HOME: Eco-friendly disposable tableware for Sukkot


When you’re dining under the stars in your sukkah, the last thing you want to think about is washing dishes. Fortunately, an array of stylish, eco-friendly, disposable plates and cutlery is available to dress up your table while making cleanup a breeze. 

Because Sukkot is a harvest festival, it’s only right that we consider environmentally friendly alternatives for setting the table. How can disposable dinnerware be green? There are three primary ways:

• Biodegradable: The product will break down within a reasonable amount of time in a natural outdoor environment.

• Compostable: The product is not only biodegradable, it also releases valuable nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.

• Sustainable: It is made from resources that are replenished as quickly as they are consumed. 

Now, instead of paper plates, you can find dinnerware made from bamboo, sugarcane, palm leaves and even tapioca starch. 

Wasara (above)

This elegant Japanese line of disposable plates, bowls and cups, with their wavy, minimalist shapes, is more beautiful than most ceramic or glass tableware. Only nontree, renewable resources are used to make them — sugarcane fibers, bamboo and reed pulp. They are also compostable, so they don’t have to end up in the landfill.  (Photo from Verterra.com

VerTerra plates and bowls are made from palm leaves and molded into their shapes with steam, heat and pressure. No trees or branches are cut in the manufacturing process; only leaves that have fallen to the ground are used. The product naturally biodegrades in less than two months after disposal. (Photo from bambuhome.com

A popular line of disposable dinnerware you’ve probably seen at Whole Foods, Bambu Veneerware is made from 100 percent bamboo and certified organic. The Bambu line is extensive, including round and square plates, forks, spoons, knives and even “sporks.” And you can wash them and use them more than once. (” target=”_blank”>worldcentric.org)

Dahlia by EcoProducts

Photo from ecoproductsstore.com

Made from a premium blend of sugarcane and bamboo, which are 100 percent renewable, Dahlia plates and bowls are known for their signature leaf shape. They are compostable and surprisingly sturdy, as the surface is grease- and cut-resistant. (Photo from sustyparty.com

At first glance, Susty Party tableware looks just like any other colorful paper plates you would find at a party-supply store. The difference is that all the products in the line, which include plates, bowls, cups, straws, cutlery and napkins, are made from renewable or sustainably harvested materials. They’re compostable, nontoxic and made in North America. (” target=”_blank”>bambluware.com

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Israeli rabbi: Weed is kosher if it’s medicinal


An Israeli Orthodox rabbi ruled that distributing and smoking medicinal marijuana is kosher, but using weed for fun is forbidden.

Efraim Zalmanovich, the rabbi of Mazkeret Batia, a town south of Tel Aviv, made the distinction in a recent halachic ruling, NRG, the news site of the Maariv daily reported on Friday. Leading rabbis frequently weigh in on matters of reconciling halacha, or Jewish law, with modern living.

Zalmanovich’s ruling modifies an opinion by Rabbi Hagai Bar Giora,who in March told Israel’s Magazin Canabis: “If you smoke it, there is no problem whatsoever.”

Zalmanovich, the author of a book on alcoholism in Judaism, said: “Taking drugs to escape this world in any excessive way is certainly forbidden.”

However, if the drug is administered to relieve pain, then the person giving it is “performing a mitzvah,” and the person using the drug is using it “in a kosher fashion.”

Some 11,000 Israelis use medicinal marijuana, including people with post-traumatic disorders and Parkinson’s disease, according to the Israeli health ministry.

Next mayor’s earth agenda


Delivering his inaugural address on the City Hall lawn in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa challenged Angelenos to turn Los Angeles into “… the greenest big city in America.”

Eight years later, it is only fitting that we ask ourselves how close Mayor Villaraigosa has come to realizing this lofty aspiration, and, just as importantly, what the next mayor must do to fulfill it.

I served in the first term of the Villaraigosa administration as general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and have firsthand knowledge of the environmental ambitions and accomplishments of the administration.

Although it is clear that there is work for the next administration to perform, it is also indisputable that the environmental progress we have made as a city over the last eight years has been nothing short of remarkable. 

However, these noteworthy achievements have gone largely unheralded. Perhaps this is because people do not immediately sense gains such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, air-quality improvements, green construction, public transportation projects or the development of local water resources, whereas potholes, traffic jams and the city’s fiscal deficits are more tangible, visible issues that overshadow the positive news on sustainability. Whatever the reason, the fact is that the city’s environmental victories have been relegated to the back pages. But this does not make them any less real or any less worthy of celebration.

This article focuses on five areas: energy and climate change, water, air, green buildings and transportation.

1. Energy and Climate Change

The Villaraigosa administration can justifiably claim to have made substantial headway in addressing climate change and energy issues.

In 2007, Villaraigosa issued the GreenLA Action Plan, calling for emissions to be reduced 35 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Los Angeles is on track to meet this objective. Further, LADWP has already reduced its emissions 21 percent below 1990 levels — far ahead of AB 32 mandates.

Climate change can have serious impacts for Los Angeles. Rising sea levels could threaten coastal areas; hotter, smoggier days are predicted; droughts and fire events are likely to be more prolonged; and water supplies more constrained. The mayor’s recent AdaptLA climate change plan is intended to prepare for the changes that are coming our way. This is a crucial step in adapting to a new reality.

In charting a more environmentally sensitive direction for the city, LADWP is a central player. The Villaraigosa era has seen transformative changes at LADWP, especially during the first term. Examples include the unprecedented four-fold expansion of renewable energy resources leading to the attainment of the 20 percent level in 2010; the record-breaking 19-fold increase in savings from energy efficiency programs; the completion of Pine Tree Wind Farm, the nation’s then-largest municipally owned wind farm; the achievement of steep declines in water consumption levels; and the 2008 Solar Energy Plan, which was the progenitor of the recently adopted landmark Feed-in Tariff Program.

Some critics will complain that, at the start of his second term, the mayor planned that Los Angeles would be coal-free by 2020 and that its renewables portfolio would reach 40 percent by 2020. However, this criticism ignores the fact that LADWP’s renewables were at just 4 percent, and coal accounted for nearly 50 percent of our power consumption, when the mayor took office. Today, LADWP is on track to meet the 33 percent renewables level by 2020 and has announced that it will eliminate coal well in advance of legal deadlines. Given the historical context, the administration and LADWP merit some recognition, although, clearly, the next administration must continue the effort to accelerate the retirement of coal and to expand energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed energy programs, while ensuring a prudent balance between renewable resources and natural gas.

2. Water

During the last eight years, Los Angeles has cut water consumption by 17 percent, and our per capita use is the lowest of any big city in the United States. This is a phenomenal accomplishment by any standard.

In 2008, the mayor promulgated the Los Angeles Water Supply Action Plan, formulated by LADWP. This much-lauded document constituted, in effect, Los Angeles’ declaration of independence from imported water. Recognizing that 90 percent of our water comes from hundreds of miles away and that its cost will rise inexorably, the Water Supply Plan called for the development of indigenous resources: conservation, wastewater recycling, rainfall capture, groundwater remediation, underground storage.

This plan has been reiterated both in LADWP’s Urban Water Management Plan and in a recent adoption of principles by the LADWP commission that calls for 37 percent of Los Angeles’ water to come from local sources by 2035. These pronouncements are welcome improvements over the “ignorance is bliss” attitudes of the past. Further, in addition to the wins in conservation, incremental progress has been made especially with respect to wastewater recycling and rainfall capture. The work of LADWP and the Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) in this regard should be commended.

However, some would argue that a target of 37 percent 23 years from now is not aggressive enough. UCLA’s recent Vision 2021 L.A. study (Vision 2021) calls for the more ambitious objective of 32 percent by 2021. Certainly, both LADWP and BOS have the talent to expedite matters and would agree that certain actions (e.g., the clean-up of the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin) are urgent. However, much will depend on the ability of the next administration to garner the political will and secure the funds necessary to move forward.

3. Air

Decades of untiring work by many people have yielded significant improvements in our air quality, although we still remain one of the most polluted U.S. cities for ozone smog and particulate pollution. Still the Villaraigosa administration can fairly claim credit for contributing to enhancements in our air quality. This effort is most clearly evident at the port, where air emissions have been cut by more than half. This is due, in large measure, to the mayor’s San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan and its various components, such as the Clean Trucks Program. The port has also made considerable progress in cleaning the water there, although soil contamination continues to bedevil port officials. Again, it will be left to the next administration to fully implement the Clean Air Action Plan and to pursue a zero-emission target for the port.

4. Green Buildings

Over the last eight years, Los Angeles has emerged as a national leader in this area. Vision 2021 reports that the square footage of municipal buildings certified to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards jumped from 9,000 in 2004 to almost 1.8 million in 2010.

In 2008, Los Angeles established the Green Building Program, requiring that most structures larger than 50,000 square feet be built to LEED standards. In 2011, Los Angeles took the leap of introducing new requirements, which incorporated and surpassed the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). In addition to the CALGreen mandates on water and energy efficiency measures for certain new buildings, the L.A. County Green Building Program covers not only new projects, but all alterations and additions over $200,000 in valuation, and requires “solar ready” roofs and “electric vehicle ready” features. The Department of Building and Safety (DBS) is to be complimented for its work in this regard.

In 2011, Los Angeles also enacted the Low Impact Development Ordinance, compelling new and redevelopment projects to incorporate rainfall capture designs, thus helping to abate Los Angeles’ urban run-off problem, while augmenting its water supply.

The water fixtures ordinance of 2009 (estimated to save a billion gallons of water over the next 20 years) is worthy of mention as the joint project of LADWP and DBS.

5. Transportation

The Brookings Institution recently acknowledged Villaraigosa and the team that produced Measure R and obtained the low-interest Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan from Congress to fund transportation projects, recognizing this endeavor as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Economic Development Initiatives.

Today, more transit and highway projects are opening, under construction, or are in the planning stages, than at any time in the history of Los Angeles County.

In addition, 100 percent of MTA buses have been converted to alternative fuels, and Los Angeles now boasts the largest alternative-fuel trash and street sweeper fleet in the United States. Further, in 2013, Los Angeles is set to become the first large U.S. city to synchronize all signalized intersections. Bus and rail services have increased, and CicLAvia events, which temporarily close streets to car traffic, have proven popular. The next administration must continue to pursue policies to dissuade single-passenger vehicle trips.

The gains of the last eight years in the five areas covered above have been concrete and far reaching and merit recognition. Perhaps we cannot yet claim to be the “… greenest big city in America” in every sphere of endeavor, but we are entitled to that distinction in many ways.

Still, much will depend in the commitment of the next mayor to build on these advances. The next administration must push forward to catalyze the transformation of our energy profile, reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, develop local water resources, cut air pollution and bring public transportation projects to fruition.

As the runoff campaign for mayor enters its final stages, let’s pay close attention to how the two candidates address these specific issues. Despite the solid progress we’ve made over the last eight years, the future of Los Angeles’ fragile environment will depend on their answers and their actions.

David Nahai is an attorney and consultant specializing in real estate, energy and water matters. He is the former general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Board.

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.”

Is Dennis the menace?


Read Dennis Prager’s response: A reasoned skeptic’s response

Dennis Prager reminds me of Harry Truman. No, not Harry Truman the president. I’m talking about the Harry Truman who, in 1980, refused to evacuate his Mount St. Helens Lodge, located less than two miles from the crater of the volcano threatening to erupt. The government evacuated 300 loggers, 50 forest rangers and their families, and 60 residents of the tiny village of Spirit Lake, but Truman remained defiant. “That mountain just doesn’t dare blow up on me,” declared Truman. The volcano erupted on May 18, 1980, with a blast 500 times more powerful than the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, blowing the entire top off Mount Saint Helens and killing 60 people, including Harry Truman, who was buried under 3 feet of muddy ash.

Now please don’t get me wrong. When politicians tell us the sky is falling, we need to be skeptical, but Dennis comes across like an ostrich burying his head deeply in the sand. (In truth, ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand. When frightened, an ostrich lowers its head and neck to the ground, creating the illusion that its head is buried in the ground. But correcting misinformation, as you’ll soon see, is what this rebuttal is all about.)

In his two-part article on global warming in The Jewish Journal, Dennis explained the main reason why he and “many thoughtful people” remain skeptical that human activity produced global warming: The left wing lies to create hysteria. By “thoughtful people,” I gather Dennis is referring to people who are kind and considerate, not people who are great thinkers. If they were using their brains, Dennis and the thoughtful people he claims to represent would not see man-made global warming as a left-wing conspiracy. I don’t use my brain much either, but I’m pretty sure climatology is some sort of science, not something we get to vote on — although, if science was on the ballot, I would definitely vote to repeal Newton’s third law of motion.

Dennis points out that thousands of scientists disagree that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming, most notably MIT professor Richard Lindzen and renowned physicist Freeman Dyson. Dennis wisely neglected to mention that a paper Lindzen delivered in 1992, titled “Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,” was underwritten by OPEC, and that Dyson proposed that soaring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be offset by his cockamamie scheme to mass cultivate specially bred “carbon-eating trees.”

According to NASA’s Web site, “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.” Of course, it’s very possible that NASA is a left-wing organization trying to dupe us all. After all, it did reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet — which a lot of people considered just downright un-American.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states on its Web site, “The earth is warming and human activity is the primary cause.” However, I’m quite sure the Union of Concerned Scientists is also a left-wing association. A right-wing group would have named itself the Union of Unconcerned Scientists.

Cover, The Jewish Journal (Dec. 9)

The National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all have stated that climate change is likely caused by human activity. Obviously, the members of these organizations are all card-carrying members of the communist party as well.

Then again, Dennis does make an excellent point. Why discuss a scientific issue scientifically when you can turn it into an illogical and irrational partisan argument for your own self-aggrandizement? Well, I’m certainly willing to go down that road, too.

Dennis says he is not prepared to wreck the Western world’s economy to combat the threat posed by global warming unless he’s absolutely sure humans are responsible. I agree. If methane gas emitted by livestock is ultimately responsible for melting the polar ice caps, then we should make those flatulent cows mop up the mess.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why Dennis is unwilling to wreck the economy to save humanity from the threat posed by global warming. A few years back, he was completely willing to the wreck the economy by going to war in Iraq to combat the threat posed by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Maybe he learned something from that mistake. So, perhaps there is hope after all.

Of course, fear of destroying the economy was one of the same reasons given by those who opposed abolishing slavery in the United States. Personally, I believe we Americans are perfectly capable of wrecking the economy without having to free slaves or abandon our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled by Dennis’ insistence that our attempts to stop global warming will wreck the Western world’s economy. Isn’t that the same fear-mongering that Dennis so vehemently denounces? Or is my logic as convoluted as his?

While I can’t really understand how anyone could seriously equate the threat posed by global warming with the dangers of silicone implants, secondhand smoke, baby formula and peanut allergies, Dennis also claims that the left wing has exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power because the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl resulted in only 56 direct deaths. Well, sure, there’s really no reason to take into account the 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer that were diagnosed from 1992 to 2002 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, among those who were under 19 years old at the time of the Chernobyl accident. I think we can safely dismiss the 60,000 people who were driven from their homes in Ukraine, the hundreds of animals that were born with gross deformities, the uninhabitable 2,826-square-kilometer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and the incidences of leukemia and other cancers that there is no reliable way to statistically evaluate.

Even if every example Dennis gave of the left wing’s attempts to incite hysteria had not contained misleading half-truths, the left wing does not hold a monopoly on idiocy. The right wing spouts its fair share of lies to unnecessarily alarm the American public. I seem to remember President George W. Bush insisting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction to justify the United States’ invasion of Iraq; Vice President Dick Cheney asserting that al-Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime; Sarah Palin alleging that President Barack Obama’s health-care reform bill would sanction “death panels”; Michele Bachmann claiming that the human papillomavirus vaccine leads to “mental retardation”; and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Alan Keyes falsely proclaiming that President Obama was not a natural-born citizen and was not constitutionally eligible to serve as president of the United States — until he produced his birth certificate.

In keeping with Dennis’ twisted logic, I prefer to argue with equal preposterousness that the main reason I believe human activity is responsible for global warming is because the right wing repeatedly fails to see the writing on the wall. (I just threw in that oblique reference to the apocalyptic Book of Daniel to add some sorely needed Jewish content to this column.) Here, then, are 10 impending calamities that the right wing ignored:

1. Hurricane Katrina: On Sept. 2, 2005, in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the widely reported failures and incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide adequate relief to the victims in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, President George W. Bush lauded FEMA director Michael D. Brown on national television. “Brownie,” he said, “you’re doing a heck of a job.” Ten days later, after continued media coverage revealed that Brown was indeed doing a heck of a job bungling the disaster response, Brown resigned in disgrace — although Bush kept his inept crony on salary, at $148,000 a year.

2. The 9/11 terrorist attacks: The confidential President’s Daily Brief given to President George W. Bush on Aug. 6, 2001 (weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks) contained a two-page section titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” and referred to possible hijacking attempts by Osama bin Laden disciples and the existence of about 70 FBI investigations into alleged al-Qaeda cells operating within the United States. Bush failed to read the document.

3. The Iran insurgency: On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush, wearing full flight gear, landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, received an enthusiastic reception and delivered a triumphant speech in front of a banner reading “Mission Accomplished,” signaling the end to “major combat operations” in the Iraq invasion. The insurgent war dragged on for another eight years.

4. Bernie Madoff: On Nov. 7, 2005, Boston derivatives expert Harry Markopolos submitted a 21-page memo to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) titled “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud,” alleging that hedge fund investor Bernie Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Markopolos identified 20 red flags showing that Madoff’s steady returns were not possible. The SEC, chaired by Republican Christopher Cox, ignored Markopolos’ detailed memo and follow-up reports. Three years later, on Dec. 10, 2008, Bernie Madoff freely admitted the fraud to his two sons, who promptly reported him to investigators; the next day, the FBI arrested Madoff for bilking $50 billion from school endowments, pension funds and retirement accounts.

5. Soviet domination: On Oct. 6, 1976, during a televised debate with Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford claimed, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration. … I don’t believe … that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of these countries is independent, autonomous, it has its own territorial integrity, and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union.” At the time, the Soviet Union controlled Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland.

6. The Los Angeles riots: On May 19, 1992, in a San Francisco speech, Vice President Dan Quayle blamed the violence of the Los Angeles riots on the decay of family values, citing Murphy Brown’s decision to give birth out of wedlock and raise the child without a father. Murphy Brown was a fictional character on the television sitcom “Murphy Brown.”

7. Nuclear waste: On Feb. 15, 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said, “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Well, yes, if it’s a massively large desk. “Over the past four decades, the entire industry has produced about 65,200 metric tons of used nuclear fuel,” says the Web site of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “If used fuel assemblies were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, this would cover a football field about seven yards deep.”

8. AIDS: In October 1988, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms said, “Let me tell you something about this AIDS epidemic. There is not one single case of AIDS reported in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.” By March 31, 1989, of the 89,501 AIDS cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,962 were attributed to heterosexual transmission.

9. The Depression: In June 1930, Republican President Herbert Hoover greeted a group of representatives from various charitable organizations who urged him to start a federal public works program. “Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late,” replied Hoover. “The depression is over.” Over the next 18 months, the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 70 percent.

10. Watergate: At a press conference on Aug. 22, 1973, President Richard Nixon declared, “Watergate is water under the bridge.” Less than one year later, Nixon resigned from office due to his cover-up of the Watergate scandal.

Just as my deeply flawed examples of right-wing negligence do nothing to prove that global warming is man-made, the examples Dennis gave that the left wing repeatedly has cried wolf about impending catastrophes equally fail to prove that mankind’s responsibility for global warming is an alarmist fiction. Had Dennis wished to make a more convincing argument, he should have shared this amusing piece of history:

In the 1890s, more than 150,000 horses drew buggies and streetcars in New York City. Each horse expelled an average of 22 pounds of manure daily, prompting one commentator to predict that by 1930 horse manure would bury the streets and reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows. That frightening scenario never happened because the advent of the automobile ended reliance on horses. Unfortunately, those fossil fuel-burning automobiles have been spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere ever since. Dennis could have argued that, eventually, something unexpected may come along that solves the entire global warming quandary in one fell swoop.

Still, one question remains: How long would Dennis wait for the invention of the automobile before he picked up a shovel? On second thought, never mind. He seems to be shoveling plenty already.

Joey Green is the author of more than 45 books, including “Contrary to Popular Belief.” His newest book, “Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made,” comes to bookstores in April. Visit him at joeygreen.com.

Temple Sinai going green with rooftop solar panels


Temple Sinai of Glendale is about to begin installing a solar energy system in an effort to go green. The 30-kilowatt rooftop solar panels will be unveiled at an induction ceremony at Temple Sinai on Dec. 11 at 10 a.m.

“The Jewish Federations is pleased to see our synagogues going green in a serious way,” said Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.

The project is inspired by the Chanukah miracle of the oil lasting eight days, which can be understood as a parable about sustainability, said Temple Sinai Executive Vice President Eddy Polon.

“It is my understanding that we will be the first synagogue to install solar panels in Southern California, something we are particularly proud of.  Our hope is that we can be an inspiration to others.”

Shop for you, shop for the world


Consumerism is often dubbed the antithesis of all that is good, but that doesn’t have to be so. More and more, businesses are adopting ethical labor practices, Earth-friendly materials and altruistic causes. We found a few ways for you to flex your consumer power — with a conscience.

Photos by Courtney Raney

1. Want to shop at a fabulous New York boutique from the comfort of your Valley home? Jewish-owned retailer Lonnys recently launched lonnys.com, where you can give back while browsing designer brands. Supporting charities is a large part of the company’s mission, and all proceeds from the Lonnys Denim Peace Bag ($20) are donated to Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. lonnys.com

2. The local and Jewish-owned boutique, Green Denim Initiative, features products created with both fashion and the environment in mind. Tags, buttons and zippers are recycled, cold-water washing saves energy, natural fibers and vegetable dyes reduce chemical use, and the store partners with like-minded designers such as Alkemie Jewelry, which donates a portion of its online sales to a different charity each month. Handmade in Los Angeles and created with 100 percent reclaimed metal, Green Denim Initiatives’ newest featured item is this stylish Alkemie Six Shark Tooth Necklace ($209). greendeniminitiative.com

3. Who knew that building a miniature bonsai forest in your home could also help green Israel? At ababyatree.com, you can get this bonsai tree kit ($78), or any other gift, and the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in Israel in honor of someone you love. The kit includes everything you need to maintain a healthy bonsai tree, and even the box and ribbon it’s wrapped in are made of recycled U.S. steel and plastic bottles. ababyatree.com

4. Jewish ceramicist Robert Siegel drew inspiration from his berry bowl-collecting bubbe when he created this limited-edition pink-and-white Baba’s Berry Bowl ($75) for breast cancer awareness. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this bowl will go to The Pink Agenda (thepinkagenda.org), a nonprofit breast cancer research and awareness organization. Available through December 2011, the bowl is hand crafted and made with lead-free porcelain. rshandmade.com

5. “How can we add a little ‘ooh-lah-lah’ to our cars?” asks Jewish entrepreneur and physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, who runs carlahlah.com, a sustainable family business creating car magnets with messages of peace and love. Using only local manufacturers, each magnet purchased ($8.99) will offset 20 miles of carbon emissions from your car. carlahlah.com

6. Famously founded by a German-Jewish immigrant in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently pioneered a way to produce the same fabulous jeans while conserving water. With Water

levi.com/waterless

Making one day’s worth of consumption last for eight


And on the fifth day, I learned how not to compost.

It was a sunny mid-November morning when I found out that potato peels, celery tops and other vegetable pieces — in other words, most of the 7 pounds of organic matter I had been saving in my refrigerator’s crisper drawer for the past four days — were, in fact, still food.

“What’s wrong with that carrot?” Danila Oder, the manager of the Crenshaw Community Garden, asked. She looked down, horrified, at my contribution to her garden’s compost bin and plucked the floppy, slimy orange root off the top of the pile. “What you’re throwing out here — that’s vegetable stock.”

I took the carrot from Oder’s hand, picked the least yucky-looking bits of vegetable matter out of the black plastic drum and stuffed them back in my blue plastic bag.

What began as a simple, circumscribed idea for an article — reducing oil consumption on Chanukah — had somehow morphed into an all-encompassing challenge: To make a single day’s worth of the stuff we consume last for eight days. The experiment was loosely inspired by one of Chanukah’s miracles in which oil that was to have lasted for one day instead burned for eight. I intended to reduce my consumption of petroleum, electricity and water by 87.5 percent. Since transporting food from farm to table also involves burning fossil fuel, I decided I would buy only the most local, least-processed food I could find. I also committed to cutting out the trash I would produce by seven-eighths, as well — which helps explain why I was keeping decomposing vegetable scraps in my refrigerator in the first place.

All this is not exactly in my nature. I am a very particular kind of environmentalist — a lazy one. I buy reusable shopping bags and then forget to bring them to the store. I found author Jonathan Safran Foer’s environmentally based argument against eating animals wholly convincing but haven’t been able to kick meat from my diet. A bit of Web searching showed me that “hypermiler” drivers can get more than 40 miles to the gallon driving their 2001 Honda Civics; I don’t remember the last time I checked my tire pressure.

I believe I’m not alone in wishing that environmentally friendly living were easy, in wishing it didn’t require much thought. Unfortunately, as I found out when I decided to take my own personal environmental impact seriously — some might say altogether too seriously — choosing to live more lightly on the land does take some thought, and re-enacting the miracle that took place in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period in 21st century Los Angeles required equal parts creative thinking and hard work. For eight days, I commuted by bike. I captured half of the water from every highly efficient shower and used it to flush my toilet. I checked my electric meter every morning. I weighed the contents of my garbage can every night.

By the Numbers

What We Use in a Day:
Water: 83 gallons per person per day (for apartment dwellers, LADWP)
Electricity: 16.9 kilowatt hours per residential customer per day (2009, LADWP)
Food (average miles from farm to table): 1,500 miles
Trash: 3.3 pounds per person per day (includes refuse, recycling and yard trimmings, Los Angeles City, 2009)
Petroleum (miles driven): Average weekday car commute in Los Angeles County: 25 miles round trip (Southern California Association ofGovernments 2008 Regional Transportation Plan)

What the Author Used in Eight Days:
Water: 100 gallons*
Electricity: 30 kilowatt hours
Food (average miles from farm to table): It’s nearly impossible to measure.
Trash: 24 pounds (10 pounds recycling, 7 pounds compost, 7 pounds refuse)
Petroleum (miles driven): 36.5 miles *Or thereabouts. And he didn’t do laundry that week.

And when the experiment was over, I found that I had overshot my target numbers in every one of the five categories of consumption — in one case by more than 600 percent. Still, what I learned along the way was more than worth the effort.

Chanukah is more often associated with gift giving than with conservation. But Adam Berman, who has been working at the intersection of Judaism and the environment for 20 years, has long known that environmental messages can be found in every Jewish holiday, and Chanukah is no exception.

“There was this obscure part of the holiday, that there was a race against time that had to do with running out of oil,” Berman said. “We don’t use oil lamps anymore,” Berman continued, but with only 14 percent of our electricity coming from renewable sources like hydroelectric plants, wind farms and solar panels, the miracle’s lesson could still be made applicable. “The light that we use in our homes comes from a finite resource,” Berman said.

In 2006, the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” inspired activists concerned about climate change across American communities to action. Green Jews have been using Chanukah as an opportunity to organize their communities around issues of sustainability and renewable energy for years. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, first drew attention to the holiday’s “conserve-oil aspect” in 2001. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) runs an annual program to increase environmental consciousness through actions around Chanukah nearly every year. In 2006, Liore Milgrom-Elcott drew on Waskow’s work to devise COEJL’s campaign to get Jews to switch from incandescent to more energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This year, COEJL director Sybil Sanchez has used the organization’s Web site to promote a number of programs, all of which are dedicated to getting Jews and Jewish communities to “use less oil, rely less on fossil fuels, [and ] emit less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Eco-stunts like mine are not original. Any writer embarking on such a path is, at some point, going to come across Colin Beavan, the writer better known as No Impact Man.

U.S. expert sees Israel as renewable energy leader


Israel is poised to be a leader in developing solar energy and other renewable energy sources, a leader in the energy arena said while visiting the Jewish state.

In addition, “There are real opportunities for U.S.-style venture capital investment in Israel,” Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said Thursday during a visit to Israel with a delegation of leading American energy specialists.

The delegation is visiting Israel to discuss best practices in the fields of renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The trip was organized by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.

The weeklong program also is intended to establish strategic partnerships, foster professional cooperation and encourage information-sharing between U.S. energy specialists and their Israeli counterparts.

“Israel’s world-class expertise in solar power, biofuels and electric vehicles can be a catalyst for a global shift to low carbon and secure energy systems,” said Marilyn Brown, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient, who is on the trip.

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 (

Waxman will play key role in putting Obama agenda into action


Henry Waxman is a combination of toughness and gentlemanliness, qualities that helped raise him from the fratricidal politics of West Los Angeles to the pinnacle of power in President-elect Barack Obama’s Washington.

Through it all — from battles as a leader in the California Young Democrats in the 1960s to the Washington, D.C. Capitol meeting room where last week the Los Angeles Democratic congressman unseated John Dingell (D-Mich.) to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — he has retained an idealism and interest in intricate public policy unusual in a political world, where victory too often goes to the superficial and cynical. He is also serious about his religion. He and his wife, Janet, are practicing Jews.

Waxman’s toughness was on display when he beat Dingell, Washington’s great defender of the auto industry and opponent of mileage, safety and pollution standards. Waxman had long fought for such standards, often clashing with Dingell.

He strongly made the point to his colleagues that his policies represent the change Obama brings to Washington and some of the most important portions of the president’s agenda will have to pass through the committee.

But there was more to Waxman’s victory than strong words and promises, as John M. Broder and Carl Hulse reported last Sunday in The New York Times. They quoted Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Dingell supporter, as saying many new members had received direct campaign contributions from Waxman: “You bumped into a lot of freshmen who said Mr. Waxman had been very good to them.” Waxman’s supporters carried lists of prospective supporters to contact in the climactic meeting and watched the doors to talk to those leaving for a break.

Waxman honed his talent for careful planning in the ’60s, when, as a young lawyer and UCLA graduate, he began his political career in the liberal volunteer organization, California Young Democrats.

Emma Schafer, a public affairs consultant who runs the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, recalled meeting with other Young Democrats, including Waxman, at the West L.A. home of Howard Berman, who also later went on to Congress. “We plotted and planned campaigns,” Schafer said. “We were the anti-Unruh, anti-money crowd.”

By Unruh, she was referring to the late Jesse M. Unruh of Los Angeles, the longtime Speaker of the California Assembly, who, unlike the Berman-Waxman crowd, supported the Vietnam War, although he turned against it later in the decade. He was also a prodigious political fundraiser, whose efforts offended the reformist Young Democrats who opposed the war.

The fights between the Unruh followers and the anti-war group became legendary. They fought on every level, battling fiercely for even fairly obscure posts known only to political insiders.

When Waxman became president of the Young Democrats, Rick Tuttle, the former Los Angeles city controller, met up with him at an East Hollywood meeting hall. Tuttle was there for a complex four-way fight for political power, an event typical of Young Democrats’ political life.

He listened to Waxman speak, and later they chatted. “He was friendly, engaging, very down to earth,” Tuttle said. And he remembered that Waxman “spoke in complete paragraphs.”

By this time, Waxman was ready to challenge the Democratic assemblyman in the West Los Angeles area, Lester McMillan, an Unruh loyalist.

McMillan was well-liked by many Los Angeles liberals, mainly because he introduced a bill abolishing the death penalty every year. It never passed, but it made McMillan something of a hero among some Westside liberals, and Waxman’s decision to take him on represented a huge escalation of the Young Democrats’ assault on Unruh.

McMillan had the name and Unruh backing, but Waxman had a brilliant young political strategist in Howard Berman’s brother, Michael.

Most politicians at that time saw the Westside as a typically amorphous sprawl, difficult to fathom. Michael Berman saw it for what it was, a distinct collection of Jewish communities, centered on synagogues and community organizations.

Waxman reached them by traditional means, traveling from synagogue to synagogue, from one organizational coffee to another.

But Michael Berman brought a technique to the campaign that was revolutionary for the 1960s: using computers to analyze census tracts and voter records to identify voters in the district. A much more sophisticated version of this technique is now common in political campaigns, but when Berman unveiled it some 40 years ago, computerized politics brought about a radical change.

Berman sent out direct mailers to each group. Some addressed the concerns of older people. Others were targeted toward younger families. Some were about Israel, others about homeowners’ concerns.

Waxman beat McMillan, became a leader in the Assembly and moved on to Congress in 1974. His district reaches as far north as Calabasas and Agoura Hills, and includes portions of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, as well as Beverly Hills and the Fairfax district.

In Congress, Waxman has dug into complex issues, including health care and pollution. He is the author of a major revision of the Clean Air Act of 1990, a major step in efforts to control pollution.

When the Democrats lost control of Congress, Waxman, no longer a policy-making committee chair, turned to investigating abuses by industry and the Bush administration.

Now, as chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman is poised to play a leading role in putting the Obama agenda into law, particularly in health care and in pushing the auto industry into manufacturing energy-efficient and minimally polluting cars.

In a phone conversation on Monday, Waxman told me that health, the environment and energy — all within the committee’s jurisdiction — will be his top priorities.

“The energy issue is one of national security,” he said. Americans must “wean ourselves from depending on sources” in nations hostile to us. And he said millions of jobs will be produced by industries created by a new energy policy, and they “will transform our economy.”

On health care, he said he favors something along the lines of what Obama has advocated, where people can retain their own health plans or move into a form of government-backed health insurance.

I asked him what it felt like to take on a tough old vet like Dingell.

“I felt the next two years offered historic opportunities, and I didn’t think John Dingell was up to it,” he said.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Israel building its first eco-friendly town


ALTTEXT

Mount Gilboa will be the site of Israel’s first green town.

It’s one thing to adopt environmentally conscious behavior, such as recycling, taking public transportation and saving water or electricity. But that’s not enough for the future residents of the developing northern Israeli community of Nurit. They plan to live green.

That’s because the Mount Gilboa town is set to be the first planned, eco-friendly community in Israel, with infrastructure and services designed not just to encourage, but to actually enforce environmentally responsible behavior.

If you’re planning on living in Nurit, said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council, you’re by definition willing to go out of your way to save water, avoid excess waste and in general reduce your carbon footprint. “Otherwise, Nurit is not for you,” he said.

The idea for Nurit stemmed from discussions conducted by Gilboa Regional Council officials nearly a decade ago, as they were seeking to build tourism in the area, as well as comply with new government requirements to introduce environmentally responsible educational programs and activities.

“We were also considering putting up a new town to attract more residents here from the center of the country, and the whole project just sort of made sense,” Atar said. “Thus was Nurit born.”

After intense study and consultation with environmental experts around the world, the town is almost ready for prime time; work has begun on infrastructure, and the first 100 homes will be ready next year. By 2012, there will be 400 families living in Nurit, Atar said.

Located on Mount Gilboa itself, Nurit will take advantage of the mountain’s wind and sun to generate power, and will install dozens of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, enough to provide electricity for all the public buildings in Nurit — and then some.

“We recently got approved for a program by the Israel Electric Co., where residents and public buildings will be able to mount solar PV units on their roofs and sell the electricity to the IEC,” Atar said.

“Together with turbines to generate electricity from wind, we expect that the electricity we generate will be enough to light most of the schools, offices, streetlights and park lights in Nurit, as well as save homeowners money on their energy bills since they can get credits for the power their roof PV systems generate that they don’t use, selling it back to the IEC,” Atar said.

The regional council has a program that provides loans for residents to buy and install the PV panel setup, or residents can design the systems into their construction plans, he adds.

Residents will be asked to grow tall, leafy trees around their homes, creating a natural “cooling canopy” that will help cut down on the need for artificial cooling and heating systems. They will also be asked to build their homes using effective insulation systems, to further reduce the need for air conditioners or heaters.

“We hope to be able to limit the use of artificial heating and cooling solutions to the hottest or coldest days of the year,” he said.

Saving water will also be required of Nurit residents

“In theory, Israel gets more than enough rainfall, but much of the rain is lost to evaporation or runs off to the sea,” Atar said. “We are requiring all residents to build rain-collection systems and minireservoirs to store rainwater. The water will then be funneled into the town reservoir, allowing us to cut down significantly on our use of water from Mekorot, which is drawn from either the Kinneret or Israel’s underground aquifers.”

With the Sea of Galilee at an all time low and Israel scrambling to build desalination plants to make up for projected water shortages, Nurit’s efforts could serve as a model for other, noneco-friendly communities, as well.

Saving rainwater is important, but saving “gray water” is even more important, say many environmentalists, and Nurit is requiring all homeowners to install a gray water collection system, which will store waste water from dishwashing, bathing and other nonsewage (“black water”) sources.

The storage of gray water entails building a separate drainage system that funnels the water into a tank, which is then used for a variety of purposes, such as watering gardens, decorative fountains, etc.

“No one in Nurit will be permitted to use fresh water to water his or her lawn,” Atar said. “Residents will use gray water to water their lawns and run watering systems for plants or orchards.”

Unfortunately, Nurit won’t be able to encourage its residents to trade in their cars for commuting by train, because there is no Israel Railways line in the area, at least for now. But the town will have a complete complement of local and inter-city bus service for those who need to travel. Actually, it is expected that most of Nurit’s residents will work in the area, either at home businesses; in tourist-oriented services, such as bed and breakfasts or restaurants, or at one of the industrial zones in the area.

“Many of the homes have been zoned for use as businesses, as well, so a resident can operate a small business in their backyard,” Atar said. “There is an industrial zone three minutes out of town, mostly with light manufacturing or agriculture industry allied services. And tourism in this region is expected to skyrocket when regular horse racing begins at the Afula Hippodrome, only a few minutes from here,” he added.

Nurit is open to anyone willing to live by the town’s eco-friendly ethos — and many Israelis are willing, apparently, because there is already a long waiting list for lots.

“We’ve already got about 700 families who have made a deposit to get into the lottery for a chance to buy a plot, with more signing up all the time,” Atar said. “The lots, which will have extensive infrastructure to support the gray water drainage and reservoirs system, cost $120,000 to $150,000 — not particularly high for people coming from the center of the country, where many of the Nurit hopefuls come from, and certainly not expensive, when you consider the cost of the infrastructure.”

Most applicants are from big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and its suburbs. A few people from the kibbutzim in the area have signed up as well, but the majority are new to the lower Galilee. Which already makes Nurit a success, as far as Atar is concerned.

“This is a beautiful part of the country to live in, and thanks to Nurit, hundreds of families are going to get the opportunity to find out just how beautiful it really is,” Atar said.

Begone, bygones! Green is the new blue and white


Bygones

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
Tarzana

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

Menorah lights hope for second oil miracle


alt.energy menorah

Alternative energy symbols, which are laser cut into crystal menorah, from left, are biofuel, electric, wind, coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar, water. The symbols are a reminder to adopt alternative energy sources.

There are golf, art deco and Noah’s Ark menorahs and also cat, bride-and-groom and fire truck chanukiyahs.

But that’s all so 5768.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has come up with an alternative energy menorah of elegant crystal design, with candleholders inscribed with the laser-cut symbols for biofuel, electric car, wind power, clean coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar and hydropower.

The Energy Alternative Menorah is more than a decorative artifact, for if the Maccabbees fought for freedom from foreign occupiers, America is now struggling for freedom from foreign oil despots.

From Iran to Venezuela, petrodictators are using billions of our dollars to fund terrorism and propaganda against the United States and Israel, noted Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

“Reducing our dependence on foreign oil must become America’s No. 1 national security priority, and everyone must share in the task,” he added.

To that end, the center has launched its Energy Independence Initiative, including educational lectures and exhibits, petitions, and creation of the menorah.

Complimentary menorahs will be sent to all 50 governors and to mayors of major cities. Menorahs are also available for purchase, priced at $180, with a 10 percent discount if ordered before Nov. 1.

“The goal of our initiative is to trigger a basic change in the attitude of every American, so we can stop hemorrhaging our national wealth to benefit our enemies,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.

For more information on the menorah, call (800) 553-4474 or visit www.wiesenthal.com

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, www.foeme.org, a regional environmental organization that brings Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to work together in a common effort in search of peace and sustainability.

Israel’s clean tech advances attract foreign investors’ green


TEL AVIV (JTA) — From cutting-edge geothermal power deep underground to wind turbines and solar panels capturing energy from the sky above, foreign investors are pouring money into Israel’s growing clean tech sector.

And it’s not just Jews.

“Every day I get calls from people asking for opportunities to invest in clean technologies in Israel,” said Michael Granoff, president of the New York-based Maniv Energy Capital and an investor in Project Better Place, the company working to make Israel a testing ground for an electric car.

“That to me is extremely encouraging,” he said. “I believe nothing will determine Israel’s prosperity more than the degree to which it is a leader in innovation around sustainability.”

Clean tech, a catch-all term for emerging technologies focused on renewable and more efficient energy consumption, is soaring in Israel. A wave of new start-ups, academic research projects and new venture capital funds are focusing on the industry, and multinational corporations such as the Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric are scouting out new technologies here.

Fueling the interest in environmentally friendly clean-tech solutions are skyrocketing oil prices, growing concerns about global warming and a push for sustainable solutions to the world’s energy problems.

Investing in Israel’s expertise may not only make good business sense but benefit the worldwide quest for cleaner, greener energy alternatives.

It also may constitute an opportunity to bolster Israel’s international reputation by linking the Jewish state with green innovation.

Jonathan Shapira, a recent American law school graduate who writes a blog on clean-tech investment in Israel, says Diaspora Jews can play an essential role by becoming either consumers of or investors in Israeli technologies.

“Every Jewish family and institution should consider installing solar panels, rooftop wind turbines or energy efficient lighting developed in Israel,” he said. “This will lower their electricity bill, protect the environment, benefit the Israeli economy and help position Israel as a world leader in clean technology.”

The imperative for developing alternative energy sources is particularly acute for Israel because its enemies’ strength derives in large part from the world’s dependence on their oil resources.

“It really makes sense for reasons of economics, but there is also the issue that so much is at stake here,” said David Rosenblatt, the vice chairman of the board of a new solar power company near Eilat, Arava Power, which is headed by Yosef Abramowitz. “This is doing something for Israel’s national security, protecting its energy independence through green power.”

Rosenblatt, who also runs an investment fund in New York, where he lives, said his investment in Arava Power is a Jewish venture as well.

“This is about clean energy, but it’s also about Jewish roots and what I can do to express it and where I personally have value to add,” he told JTA.

In Herzliya, three American immigrants in their 30s have created the first venture capital firm to target the Israeli clean-tech market, Israel Cleantech Ventures. They recently raised $75 million for their debut fund, exceeding the $60 million they originally set out to raise.

Glen Schwaber, one of the firm’s partners, said enthusiasm among investors for Israeli clean tech reflects Israel’s growing reputation as a potential incubator for new technologies that is buoyed by the country’s high-tech success stories.

“Israel has a reputation for innovation and technology, and a mature venture capital environment along with a successful history in entrepreneurship,” Schwaber said. “The next logical place for the clean-tech investor after Silicon Valley and the Boston area is Israel.”

The Jewish state is beginning to capitalize on its experience in such fields as solar thermal technology, wastewater recycling and desalination. Until recently, Israel had the world’s only large-scale desalination plant, off the coast of Ashkelon. Now countries such as China are building them.

“Israel is a great country to beta test some of these new technologies because it is a microcosm of the world’s needs: shortages of water, a large transportation fleet on per-capita basis, and an abundance of solar energy potential,” said Schwaber, 38, who made aliyah from Boston.

Among Cleantech Ventures’ investors are some big names in Jewish philanthropy, including the families of Edgar Bronfman and Stacy Schusterman.

Schusterman, CEO of the Samson Investment Co., a private oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., said she sees her investments in Israeli clean-tech ventures, including Israel’s electric car enterprise, as business, not philanthropy.

“This is a business venture,” she told JTA in a phone interview from Tulsa. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage Israel’s deep intellectual capital in an area we see as a burgeoning worldwide industry, and by investing it we would have the opportunity to create a hedge against our base business.”

She added, “This is an area where Israel should excel, so as a Jew I have every reason to help make that happen.”

Last month, the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Kinrot Incubator, a company located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that helps entrepreneurs and researchers with water-based technological innovations.

The deal will enable Israeli start-up companies to use water and power facilities in Los Angeles for pilot projects and to conduct joint research with the University of California, Los Angeles on water projects.

Los Angeles is interested in using the Kinrot model to establish its own incubator for water-related technologies.

Assaf Barnea, Kinrot’s CEO, said that although the water market is not new, the hype over going green has given it a new shine in the eye of investors.

“They have now heard about it and want to be players,” he said. “There is huge hype but it’s not just hype. This is a market that is here to stay.”

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,

Israel-Iran war talk blamed for oil price frenzy


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Even if the tough talk between Israel and Iran never comes to blows, it’s already hitting consumers where it hurts—at the gas pump.

Experts say that talk of an Israeli strike on Iran is a key part of what’s unsettling already volatile oil markets.

“It’s clearly having an effect on oil markets as they continue their march upward,” said Tom Drennen, an oil markets expert at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.

Oil prices soared to a record high of more than $144 a barrel last Wednesday after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested to the United Nations that Iran would hit back in the event of an Israeli strike.

And after Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said last month that an Israeli strike would be “inevitable” if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, oil prices had their highest single-day jump in history.

Mofaz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is also the chief negotiator in the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. Some pointed to his pronouncements as evidence that his Bush administration interlocutors view such a possibility positively, but others downplayed Mofaz’s remarks as indeliberate blustering.

Even if it’s all just talk, the problem for consumers is that this intensified speculation drives the markets.

“Traders on the floor look out into forward months, and when there’s a factor that will disrupt supplies, they will lock supplies a bit further out,” said David Pomfrey, the deputy director for energy and national security at the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Securing supplies ahead of time keeps oil off the market, driving up prices.

Market fluctuation is more common in markets driven primarily by rumors and speculation rather than facts, Pomfrey said.

“It’s a network of people whispering to each other,” he said.

Speculators are now asking whether an Israeli strike on Iran would be limited to nuclear targets or if Israel would try to hit other sites as part of its attack strategy. For example, if Iran’s ports were damaged, the Islamic Republic’s major oil trading partners, such as China, might suffer. That likely would prompt a run on other markets.

Then there’s the question of the Iranian response.

“Would they try to use the leverage they have to cut off their oil flows into the world markets?” Pomfrey asked. “It would cost them, but it does allow them to impose penalties.”

The nightmare scenario would be if Iran used its regional military superiority to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, a key passage for oil tankers. That would cut supplies from the other major producers, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf emirates.

“The whole notion that if something happened and Iran was willing to shut down the straits, that would send prices who knows where,” Drennen said.
Experts say the effect of tensions with Iran should not be overstated. Unrest within Nigeria, another major oil supplier, also was a major factor in driving up prices.

“It’s hard to even tell” what the major factor is, said Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist in U.S. national security policy at the Brookings Institution. “The market is so easily spooked, it’s hard to separate anything from the noise.”

In recent weeks, speculation that Israel might strike Iran in the diplomatic dead zone between the U.S. election on Nov. 7 and the presidential inauguration on Jan. 21 has intensified in Washington.

That timing would give Israel a chance to get backing for a strike from President Bush, a staunch defender of Israel’s right to a pre-emptive defense, as well as spare the incoming president the difficulty of explaining such an attack.

The effect on markets of attack talk likely was a factor in this week’s effort by U.S. officials to tone down the rhetoric, Drennen said.

Bush, for instance, said Wednesday that he had made it clear to Israel that diplomacy was still the preferred option with Iran. And Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of the dire consequences of an Israeli strike.

“The U.S. would be thinking very seriously that they would be very careful about what they say in public,” Drennen said. “Any notion that they are considering such a move or Israel is considering such a move will have an affect. Every $2 increase in a barrel of oil means another five cents at the pump, and I’m not sure how much more consumers are going to take.”

 

Israel Invests in Clean Tech as energy Crunch Looms


At a lab in Rehovot, the man who developed the Arrow missile is consumed with his next mission: making Israel energy independent by using cheap solar power.

“The issue of energy is the greatest danger to Israel, because in 30 years there will be no energy means, no oil and no gas, and the use of coal will be prohibited,” said Dov Raviv, now the CEO of MST, an Israeli renewable energy company. “Without energy Israel cannot survive, and we must find a substitute and find it fast. That is what I am trying to do.”

Raviv’s company is working to reduce the high price of solar power, which is not yet competitive with the price of conventional energy sources like oil, by more efficiently harnessing solar energy through a method of concentrating sunlight on a matrix of single solar cells.

MST is one of dozens of alternative energy start-ups across Israel seeking solutions to the global energy crisis.

Among the innovations under development are a gear system that dramatically boosts the efficiency of wind turbines, a device that would reduce gas emissions from trucks, the generation of bio-fuels from desert plants and various techniques to generate energy from unlikely sources, including seaweed and sewage water.

Entrepreneurs say Israeli solutions can help not only Israel but also the world.

“Israel has the minds, the R&D, the technology and the entrepreneurship, but we are lagging behind in terms of actual deployment,” said David Schwartz, the chairman of MyPlanet, an Israeli consortium of companies involved in energy and security issues. “This is impeding reaching our full potential as a source of alternative energy for the world.”

Israel’s leadership in the development of alternative energy also can have security benefits. If the world is weaned from its overwhelming dependence on oil, the oil-rich autocratic regimes that surround the Jewish state, including Iran, will have less oil revenue to pay for their anti-Israel activities — whether the development of nuclear weapons or the funding of fundamentalist terrorist groups.

During a recent visit to Israel to accept the $1 million Dan David Award for promoting environmental awareness, Al Gore asked a question many Israelis have been pondering themselves: “How is it here, in the land of the sun, there is no widespread use of solar energy?”

Alternative energy is “good for the Jews,” Gore told a conference on the subject at Tel Aviv University.

Industry observers say more aggressive government policies, such as underwriting renewable energy initiatives and granting more land for power plants, are needed to bolster the development of alternative energy.

“Europe and the U.S. have made incredible strides,” Schwartz said. “Israel has not.”

Meanwhile, Israel has an energy shortage looming. Israel’s supply capacity is 10,600 megawatts per day, and the country has come dangerously close to exceeding that demand on especially hot and cold days.

With limited energy reserves to accommodate for surges, and as the country’s population and energy use grows, the problem is becoming more acute.

The head of the Israel Energy Forum, Yael Cohen-Paran, says some relatively simple measures could significantly reduce the load on the energy grid: cash rebates for those who purchase energy-efficient air conditioning and heating units, and government encouragement of energy-saving building practices.

The long-term solution, however, may require more of a shift.

At the Tel Aviv energy conference, Israel’s infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, responded to criticism of government policy on the issue by announcing a commitment to increase the share of such energies to 15 percent to 20 percent of Israel’s total energy use by 2020, double that of previous targets.

He also pledged to adopt a plan to build one new solar station per year for the next 20 years and introduce a bill to make the Negev Desert and southern Israel a “national preference region” for renewable energies. Tax breaks and other incentives would be part of the package.

Yossi Abramowitz, the president of Arava Power, wants to install 62,500 solar panels by year’s end on the sun-drenched sands of Israel’s deserts. He says his company has found investors to pay for solar power stations that would be capable of supplying up to 500 megawatts of electricity for the country — nearly 5 percent of Israel’s daily energy needs during daylight hours.

The project relies on the use of photovoltaics, or PV, a relatively expensive technology that uses a fraction of the silicon used in conventional solar panels to convert sunlight-generated photons into energy.

But for this energy to be competitive on the open market, the government needs to double its current rate of subsidy, Abramowitz says, bringing Israel more in line with the levels of subsidy in countries such as Germany and Spain.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently announced a new deal with Israeli start-up Zenith Solar to license solar energy technology developed by its researchers that could revolutionize the way solar power is collected and drastically reduce its price.

The new method, a form of “concentrated PV,” would use fewer of the expensive silicon solar cells to create energy. Instead it would use low-cost glass mirrors to collect sunlight and then focus it onto a relatively small amount of those solar cells to generate power.

The Israeli founder of an algae fuel company called GreenFuel, Isaac Berzin, who was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 people in the world for 2008, says Israel is too small of a country to keep such technology to itself.

“Israel should be a catalyst for change,” Berzin said. “Israel is a very small market, a very small place in the middle of nowhere, but it has here what it takes in terms of technology, the know-how to change the world.”

Bill Boyarsky: Calculating the value of Villaraigosa’s trip


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The mayor and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Hulda discuss river revitalization. Photo courtesy the Mayor’s Office

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

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


image

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.”

We need public transit — why can’t we get it?


I’ve never been a big one for buses or subways. I’ve never been able to organize myself around their schedules, at least when it comes to getting to work. So I usually end up taking my car (or, now that I’m in sunny Berkeley, walking, and not worrying about getting anywhere on time). Now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, I’m avoiding my car altogether.

For years, policymakers have wondered just how high gas prices would have to go before drivers switch to public transportation. The answer has been assumed to be very high, because Americans supposedly are in love with our cars. Yet now we know there’s a tipping point, and it’s not quite as high as policymakers have guessed. It’s around $4 a gallon. We know that’s the tipping point because suddenly millions of Americans are switching to buses, trains and subways to go to work.

Rather than bemoaning this remarkable turnaround we should be celebrating it. Public transit not only reduces congestion but also reduces the nation’s energy needs and cuts carbon emissions that bring on global warming.

Problem is, the nation doesn’t have nearly enough public transportation to handle the new demand. Even more absurdly, right now when it’s needed the most, public transportation across the land is being cut back. This is because transit costs are soaring by the same skyrocketing fuel prices that are forcing people out of their cars, at the same time transit revenues are shrinking because most transit systems depend largely on sales taxes, now dwindling as consumer purchases decline in this recession. A survey of the nation’s public transit agencies released last Friday showed 21 percent of rail operators — and 19 percent of bus operators — now cutting back.

Even though it’s 100 times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.

This is nuts. If officials need more money to cover the extra fuel costs of public transit, they can raise ticket prices a bit without reducing demand; most of us would still find public transit cheaper than driving our cars. But officials shouldn’t stop there. They should add services and expand whole systems — more buses, more trains, more light rail. If they can’t finance this by floating bonds, they should go to Congress and ensure that public transportation is a major part of the next stimulus package.

Public transit has always been the poor stepchild of infrastructure development. America’s usual answer to traffic congestion has been to add more lanes on highways, or more highways, or more bridges and tunnels for more cars. America hasn’t been really serious about public transit for almost a century. Most of New York City’s subway system was built over a hundred years ago. Los Angeles ripped out its trams long ago. Boston’s Big Dig, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in modern American history, was designed entirely for cars. In recent years, only a few farsighted and ambitious cities, like Portland, Ore., have invested in light rail.

But now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, all this may change. And what better way to get the economy going, and save energy and the environment in years to come, than to create a modern, efficient system of public transportation in America?

Reprinted from Marketplace, June 4, 2008.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and the author of “Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America” (Knopf, 2004).

VIDEO: World’s first operating thermal energy field opens in Israel


Israeli companies BrightSource Energy and LUZ II have created a solar power development center—the word’s first, they say.  Here is the promo video.

Orthodox schools share concern for greener world


“Everyone really excited about going to the dump?” David Chameides shouted as he led a group of Shalhevet High School students on a trip to the Puente Hills Landfill near Whittier.

It is not a pretty place: According to Basil Hewitt, a senior engineer at the landfill, the trash rises 500 feet high, and 2,000 tons of garbage are processed every hour. For that reason, the tour always has an impact.

An Emmy Award-winning director who blogs his attempts at living sustainably, Chameides includes the tour to the world’s largest landfill as part of his seminars for students on renewable energy and sustainability. For the past two years, he has specifically targeted Orthodox Jewish schools, including Maimonides Academy, Shalhevet and Yavneh Hebrew Academy.

Global warming and greenhouse gases are all-too-familiar concepts for many people these days, but within Orthodox day schools they still represent a brave new world. But now these schools are making a concerted effort to catch up to a greener landscape, from creating a Web site that measures a school’s greenhouse gas output to introducing Master Solar and Madam Geothermal — Chameides’ creations — to students on an environment-oriented camping trip.

This spring, area Orthodox schools have sent students off site during three school days for an outdoor education program. Chabad’s Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach has installed 189 solar panels on its roof and is even looking for ways to store energy for the school’s future. (Yavneh, ahead of the curve, has had solar panels up and running since 2005.)

When some Shalhevet students stopped using disposable water bottles after the trip to the landfill, the school asked Chameides to return for another seminar on sustainability — for the parents.

“These programs start them thinking critically. At Maimonides a boy asked me, ‘Does it make sense to drive an SUV?'” Chameides said. He told the student it might make sense if the vehicle was filled with passengers.

Orthodox schools are using a Torah-based approach to going green. Traditional sources include Genesis: “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden, to work it and to protect it [l’shomra],” (Genesis 2:15); the principal of not cutting down a fruit tree during wartime (Deuteronomy 20:19); and the Chasidic philosophy of illuminating the world.

“If you believe in God, and you believe He created this earth, then it’s a sin to destroy His planet,” said Chameides, who is also known as “Sustainable Dave.”

But Chameides says he is frustrated because he has made more inroads in private schools other than Orthodox Jewish ones.

“Kids need to be at the forefront. Recycling was started by a group of teenagers who ‘guilted’ their parents,” he said.

Up until now, although Orthodox communities have established thousands of charitable g’machs — an acronym used for organizations that recycle goods from pacifiers to bridal gowns — many believe that they have been much less involved than other Jewish organizations in saving the environment. The reasons cited include the Land of Israel as a priority, or that the community is stretched economically, with other priorities like high tuitions and large families.

Orthodox leadership historically has been uncomfortable with environmentalism. For many years, the Torah-based view of working the world for man’s purposes has been at odds with secular environmentalism that puts nature first. The extremism of some environmental groups has even resembled a form of paganism in the Orthodox community, as traditional sources point to man’s dominance, while some environmental groups believe that every living thing has its own “deity,” and thus should not be disturbed by man. A tree-sitter may organize a protest to save a tree, while the Talmud allows a tree to be cut down for wood if its value is greater than the fruit.

But now that saving the environment has become more mainstream, it has also become more acceptable in Orthodox schools.

Evonne Marzouk is executive director of Canfei Nesharim, a national organization based in New York that has spearheaded the environmental effort in the Orthodox community. “The environment is not a natural issue, like Israel,” Marzouk said. “You need to speak the language of the Torah-based community. Otherwise, it won’t resonate with them.”

“No one has really tried to educate the Orthodox community. As early as 1990, you can find rabbis who tried, but there was no structured, strategic effort. It’s an infrastructure problem,” said Marzouk, who received an Unsung Hero Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she also works.

“As soon as we said we are Orthodox Jews who care about the environment, we found the people. And now we’re creating the materials to empower them,” she said. Canfei Nesharim is planning to launch a program in Orthodox schools using traditional Jewish sources to teach modern environmental issues, funded by the Covenant Foundation.

“It’s hard to think long-term when you’re struggling with day-to-day costs and giving out scholarships,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, dean of the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, who worked with HelioPower to assess the viability of the school going solar when the cost of a new roof was funded by a school donor.

That school is one of a handful of Jewish schools to go solar — Yavneh also has panels that sit atop its gymnasium — because of a “combination of environmental issues, respect for [God]’s creation and safeguarding our energy costs,” Newman said. The installation this spring spawned an Earth Day celebration and environmental efforts initiated by students.

The school’s buildings face south and sit on 11 acres close to the ocean, an ideal site for solar panels. The school installed Sharp USA panels for a net cost of $150,000, after a $70,000 federal rebate. It anticipates saving nearly 30 percent of an annual $70,000 electricity budget and recouping costs within a decade.

Going solar should also become easier for other schools to follow, Newman said, since new Israeli technology has developed solar foil for more compact installation.

Sinai Temple puts its food where its ‘moral diet’ is


“What’s this? Kale or chard?”

“Oh look, little red onions.”

“Here, taste these peas. They are so sweet.”

Farmer Phil McGrath had just made his inaugural delivery of 25 boxes of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables to Sinai Temple, where organizers of the synagogue’s new CSA (community supported agriculture) venture stood admiring and even sampling the boxes’ contents.

“This is a pretty monumental day for McGrath Family Farm,” said McGrath, 55, whose farm, in business in Camarillo since 1871, was participating in its first CSA, a partnership in which a group of people sign up in advance to receive a weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables from a local organic grower. The participants essentially become shareholders in the farm’s harvest, assuming both the risks and rewards.

It was also a monumental day for Sinai Temple, where CSA organizers, under the direction of site coordinator Lisa Rose, stacked the cardboard boxes in the shade, set out the sign-in sheet and weekly newsletter and prepared for participants arriving on the synagogue’s Holmby Avenue side.

People started showing up almost immediately. Some came to pick up their boxes; others considering signing up or just curious about CSAs.

Sinai Akiba parent Lisa Lainer had learned about the CSA only the day before. “I don’t have time to go to a farmers market. It has to come to me,” she said.

Another temple member, Sandy Croll, came to fetch her box, which she is sharing with some friends. “I think it’s a good cause, but I just want some recipes. I’ve never made a beet in my life,” she said.

Sinai Temple first committed itself to starting a CSA in response to a Jewish Journal editorial about ethical eating by Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman (“Moral Diet,” Jan. 5, 2006). In a letter to the editor, Senior Rabbi David Wolpe wrote, “This kashrut initiative expresses that holy purpose of taking care of God’s gift.”

The initiative was put into action when Rabbi Ahud Sela joined the synagogue last July. He was familiar with Hazon, the New York-based community organization committed to sustainable farming and eating, and its Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA program, from his days at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also discovered McGrath at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Sela hopes the CSA will educate participants about organic farming and instill a relationship to the land. “We have only a historical connection, because the agricultural component seems so irrelevant to our culture,” he said.

Sinai Temple’s CSA is the first in Southern California affiliated with Tuv Ha’Aretz, which is the first Jewish CSA program in the United States. Tuv Ha’Aretz, which has a double meaning, “good for the land” and “best of the land,” began with one CSA in New York City in 2004 and now has 16 in the United States, as well as two in Canada and one in Israel.

Tuv Ha’Aretz works like other CSAs but incorporates Jewish learning and leadership opportunities. The organization provides participating synagogues and Jewish community centers with a comprehensive instruction manual, training at its annual food conference in December (scheduled December 2009 at Pacific Grove’s Asilomar Conference Grounds) and ongoing support and networking.

Sinai Temple participants, who do not have to be synagogue members, must commit for one growing season, from April through December. The cost is $1,600, or about $40 a week, and boxes can be shared. Sign-ups remain open until early May.

But the program is more than a food delivery service.

Participants must volunteer to oversee two pickup shifts on Thursday afternoons from 2:30 to 5 during the season. In addition, they are required to volunteer at least once at either SOVA Food Pantry or Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition. Sinai Temple is the only Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA that requires this work commitment.

“We’re concerned not only about the food going into our mouths but about feeding others also,” Sela said.

Boxes that are not claimed are delivered to Liberty House, a sober-living facility in nearby Century City for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.

Additionally, there is an educational component headed by Sinai member Veronica Nessim, who is planning a field trip to the McGrath Family Farm on Monday, May 26.

“We want to show the families where the food comes from,” she said. She is also distributing recipes and planning cooking classes because, she explained, not everyone knows how to steam an artichoke.

Other Southern California synagogues are looking into Tuv Ha’Aretz’s CSA program, including Temple Isaiah, which is “exploring the possibility,” according to Rabbi Dara Frimmer.

Meanwhile, the Westside JCC is celebrating the one-year anniversary in May of its CSA, run by the Tierra Miguel Foundation in San Diego County. About 12 to 15 families receive a box of organic fruits and vegetables on an annual or seasonal basis, costing about $40 a week, according to Brian Greene, JCC executive director.

But for all CSA shareholders and growers alike, the goals are similar.

“The whole thing about community supported agriculture is against globalization and fast foods,” McGrath said. “This is what your grandfathers and my grandfather used to do. We’re going back to our roots. No pun intended.”

To become a shareholder or to obtain more information about Sinai Temple’s CSA, contact Lisa Rose at dlisarose@yahoo.com.

To become a shareholder in the Westside JCC’s CSA, call (323) 938-2531.

Tuv Ha’Aretz: http://hazon.org/go.php?q=/food/CSA/aboutTuvHa’Aretz.html

McGrath Family Farms: http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M3498

Tierra Miguel Foundation: http://www.tierramiguelfarm.org/

L.A. Jewish girl joins the African Jewish matzah dance


My Pesach preparation, like that of so many Americans, usually involves walking to my local supermarket and loading a cart full of Manischewitz products … you
know, the chocolate-covered jellies, the matzah-pizza sauce and, of course, the kosher cheese that rarely melts. The hardest part of the process is simply choosing between the egg and onion or the butter-flavored matzah.

But preparing for Pesach this year was a bit different. Living in the village of Gonder in Northern Ethiopia and teaching Hebrew music, dance and culture to eager students, ages 6 to 20, has been an enormous blessing. I wake up each morning to pray with white-robed, modest Ethiopians who have moved from the surrounding villages to be a part of this unbelievable 14,000-person Jewish community. From morning services, I walk the rocky dirt path to the mud and straw school, which is decorated with vibrant paintings of the Torah, a shofar, Israeli flags and even a diagram of the body in Hebrew. It is alive with exuberant children skipping quickly inside to get a good seat on the wooden benches. They sing “Hava Nagila,” “Esa Enai” and “Hinei Matov” with every ounce of power in their lungs and with a groovy boogie in their brightly colored foam-sandaled feet. Meanwhile, some of their older cousins and parents are busy suiting up in matching beige aprons preparing for the coming holiday.

Almost 400 miles away from the nearest “supermarket” — not to mention one that sells kosher food — the members of Gonder’s Beta Israel Jewish Community have to make all their matzah themselves, resulting in the production of 300,000 matzot in an outdoor, 18-minute-or-less whirlwind, just in time to replace the injera (traditional flat, sour, bubbly pancakes — the staple Ethiopian food) for Pesach.

As a Los Angeles-bred city girl, I would have had no idea where to start if I were asked to hand-prepare fresh matzah. I probably would have plopped some bread dough on my head and hurriedly walked around outside in the sun, trying to mimic my ancestors leaving Egypt, hoping that it would somehow bake into a neat flattened square crisp.

But in Gonder, they have the process down to an art. More than 100 community members in kippot and hair coverings (for the women) work under the supervision of an Israeli Ethiopian named Getinet beneath the precious shade of a large green tree. Turquoise-, yellow- and cantaloupe-shaded birds gather on the branches to witness the operation, also providing a cheery tune on the breeze. The men face each other across long, spotless tables. They count down to the start of the 18-minute cycle with an excited Amharic “ahnd, hoolet, sost!” (And I thought that the ’90s cooking show, “Ready, Set, Cook!” was good.) As soon as the countdown reaches its climax and the time begins to run, they rapidly mix the flour and water, pound it out, roll it, puncture it with “the little hole making wheel” and cut out medium-sized circles.

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May this Pesach bring us all a little “Jewish matzah dance” of our own — or may it at least inspire us to enjoy the natural beauty and joy of Hashem’s creations. More importantly, may the fire of our souls inspire us to perform many mitzvot and celebrate the glory of our heritage that transcends continents, languages and cultures.

For more information about the program, contact the

Israeli invention could pave way for hydrogen cars


Everyone’s heard that old story about the scientist who invents a “magic pill” that turns water into gasoline — with the invention eventually getting into the hands of the oil companies that bury it, fearing they will be driven out of business when word gets out about their competition.

It sounds like science fiction, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened to Moshe Stern, head of C.En (Clean Energy), who said his company’s scientists have developed a revolutionary breakthrough that will enable automobile manufacturers to produce — and sell — cars that use hydrogen power. It’s a breakthrough that has been getting a lot of attention — and oil companies got wind of it, too, with one company allegedly offering him $50 million to shelve his project.

Stern didn’t take the money, though; he intends to see his hydrogen car project through. As a result, he said, for the first time the West has an opportunity to make a real dent in its dependence on OPEC oil.

Hydrogen has long been the great green hope for governments and environmentalists, as well as the ideal opportunity to lessen oil imports for Western countries — since hydrogen can be manufactured from water.

President Bush has set aside billions for development of the technology, and hydrogen is the preferred alternative fuel for public vehicles, like buses, in many cities. Among the cities with at least some public buses fueled by hydrogen are London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Perth, Australia, and Santa Monica — where nearly three-quarters of all municipal vehicles of all types are powered by the fuel.

Instead of producing carbon monoxide or other harmful pollutants, hydrogen fuel emits water vapor, which is certainly better for the environment than fossil fuel emissions — even though some scientists believe it should be considered a greenhouse gas.

Lower pollution and less money for OPEC — hydrogen sounds tailo rmade for the fuel problems that ail us. While Bill Gates of Microsoft fame may have been right when he said, “If GM kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon,” the fact is that the industry says that hydrogen is still not ready for prime time.

While producing the hydrogen is easy enough, getting the fuel into the car and storing it in a fuel tank are some of the biggest obstacles for the technology. This, industry experts say, has traditionally been the deal-breaker for increased hydrogen use.

Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold about five gallons of fuel — enough for barely 160 miles of driving.

Then there’s the issue of integrating the fuel into internal combustion vehicles that, for better or worse, are unlikely to be phased out anytime soon — as well as the question of where drivers are supposed to fill up, because hydrogen stations are rare.

All these are legitimate concerns that have kept hydrogen development restricted more or less to the laboratory, Stern said, and all concerns that are addressed and solved with C.En’s hydrogen storage and supply solution.

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas collected from the environment (i.e., not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak-proof glass container. The best part: Drivers will be able to buy “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up approximately every 370 miles.

Stern said they can build a 16-gallon tank that weighs no more than 100 pounds,unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh several hundred pounds.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of Environmental Energy Resources (EER), a waste treatment company. “You don’t need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations, and you don’t need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced, and you can carry a reserve in the car.”

When you run out of hydrogen in one tank, according to Stern, you just pull out the empty cell and put in the fresh one, which will be good for another 370 miles.

The cells, in fact, will act just like batteries in electric or hybrid cars and fit right in with the standard internal combustion engine — which means that Detroit or Japan don’t have to retool their factories or production lines to build cars with the capacity for hydrogen cells. The know-how and means of production are in use right now, in fact, as almost every car manufacturer is already producing hybrids or straight electric cars.

George Sverdrup, technology manager for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program, said that once the storage problem is solved, there is no reason hydrogen cannot be used as the premiere fuel to power cars.

“We can use hydrogen to decrease our dependence on imported petroleum, because it can be produced by a variety of domestic resources, including water and biomass,” he said, adding that his group has made a great deal of progress in recent years figuring out ways to store hydrogen more safely — a problem solved by C.En’s invention.

Stern is coordinator of the project and chief investor. Among the others are Israeli, as well as Korean, Japanese and Russian investors. The head researcher is professor Dan Eliezer of Ben-Gurion University, an expert in hydrogen who has done work for NASA and security organizations in Israel and the United States.

The team has conducted more than 100 tests over the past several years and is going to be conducting field tests in Germany, where the company will seek approval by BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing).

It’s a nice day for a green wedding


Jessica Kraft didn’t wear a traditional flowing white, off-white or ivory gown during her wedding day last October. Instead, the 29-year-old college professor made her way down the aisle at the UCLA Faculty Center in purple and gold.

While the San Francisco resident — whose husband grew up in Los Angeles — considers herself unconventional, her unusual frock had little to do with balking at tradition.

“I wanted my dress to be sustainable fashion,” said Kraft, referring to her desire that the garment’s production have little impact on the environment. Kraft’s eco-friendly dress was made from organic hemp, chiffon and a little vegetable dye.

But the nontraditional dress was just one part of Kraft’s “green” simcha. In lieu of sending out paper invitations, Kraft and her husband, Jordan Elias, sent out their invites via e-mail, used organic flowers, registered for green products like bamboo kitchenware and bath towels made of organic cotton and hired a biodiesel van (which runs on peanut oil instead of gasoline) to transport their guests to the ceremony. In addition, they donated 3 percent of their gift registry proceeds to the National Resource Defense Council, a national environmental action organization.

With our country’s growing concern about the environment, many couples are choosing to have eco-friendly weddings. Jewish brides and grooms-to-be in the Southland are no exception. Green event planner Deborah Kattler Kupetz of DKK Events in Brentwood says that 60 percent of her clients are Jewish. And Angelica Weihs of Angelique Events in Los Angeles has noticed an upward trend in her own business.

“I would certainly say that [green] awareness in the Jewish community is rising,” said Weihs, whose book, “The Luxury of Loving Green: Weddings in the 21st Century” (Ignite Publishing, 2008), will hit bookstores in May. These days, many young adults take steps toward saving the environment in their daily lives. Often, the mentality carries over into their wedding plans.

“Within our lifestyle, we’re as green as possible … and I drive a hybrid car,” said Melanie Lora, 29, of her life with fiancÃ(c) Sky Meltzer. “The environment is just something that’s important to both of us.”

Lora and Meltzer, Santa Monica residents, are currently planning their 2009 wedding. While they are unsure which Jewish elements they will incorporate into their ceremony, they know that that the menu will be vegetarian, the invitations will be printed on recycled paper, the decorations will be minimal and at least part of the flower arrangements will be replantable.

Other green wedding ideas include the use of soy- and hemp-based products for linens, the dÃ(c)cor and even the chuppah; using local and seasonally produced food; using ecologically chauffeured transportation; and using natural light or simply having an outdoor affair.

Many couples try to “carbon-zero” their events by offsetting the extra energy and carbons used, which, in turn, helps fight global warming. A couple might compensate for driving a car, taking a plane or using artificial light by planting trees or donating to a carbon offset project.

But with the expense of using recycled paper for invitations, buying organic food and using alternative energy sources, are green weddings more expensive than regular weddings?

“Many people mistakenly feel that a green path is a more expensive path,” said Kupetz, who prides herself on the variety of sources she uses to accomplish her green events. “Just like anything, if you know what you are doing you can be as competitive as anyone.”

Kraft was an environmental and social activist back in college and she was concerned about going overboard when planning her own wedding.

“I realized what a big event it was and how many resources we could waste in putting on this big production,” Kraft said. “Wherever you look, there’s another bridal magazine and another caterer to take advantage of the $50,000 people are spending in one day. I thought it was sort of narcissistic consumption.”

Instead, Kraft and Elias tried to keep waste at a minimum, raise awareness and include their shared value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

And green weddings have deep meaning within Judaism itself. Since eco-friendliness goes hand in hand with the concept of tikkun olam, protecting the planet is an extremely Jewish issue.

“When a couple adds to the inherent joy the additional blessing of tikkun olam, healing the world itself, it takes what otherwise is only an intensely personal mitzvah and turns it into a blessing in the public realm, as well,” said Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades. “In this way, creating an eco-friendly wedding allows everyone who participates to feel that they are having a kind of double celebration — both for the bride and groom and for the planet.”

Looking back on her big day, Kraft is thrilled that her passion for the environment was a part of her simcha.

“I was happy we were able to share this urgent message that we need to protect our natural resources in the same way that Jordan and I agreed to protect and care for each other,” Kraft said.