a recycled bamboo floor and exposed beams, a pretty hostess offering me an organic mimosa and a free 10 minute Reiki treatment from Al Gore.

Instead, the only decorations were racks of Slim Jims and a fridge full of Throttle. The station’s cashier sat behind thick bulletproof glass. I paid $3.29 a gallon for 12 gallons and walked out.

And, in retrospect, that was the beauty of the whole experience. There’s nothing unusual or alternative about running America’s transport system on native, non-petroleum fuel. You can drive a great car, fill up as usual (though without the noxious odor), and be on your way.

Unfortunately, the biodiesel movement still has a certain crunchiness associated with it. Diesels are common in Europe, and, prompted by the creation of a new low-sulpher diesel, a new generation of these cars will soon hit American shores. But for now, partisans tend to drive pre-1985 Mercedes with iron engines that are said to run for a million miles. These behemoths chug along well enough and can be had for as little as $3,000, but I was looking for something with airbags and zip.

A small group converts these diesel engines to run on waste vegetable oil. Several companies do this for around $800. Jeremy Mittman, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Century City, has a deal with Pat’s kosher restaurant on Pico to pick up its used fry oil. He filters it and funnels it into the tank of his 1982 Mercedes. His total fuel cost: about 0.

The biodiesel I use is labeled B100 — 100 percent biodiesel, not blended with regular diesel. It is more expensive than our government subsidized gasoline for now, and there’s only a handful of retail outlets locally, but a biodiesel facility is opening near Oxnard, which will allow the price to Southern Californians to drop. In the meantime, 15 cents per gallon more than regular unleaded strikes me as a small price to pay.

After all, if you drive a gas-powered car and donate to organizations that fight global warming or defend Israel, you’re contributing to the solution and the problem. Rabbi David Wolpe understood this when he delivered a sermon last January at Sinai Temple urging congregants to drive hybrid vehicles. After his talk, some 50 families traded in their Lexuses and Mercedes guzzlers for Priuses.

The American Jewish Committee understood this when it began offering incentives for employees to switch to hybrid vehicles. The organization has rightly made energy independence a cornerstone of its advocacy work.

Is biodiesel “The Answer?” No — but like hybrids, fuel-cell vehicles, higher Federal fuel mileage standards and public transportation, it’s an important step along the way.

And the only dangers?

Getting struck by a hybrid owner for sporting my new bumper sticker: “Biodiesel: Cleaner Than Your Prius.”

“Hybrid v. Diesel”:

What Is Biodiesel?

American Jewish Committee’s Stand on Energy Independence

“Cleaner Greener Cars” from E Magazine:

PBS: ‘Los Angeles — Dream of A Different City’

Sick of traffic? Sick of smog? Sick of urban sprawl?

Don’t just complain about it. See what’s being done to change it.
On Jan. 11, KCET will air a Los Angeles-focused segment of its acclaimed series “Edens Lost & Found.”

This one-hour installment of the multipart series titled, “Los Angeles: Dream a Different City,” will focus on community leaders and groups in the greater L.A. area who are finding solutions to what a century of almost unchecked growth has wrought on our landscape and our lives.

The segment begins with host Jimmy Smits providing a quick overview of a familiar litany of problems besetting Los Angeles. There are traffic-choked interchanges, vast tracts of unchecked development, a trickle of water to slake a thirsty city and brownish air.

“If Southern California can solve these problems, there just might be hope for the rest of the world,” Smits says.

Producer and director Harry Wiland and Dale Bell track down the people and groups who have found ways to confront these problems. To watch the documentary is to find much reason for hope:

  • TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, who talks of discovering the importance of trees during summers at a Jewish camp in the San Bernardino Mountains, shows how urban forestry and water recovery projects throughout the city can provide shade, lower electricity usage and replenish groundwater.

    The 35-year campaign has gained powerful allies. TreePeople’s main on-screen advocate is L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose first act as mayor was to plant a tree. And County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says of the groundwater recovery efforts, “If it works it will revolutionize the way we do flood control.”

  • Lewis MacAdams of Friends of the Los Angeles River and Melanie Winter of The River Project show how the battle to re-green the 58-mile cement ditch will reshape the city.
  • Darrell Clarke and Presley Burroughs of Friends 4 Expo Transit speaks of his 21-year struggle to get a light-rail line from downtown to the beach.

“It’s a ladder for upward mobility,” Burroughs says.

That last theme is crucial to the filmmakers. A good amount of the program looks at how economically depressed areas in Boyle Heights, the north San Fernando Valley and El Monte benefit from re-connecting and fighting for Los Angeles’ environment. “Improving L.A.’s natural environment,” says the mayor on screen, “will improve families and the economy.”

“Eden’s Lost and Found” is part of a series that also looks at innovative solutions in Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and other American cities. A companion book and DVD provide ample information for would-be activists.

Wiland, a Venice resident and Jewish activist, sees the effort as part of a larger educational and social campaign. “We want everyone to be involved in dreaming a different city,” he said.

Jump start Summer at Winter Expo; More help picking a Jewish summer camp

Jump Start Summer at Winter Expo

More than 40 day camps, overnight camps and Israel youth tours will exhibit their programs Jan. 21 at Stephen S. Wise Temple. Sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the second annual Jewish Summer Camp and Israel Program Expo is aimed at helping parents and kids find the right Jewish enrichment for summertime.Families will have a chance to meet the camp staffs, learn about the offerings and accommodations and find out about financial help from camps and Israel tours from around the country. A printed resource guide will be available to attendees, as well as to anyone who requests one (contact information below).

The expo is part of The Federation’s renewed focus on the informal but invaluable education of a Jewish summertime experience, according to Lori Port, senior associate director of planning and allocations at The Federation. A new incentive program for summer camps is working its way through Federation committees, and the last few years has seen an increase in Federation money going toward camps.

For three years, The Federation has allocated $50,000 annually, funded jointly by them and an anonymous donor, to five local Jewish overnight camps for scholarships for first-time campers. A $10,000 grant from the Streisand Foundation enabled The Federation to disburse additional money toward scholarships for Jewish day and residential camps, and immigrant children are eligible to receive scholarships from a pool of $31,000 for day camps from The Federation’s resettlement program.

Camp JCA Shalom, a Federation agency, also receives significant operational money from The Federation.

Jewish camping, particularly overnight camping, has been documented to be one of the most effective ways to build a lasting and active connection to Jewish living. In the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, Jewish campers were almost twice as likely as those who attended up to six years of Hebrew school to be married to a Jew, have many Jewish friends, be a synagogue member and feel that being Jewish is very important.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320 or go to

More Help Picking a Camp

The Foundation for Jewish camping is offering parents help in picking from 130 Jewish overnight camps with its find-a-camp search engine ( ). The feature on the Web site narrows down choices based on geography, Jewish affiliation and special interests and needs.

Among the offerings are a growing number of specialty programs, ranging from basketball to pottery to astronomy. Jewish camps are hoping those programs will pull kids in and expose them to the documented, long-term benefits to Jewish identity that come from spending a summer immersed in Jewish living.

The Foundation for Jewish Camping continues to offer professional assistance to camps across the country. Locally, Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, and Rabbi Daniel Greyber, director of Camp Ramah, are developing their skills as part of the first cohort of the foundation’s Executive Leadership Institute.And counselors from three California camps — Ramah, Tawonga and Newman Swig — are learning leadership and educational skills at the foundation’s Cornerstone Fellowship Program.

For more information and to access the find-a-camp” search engine, go to

Israeli Flies to Zionist Camp in California

Itai Rotem, the son of the previous Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, missed his California camp so much after his family went back to Israel that the 13-year-old flew all the way from Israel — alone — last summer to go back to Habonim Dror’s Camp Gilboa near San Bernardino.

“There is a sense of brotherhood and togetherness in Gilboa that Itai wanted to taste once again … so we let him go,” Consul General Yuval Rotem said. “He loved every moment of this experience.”

Camp Gilboa, a Labor Zionist camp founded in 1936, offers a kibbutz-type atmosphere, where Jewish identity and a love for Israel are emphasized.

For information, call (323)653-6772, e-mail or visit

Social Action Summer

Teens looking for meaning this summer can participate in a service learning program offered by Sulam — the Center for Jewish Service Learning, part of the Bureau of Jewish Education. Teens age 13-18 can participate in two-week sessions in the areas of sports and mentorship, the environment (land or water) and homelessness/home building. Each day the teens will meet onsite for hands-on work, with time set aside for study, discussion and reflection with Jewish educators. The two-week program will take place twice — at the beginning of July and in mid-August.

For information contact Daniel Gold at (323) 761-8607,

California Dreamin’

Surfing, rock music, filmmaking, science — it doesn’t get more California than this. The Youth Enrichment Summer (YES) at Stephen S. Wise Temple offers seventh- to ninth-graders an opportunity to delve deep into an area of interest, in the context of Jewish learning and the usual summer camp activities such as sports, swimming and field trips.

Campers enrolled in the three-week sessions will meet with professionals to learn their chosen craft. The Life Savers Surf Camp will teach kids to surf and train them as junior life guards, including CPR certification. Campers who choose Behind the Scenes will write, act in, direct and edit their own short films. The musically inclined can opt for the School of Rock, which will include music theory and history, as well as some serious jam time. And proud geeks can break, fix and explore things in the Excelsior Science experience, which includes physics, chemistry and astronomy. All of the specialties will include daily Jewish text study related to the field.

For more information, call (310) 889-2345, e-mail or visit

Running Springs Really Running

Organizers are hoping to significantly increase last year’s inaugural summer of 180 kids at Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs.

The camp, a 70-acre site near Big Bear that Chabad purchased for $4.3 million two years ago, recently broke ground on a 10,000-square-foot multipurpose building and has invested another $1.5 million in other improvements, including a newly remodeled synagogue, enlarged dining hall, kitchen improvements, a game room and upgraded air conditioning, bathrooms and carpets.

Partners in Creation

Roger Gottlieb makes the case in his book, “A Greener Faith,” that we are in need of an ecotheology — to view the Earth in a more divine and holy way. He writes that
we have so separated ourselves from nature we don’t actually feel our interconnectedness with it; rather, we value the Earth only for what we can take from it. In order to have a meaningful teshuvah from the sins of taking the Earth’s resources for granted, we need a positive outlook with forward vision and hope.

Jews, it can be argued, already have an ecotheology. The Torah is clear when it discusses our relationship to the Earth.

This week, in Genesis, we are told, “God took the first human being, Adam, and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to watch it” (Genesis 2:15). Yet, a misinterpretation of an earlier verse has guided our human relationship to the Earth for too long. In the first chapter of the Torah, God says: “….Fill the Earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Dominion is too often read as “mastery over,” freedom to control and use at will, which easily leads to exploitation. However, there are many commentators who understand the word “dominion” as correlating to “uniqueness.” In this reading, humans have the unique responsibility to care for the Earth and its inhabitants. Rather than dominate, humans are called upon to make moral choices on behalf of the Earth, for we are the only creatures that God created with the capacity to reason and with the gift of free will; we alone have the capacity to destroy or protect the planet.

Gottlieb writes that we are not concerned by the signs of global warming, or in developing widespread renewable energy sources, or in how our progress has affected the planet’s ecosystem because we see ourselves as outside of nature, rather than integral to it. We substitute “environment” for “nature.”

Through semantics, nature has become an “issue,” something we can be involved in or not. Our sense of being unaffected by nature, as superior to nature, is a danger — indeed an idol — that the Torah warns us against. We must return to viewing ourselves as a part of nature.

Dr. Nathan Lewis, one of my congregants, a Caltech professor and expert in climate change, stated bluntly to me, “The next 10 years will determine what kind of planet we will live in; if we keep on this same path, we will leave our children a planet unlike the one we received.”

Lewis is most concerned about the irreversibility of our actions, even as he acknowledges that science cannot prove definitively what will happen. He argues that we shouldn’t be betting against the indicators that imply what can happen. Waiting to find out will be too late.

Many rabbinic texts detail our long tradition of ecotheology, explicitly supporting the idea that caring for the Earth is a distinctly religious imperative. Long before we started talking about fuel emissions, the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited inefficient use of fuels, saying: “Whoever covers an oil lamp [so that it burns less efficiently], transgresses the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, do not destroy” (Shabbat 67a).

Long before recycling was the norm, the 16th century manual Sefer HaHinuch taught that “tzadikkim, righteous people, waste not even a mustard seed in this world; they use their strength to conserve everything possible.” These texts illustrate that our ancestors recognized our responsibility to nature, and that our actions must be directed by the holiness of mitzvot.

We created this problem, intentionally or unintentionally; we are responsible for fixing it.

Lewis told me that we get more energy from the sun in one hour than all the energy consumed in one year. Using God’s resources and our brains, we can solve the challenges we face.

California is poised to become the environmental leader in our country. And religious groups around the country are joining its efforts. The Reform movement has a nationwide campaign for “greening” its institutions. The Pacific Southwest Region of Conservative Judaism continues to back its Green Sanctuaries campaign, partnering with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California is expanding that campaign to all synagogues that wish to participate.

We each can make a difference. I challenge us to try some, if not all, of the following:

  • Raise or lower the thermostat in your homes by two degrees;
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home;
  • Carpool, walk or ride a bike once weekly;
  • Invest in fuel-efficient transportation;
  • Reduce waste and recycle seriously;
  • Visit the COEJL Web site for more information and ideas.

Every change has an impact. We are called by God to live in consort with the Earth, as God gave us the awesome responsibility to be partners in creation. Let us strive to live up to that divine gift. As Pirke Avot teaches, “It is not up to us to finish the work, but neither are we free to ever stop trying.”

Now more than ever, we need this attitude toward our Earth.

This d’var Torah is an adaptation of Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s Yom Kippur sermon. To read the sermon in its entirety, visit ” target=”_blank”>
Green Sanctuaries:

Media reporters meet community; Karnit Goldwasser appeals for help

A sold-out crowd of close to 450 men and women attended the Women’s Alliance for Israel Aug. 8 symposium on “Israel and the Media — How Fair the Coverage?” The event at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel included panelists Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times; Jay Sanderson, president of Jewish Television Network; and Bill Boyarsky, Pulitzer Prize winner, author and Jewish Journal contributing columnist.

For information about Women’s Alliance for Israel please call (310) 281-4711.

A Wife’s Plea

On Sept. 6, the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) sponsored an event at Sinai Temple in Westwood featuring Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser. Along with her father, Omri Avni, Goldwasser spoke about the plight of her husband held captive in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists since July 12.

“I am asking for help from anyone who has the key to show us that Udi is still alive,” Goldwasser said.

Both Goldwasser and Avni urged the audience of nearly 200 to pressure U.S. government officials and the International Red Cross to send on a letter sitting in the Red Cross office in Beirut from Karnit for Ehud. Following Goldwasser’s pleas for financial help to cover the costs of her travels across the United States and the world, Iranian Jewish businessman John Farahi pledged to pay for the expenses for the next six months. Goldwasser and her father have also visited Chicago, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness about her husband’s captivity (see story page 8).

Gary Ratner, executive director of AJ Congress, said his group would try to get Goldwasser another meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Appointment for Prager

President George Bush recently named radio host and Van Nuys resident Dennis Prager to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council consists of 55 presidential appointees, in addition to 10 congressional representatives and three ex-officio members from the departments of Education, Interior and State. Prager will complete the remainder of a five-year term that expires in January 2011.

“Dennis Prager’s unique moral voice and dedication to the mission of Holocaust education and remembrance make him an ideal candidate to serve on the council, particularly today as we witness rising global anti-Semitism,” said council chairman Fred S. Zeidman. “I welcome the talent and enthusiasm he brings to the position and congratulate him on joining the council.”

Prager, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dennis Prager Show,” is a speaker, author and film producer. In 2003, Simon and Schuster reissued his work on the history of anti-Semitism, “Why the Jews,” written with co-author Joseph Telushkin. Deeply involved in interfaith dialog efforts, he is a frequent contributor to national publications and regularly offers commentary on many national TV outlets.

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War Takes Environmental Toll

As the people of northern Israel finally return to their homes, they’re going back to more than empty streets, freshly dug gravesites and a beefed-up military presence.

They’re also coming home to a radically altered physical landscape.
Devastated by fires sparked by Katyusha rockets, northern Israel has seen its forests obliterated, its grazing lands laid waste and its wildlife annihilated over the past four weeks.

The country may never look the same, experts say.

“We have very serious damage,” said Moshon Gabay, spokesman for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. “In previous wars we did not suffer damage like this. Every Katyusha that falls starts a fire.”

The green hills of the Galilee have turned orange and black, smoldering with the remains of forest fires. The sky, usually bright blue this time of year, is shrouded in thick gray smoke. The large animals and many birds that live in the area have taken flight, and countless numbers of smaller and slower animals have been killed in raging fires that have turned verdant hills to ash.

So far, officials say, more than 7,000 acres of undeveloped land have been destroyed, including about 2,500 acres of woodlands encompassing roughly 700,000 trees. Some of those trees were as old as the State of Israel.

“It’s an ecological catastrophe. Animals are dying. Trees are getting burned,” said Orit Hadad, an official with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Israel, where it is known as Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael. “Even if every tree is replanted, to bring these forests back to the state they were in will take 50 to 60 years.”
That means that most of the survivors of this war will not live to see the landscape return to its prewar state.

Among the hardest-hit areas have been the Naftali forest range near Kiryat Shmona, where more than three-quarters of the forest was obliterated, and the Birya Forest in the Western Galilee, near Safed, where more than 600 acres have burned.

Less is known about how the animals that live in this largely rural area have fared. Firefighters have found the remains of many slow-moving animals, such as snakes and turtles, in burned areas. Larger animals that managed to escape likely will suffer from loss of food sources and a sharp reduction in available grazing lands, experts said.

“We’re very aware of this problem of disruption of the food chain, even if there is not much we can do,” said Michael Weinberger, a JNF forest supervisor in the Central Galilee and Golan Heights.

Tourists who return to this area after the war may be startled to find Israel’s most popular hiking spots, where waterfalls pour over lush ridges, virtually unrecognizable.

On Aug. 8, the fires from Katyushas reached Mount Meron, already scorched, and nearby Nahal Amud, a strikingly beautiful canyon that runs from the Upper Galilee to the Kinneret Lake and is replete with waterfalls, blooming plant life and animals ranging from gazelles to wild boars.

There is little that Israel’s Nature Protection Authority, which maintains the area, can do for these lands at risk. Even after the war ends the authority will not replant, since the areas are protected reserves or natural areas where the rule of thumb is to let nature take its course.

Even if officials tried, there would be no way to restore the variety of plant life, wildlife and woodlands native to the area.

“It all depends on the rain that will fall,” Gabay said. “We let these areas repopulate naturally.”

The JNF says it will try to replant as many trees as possible after the fighting is over. Each acre will cost an estimated $5,500 for the first two years to resoil, replant and treat, officials said.

For now, the focus is on putting out the fires.

Because most firefighters in northern Israel are busy trying to extinguish blazes sparked by the Katyusha rockets in urban areas where human lives are at stake, the fight against forest fires has been conducted mostly from the air.

Israel’s Interior Ministry has run out of money to pay for the planes, so the JNF is picking up the tab with an emergency fund, for which it has raised nearly $4 million. The money has gone and is going to send kids to summer camps away from rocket attacks, build security roads on the Gaza border and purchase firefighting equipment, including fire trucks, helmets, vests, goggles and a fire retardant the planes are using to douse the fires.

“We are all working 12- to 16-hour days — crews on fire trucks and on the ground,” said Paul Ginsburg, JNF’s head forester for Israel’s northern region. “Forests that have taken 50 years to grow, that saw two generations of foresters, are burning. Everything we do is under the threat of Katyusha attacks. The work is stressful and heartbreaking.”

Many more environmental threats loom, experts say. In Haifa, petrochemical plants and refineries vulnerable to Katyusha rockets pose a serious danger to area residents. If such a site is hit in the future, it could send toxic chemicals that would contaminate the entire city.

“The concern is very problematic from an ecological point of view,” said Ronit Fischer, director of the Haifa branch of the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel. “If something falls there, it will be a very complicated disaster.”

The damage to Israel’s environment has not been limited to the North.
In the area around the Gaza Strip, along Israel’s southern coast, more than 15,000 trees have been destroyed as a result of Palestinian Kassam rocket attacks, according to the JNF. Additionally, the Israeli army has had to alter the natural landscape in many places to accommodate new military bases, lookouts or patrol roads.

The heaviest damage from the war was where Hezbollah missile crews were aiming their rockets: the Galilee, a mountainous area covered by fir and pine trees, abundant grazing lands and bountiful wildlife. Some Katyushas fell in the Golan Heights, but the damage there is small by comparison, and experts say the burned grasslands there should be able to recover by next year.

Shalom Blayer, CEO of the Golan Heights Winery, said the vineyards of northern Israel have been spared so far, although some vineyards abutting the Lebanon border have been declared no-go zones by the military.

Underscoring the vulnerable state of agriculture-based businesses in northern Israel, he said, “This is what I know for now; I can’t tell you what will be five minutes from now.”