January 20, 2019

Kaptain Sunshine Shines His Light

Yosef Abramowitz

Yosef Abramowitz, the larger-than-life CEO of Israel’s Energiya Global, has been called many things: entrepreneur, activist, environmentalist, ambassador, prophet, futurist, authority, rebel, crazy. However, there is one moniker that all can agree on: Kaptain Sunshine (also his Twitter handle). A fitting name for the man leading the Jewish, and in some ways, global, charge to make the world a brighter place, both literally and figuratively.

Abramowitz is a leading figure in the solar energy revolution. At the helm of the multimillion dollar Energiya Global, a Jerusalem-based green energy developer focusing on building solar fields in Africa, Abramowitz tends to operate in some of the most remote places on the planet. Energiya Global projects are currently in various stages throughout more than 10 African countries, from Burundi to South Sudan.

Africa has more than 600 million people without access to electricity. It also has, as Abramowitz loves to point out, 11 of the 20 fastest-growing economies in the world. Where others see only challenges, he sees massive potential.

Energiya Global is first and foremost a private company seeking to generate profits, so there is, of course, the financial bottom line. Additionally, the company produces tremendous humanitarian, environmental and geopolitical game-changing results with each field it builds. Full of examples, Abramowitz is at his best when he is revved up about the snowball effect of solar power on all aspects of society. The reduction in gender-based violence when a local food market is lit at night. The predominance of diesel engines in Africa killing millions each year with toxic fumes. The support in the United Nations by African nations buoyed by Israeli technology.

Like the early Zionist leaders whom he so admires, Abramowitz is a man of action. In 2011, after moving to Kibbutz Ketura (near Eilat) with his family from the Boston area, he successfully built the first solar field in the Middle East. Despite the myriad of obstacles throughout the years, this pioneering project which will reach its full capacity in 2020, fulfilling its promise to power the entire Arava region by 100 percent solar energy during the day.

“My becoming an environmental activist isn’t because I am necessarily ‘green.’ It is because I am a human and a creation of God.” — Yosef Abramowitz

His success can be attributed to his comfort with risk, something he holds as a core Jewish value. He said, “Our work now of bringing solar to Africa via Energiya Global is largely about the art and science of risk mitigation.”

It is also a result of a lot of chutzpah, or as Abramowitz said, “pushing the boundaries of what is possible.” He reflected: “One of the great cultural features of Israel as Startup Nation is that so many people are celebrated for trying innovating, experimenting and dreaming.”

Deeply rooted in Abramowitz’s every action is a deep faith and respect for the Jewish tradition. “My becoming an environmental activist isn’t because I am necessarily ‘green,’ ” he said. “It is because I am a human and a creation of God.”

It is this perspective that helps him inspire so many around the globe, not just those who are friendly to the environmental movement or proponents of renewable energy. He reframes the imperative to change our polluting and wasteful ways from that of an environmental perspective to that of a human perspective.

“Perhaps we should be emphasizing, instead, the teaching that we are all created in God’s image and therefore must take actions immediately to reduce our moral culpability on the effects of climate change.”

Are You There, Ashton Kutcher? It’s Me, Hannah

There is no denying the current state of our planet. Buds surface on trees with snow covered bases. Planes criss cross their chemical cobweb, weaving white across the blue, trying to capture the light of the sun. Plastic covered whale guts wash ashore in Far Rockaway, as a kid sucks on their red dye 40 dusted hands, trying to swallow any traces on his fingertips. A Cheetos bag blows in the grey breeze of passing car.

Where does one go from here? Where is the fallout shelter? The big shiny spaceship headed to planet x, y, or z? Where is Ashton Kutcher hiding behind a door in his 90’s trucker hat, readying his MTV mantra?

Left to my own devices, I try to turn on my instincts, buried somewhere beneath war time video games and space heaters. Where is the power button for these things? I know it must be here somewhere, that blue-voiced inner guide:

“Turn left in 500 feet”

“Turn left in 500 feet”

“Turn left in 500 feet”

“Turn left in 500 feet”

“You have arrived.”

Oh, take me back to where I started from. Way, way, way, back. Back to the beginning before the beginning when we were just beginning. Where is the GPS to guide me back to my own? I want to be like the mother elephant: leading her family across the desert, miles and miles, in times of severe drought, finding that one remaining watering hole.

I search for clues that might tell me what to do as the clock never stops ticking closer to midnight and I remember.

I remember getting into a car crash with my mother on the way home from hockey practice when I was twelve. I remember seeing the car on the wrong side of the road and my mother’s hands leaving the wheel. I remember her sitting on the side of the road, elbows upon knees, under a palo verde tree, with green bark and tiny slivers of leaves. She told me that the tree had evolved to have green bark and grow such small leaves to better adapt to the desert. I remember wanting to turn green too under the weight of the desert sun. I remember asking her why she didn’t try to swerve out of the way and I remember her telling me that when you’re looking at a car crash head on, the impending impact unavoidable, your chances of getting into an even more severe wreck are lessened when you:

take your foot off the gas,
and let go of the wheel.

Hannah Arin is a junior at Pitzer College pursuing a double major in religious studies and philosophy

What really happens to all those plastic bags?

Plastic or paper?

Lior Alkoby was never asked that question during a recent Sunday morning trip to Super Sal Market in Encino. He checked out, wheeled a cart brimming with plastic bags half-filled with fruits, vegetables and canned goods to the parking lot and loaded them into his SUV. For Alkoby, the lack of choice was a non-issue.

“I throw the bags away, just like everyone else,” he said.

Super Sal Market, like many small stores, offers only plastic bags. And Alkoby, like most Americans, tosses them in the trash.

In fact, of the estimated 92 billion plastic bags consumed in the United States annually — 19 billion in California and 6 billion in Los Angeles County alone — less than 5 percent are recycled, according to the nonprofit environmental organization Californians Against Waste.

“I don’t have time,” Alkoby said.

Millions of these bags, unlike Alkoby’s, don’t even make it to a trash bin and eventually a landfill. As a result, plastic bags can be found clogging gutters and storm drains, billowing out from tree limbs, blighting neighborhoods and choking off birds and marine life.

“Plastics are bad,” said Lee Wallach, president of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California (CoejlSC). “As with most other things, we have to start thinking about the lasting impact.”

And for non-recycled plastic bags, which are made from non-renewable resources such as petroleum, natural gas or other petrochemical derivatives, the lasting impact translates to a life expectancy of a thousand years or more.

But paper, surprisingly to most people, is not the answer either.

“Paper bags are an enormous user of natural resources. They take four times the energy and emit over 70 percent more global warming gases than plastic bags,” said Lisa Foster, founder of the reusable tote company One Bag at a Time.

In addition, paper bags are more costly to produce and are responsible for considerable deforestation, using 14 million trees to make the 5 billion paper bags that Americans use each year. Less than 20 percent of those are recycled.

And while paper bags do biodegrade, that can’t happen in a landfill, which lacks the necessary oxygen, sunlight and water. In fact, a municipal solid waste landfill, which receives household waste and other non-hazardous materials, is not meant to promote biodegradation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. Rather, federal regulations require that these landfills have impermeable barriers to contain the waste and thus protect surrounding areas.

“A landfill is really just a big garbage bin,” Foster said.

So what’s the solution?

For California Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), it starts with recycling. He sponsored Assembly Bill 2449, which went into effect July 1, 2007, and requires grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales and pharmacies with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space to establish at-store recycling programs for plastic carry-out bags. Those retailers must also sell reusable bags. The bill, however, precludes local governments from assessing a fee on plastic bags though individual retailers may impose one.

Building on the success of that bill, Levine introduced Assembly Bill 2058 on Feb. 19, which would require retailers to reduce plastic bag usage by 35 percent by July 2011 and by 70 percent by July 2013. If those objectives are not met, those businesses will be charged a mandatory 15 cents fee per bag.

“The goal is to reduce litter, not produce revenue,” Levine said, explaining that people need education and time to make lasting behavioral changes.

San Francisco, however, became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags outright when the Board of Supervisors passed the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance in March 2007.

Effective November 1, 2007, for grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales and March 1, 2008, for large chain pharmacies, plastic bags made from petroleum products are outlawed. These retailers can distribute only compostable plastic bags, paper bags made of 40 percent recycled materials or reusable bags.

According to Dave Heylan, vice president, communications for the California Grocers Association, member stores in San Francisco that are subject to the ban on noncompostable plastic bags, representing a majority of grocers, have all opted to go straight to paper rather than to offer compostable plastic, which can cost upwards of 15 cents per bag.

As for the higher price of paper bags, which cost 5 to 9 cents per bag while plastic bags cost 1 or 2 cents each, “We haven’t seen any numbers, but retailers typically don’t share those,” he said. “But we have not heard any complaints.”

Santa Monica is moving in the same direction. On Feb. 26, the Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously to instruct the City Attorney to draft an ordinance banning single-use plastic carryout bags, including biodegradable plastic bags, at all retail outlets within Santa Monica and to explore imposing a fee on single-use paper bags.

But in Los Angeles, on Jan. 22 of this year, the County Board of Supervisors adopted a voluntary ban on plastic bags for large retail stores. A mandatory ban kicks in only if stores cannot coax customers into reducing their plastic bag usage 30 percent by July 2010 and 65 percent by July 2013.

Many environmentalists criticized the County Board of Supervisors for adopting what they considered a weak ordinance.

“It’s too little too late,” CoejlSC’s Wallach said. “They ducked the issue. This is the time for bold action.”

One Bag at a Time’s Foster, however, applauded the collaborative effort, as she is not a proponent of banning plastic bags.

“It’s a great sound bite, but not a great solution,” she said.

Neither does she favor recycling, which she believes is more “to assuage our guilt over over-consumption.”

Foster suggests that people become educated about the true cost of a bag — be it plastic, paper or a reusable material — by assessing the total costs of manufacturing, usage and disposal.

Green endowments mean big returns for nonprofit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sunday looks good in green

Environmentalism may be trendy, but expensive hybrid cars and solar paneling aren’t the only ways of being fashionably green.

Big Sunday, an annual citywide volunteer community service event scheduled for May 3-4, is adding a Green Sunday option, which groups together environmental projects like tree planting, beach cleanup and switching area businesses from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent.

“In the past two years, we’ve found that people were just really anxious to do environmental projects,” Big Sunday Executive Director David Levinson said.

Big Sunday began in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Mitzvah Day, an event that initially drew 300 volunteers to 17 projects. Last year a supersized Big Sunday drew 50,000 participants and 250 projects over two days.

While Big Sunday has regularly featured green programming and worked with such varied environmental groups as Heal the Bay and the California Native Plant Society, this year marks the first time the environmental track has been specifically highlighted.

Green Sunday has scheduled more than 50 eco-friendly projects, including “e-cycling” drives to give old computers and electronics to those in need, cleaning up the L.A. River with the Pacific American Volunteer Organization and refurbishing burned-out areas of Griffith Park.

The goal is to “help as many nonprofits as we can and get more people involved in the community,” said Dave Cooper, Green Sunday manager.

Another project, a bike collection, encourages Angelenos to ride bikes more frequently or at least provide others with that option. Levinson said this could have a great effect on reducing carbon emissions, if successful.

Big Sunday is also taking its green talk seriously by increasing the steps the organization takes to reduce its own carbon footprint. Behind the scenes, the nonprofit is printing fewer flyers and brochures and moving away from Styrofoam products. Participants are encouraged to carpool or ride public transportation. In some cases, event organizers will even arrange for busing to the larger projects.

While the group hasn’t quantified the overall carbon impact of the two-day event, organizers expect that its green efforts this year will demonstrate a reduced impact compared with activities in 2007.

Attendance for Big Sunday’s events vary, but organizers are hoping to see a turnout of at least 5,000 for Green Sunday. If Green Sunday is anywhere near as successful as hoped, Levinson said he would like to see the event as a Big Sunday spinoff on a separate day.

“It’d be cool if it did. The sky’s the limit,” he said.

For more information about Big Sunday, visit


L.A. displays eco efforts to Israeli delegation

While visiting from Israel last week, Gil Yaakov got a lesson in Los Angeles’ generosity.

“The city gives away free trees to residents, which is great in fighting air pollution and at the same time helps with shading and beautifying the city,” said Yaakov, director of Green Course, a student environmental organization in Tel Aviv.

He said that this concept of giving away green items, such as ultralow-flush toilets, energy-efficient refrigerators and energy-saving lightbulbs is unheard of in Israel.

“Israel can’t think in the long run,” added Sagit Rogenstein, national project director of Israel’s leading environmental nonprofit, Zalul. “They see such an investment as an extravagance, an unnecessary investment. We need to change this way of thinking. The [Department of Water and Power] (DWP) calculated that they have saved more money than they put into this project.”

Yaakov and Rogenstein arrived in Los Angeles on March 2 to address an awakening among American Jews to the environmental threats to Israel. The two were among a group of 18 academics, environmentalists and politicians participating in the Friends of Israel’s Environment exchange program.

The goal of the exchange, which is sponsored by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is to share solutions for environmental problems that plague both cities, such as air pollution, wastewater treatment, recycling and planning green spaces.

For decades, environmental education and solutions were on the back burner of Israeli politics, but in the last few years, environmental projects have attracted some national attention in Israel. Recently, Israelis received monetary encouragement to recycle when trash fees were raised, and a clean air bill — something that passed in California 37 years ago — is now working its way through the Knesset.

However, Israel also has much to teach Los Angeles about water issues. The country is both the birthplace of drip irrigation and home to the world’s largest desalination plant.

Last week, the Israeli group met with officials from the DWP, as well as city planners and developers who use green building techniques. A Thursday visit to Warner Bros. demonstrated how businesses can save money while thinking green.

Shelly Levin Billik, the Burbank studio’s manager of recycling and environmental resources, has recruited a recycling crew; designed waste prevention, reuse/donation and recycling programs, and changed over to energy-efficient light fixtures.

“Our energy program began in 2002, and we now save over 9 million kilowatt hours of energy and over $1 million through conservation annually,” Billik said. “We are also investing in clean renewable energy through carbon-offsetting and the construction of a 72-kilowatt solar power project.”

Warner Bros. also operates the first green building in the entertainment industry.

Tami Gavrieli, head of the Strategic Planning Department in Tel Aviv, hopes to adopt the similar construction methods in Tel Aviv.

“The materials used in green buildings are not cheap,” she said, “but in the long run, these green buildings save a lot in energy. It has great insulation, and reduces the need to use air conditioners and heaters. We are building our new offices in the Tel Aviv Municipal Building using these methods.”

Gavrieli hopes to see more developers in Israel using green building materials.

“I’m going to stay in touch with people I met here, and we’ll get new ideas how to promote green building in Tel Aviv,” she said.

While Gavrieli believes Tel Aviv has a lot to learn from Los Angeles, she said Angelenos don’t know enough when it comes to water conservation.

“We use our wastewater, after it goes through a cleaning process, for agricultural purposes,” Gavrieli said. “People here don’t have much awareness of these things. Maybe because we have such serious water problems in Israel we are more conscious of them, and we are more advanced in preserving water in any way we can.”

While the environmental situation in Israel has improved somewhat with new laws and fines, Zalul’s Rogenstein is worried that Israel still has a long way to go until it fully adopts all environmental issues and acts upon them.

“Everything in Israel takes time to happen,” said Rogenstein, a Valley native who made aliyah a decade ago. “You know, like the laws to ban smoking in public places. It is years since this law was instigated in L.A., and in Israel it was only passed recently.”

She said that the Al Gore environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has caught the attention of Israelis.

“They are more aware of the importance of recycling, of global warming, of energy conservation, using solar energy and so on,” she noted. “So, I’m hopeful that we’ll catch up with the green wave, sooner, rather than later.”

Evan J. Kaizer, past president of Friends of Israel’s Environment and committee chair for the exchange, said he is pleased with the visit and looks forward to the Los Angeles delegation’s visit later this year.

“We share the same problems like Tel Aviv, and we can learn how they are fighting for the same open spaces like we do, and we can learn a lot from their city planners,” he said.

Israel’s EcoOcean charts deep ‘green’ seas

Scientists once thought that most of our planet’s oxygen is produced in the heart of lush jungles and rainforests. Not so, says Michael Rosenfeld, program coordinator and scientist at EcoOcean — an Israeli nonprofit organization that built and funds a unique seafaring vessel that would make Jacques Cousteau proud.

“Seventy-five percent of the globe is covered by the ocean. Most of our oxygen is coming from plants in the sea and it is the main thing that is balancing our atmosphere,” Rosenfeld said.

EcoOcean provides free use of its ship and facilities to students and professors in environmental marine research. In the last few years since it began operating, EcoOcean has helped handfuls of marine-related projects get off the ground — including their own watchdog project to track and monitor marine pollution known as “hot spots” off the coast of Israel.

But international scientists have also used the organization’s boat, the Mediterranean Explorer, for studying uninhabited islands off the coast of Eritrea in Africa; in Turkey’s Black Sea to trace evidence of the great flood during the time of Noah; and to determine that the Roman city of Caesarea was, in part, destroyed by an ancient tsunami.

While some of the projects veer off course into areas that are not strictly environmental, the main thrust of EcoOcean is to offer its ship, equipped with wet and dry laboratories, to those fighting to improve the marine and coastal environment.

Government-owned vessels do exist for taking scientists out to sea, but they tend to be outdated, are difficult to book, and are extremely costly. But not as costly as the price of the environment and what could happen if we don’t take action.

These details concern Rosenfeld, who recently completed post-doctoral work in marine ecology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Global warming is changing the face of the planet. It is not only making our summers unbearably hot, it is heating up our oceans, as well.

Even slight changes in the ocean’s water temperature, scientists fear, could render the balance catastrophically unstable. And we are already seeing how global warming is affecting coral, an early-warning indicator species.

“Damaging the sea is the same as a smoker intentionally ruining his lungs,” said Rosenfeld, a coral specialist, who chooses the projects EcoOcean will bring on board.

And when EcoOcean says “on board,” they mean literally. The state-of-the-art boat not only offers scientific lab equipment for collecting and analyzing deep-sea samples, but it also provides below-deck cabins that sleep 11, a modern kitchen, and a crew that loves to tell tall tales of the sea.

Most recently, American scientists from New York’s Columbia University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution near Boston and Canadians from McMaster University have had the same impressions while collaborating with EcoOcean; Istanbul Technical University has also worked in the boat berthed on the Mediterranean Sea not far from Tel Aviv in Herzliya. Anyone studying the marine environment is welcome to apply.

Founded by scientists from Tel Aviv University together with Weil, a Swedish-born environmental philanthropist, the group was brainstorming and recognized a huge hole in marine science research in Israel and the Mediterranean region in general.

Weil, who immigrated to Israel in 2000, was raised to be an avid environmentalist. After moving to Israel, he soaked up environmental education at the Arava Institute in Israel before appealing to his family to see if funding for an environmental dreamboat could be built.

“I think about the environment every day,” Weil said. “And it is tough on me to see how slow the progress for change is in the world.”

Swedes are known for their love and respect for the environment. When challenged to reduce car emissions by 2020, Weil says the Swedes took on the challenge with shining colors: Today about 20 percent of their cars are environmentally friendly. He recognizes that Israelis often have greater threats to negotiate: “The biggest concern here is security, security, security. For some, an anti-missile system for protecting Israel’s borders is more important than drinking water,” he said.

But there are some advantages to being a marine scientist in Israel, Rosenfeld points out.

“All the scientists know each other and are in good contact. If you look per square meter, there is more research being done here in Israel on reefs than in other places in the world. Israel is small and our scientists work together.”

As part of its mandate, EcoOcean runs a land-based marine education center not far from Tel Aviv, and it also conducts its very own marine research that it plans to publish in a top-notch marine journal.

But don’t make the Greenpeace comparison please, Weil notes. “We don’t want to be known as activists. We are environmental educators, conducting real-world marine research that will spell out the situation in the Mediterranean Sea in black and white. Right now the most important project for us is that we finish our survey on the water quality in Israel. People don’t know how bad it is.”

Collaborating with Israel’s Ministry of the Environment, EcoOcean is offering at least two different settings for marine education at the elementary and high school levels. Recently, EcoOcean opened the visitor center Megalim (Discovering) where ecology, biology and marine environment education activities are conducted.

The classroom full of microscopes and aquariums does about 50 percent of its teaching from what the group collects at the beach. Or kids, ages 10 to 18, spend the day at the Alexander River to learn how pollution affects animals and the sea. “When they are studying with us for six to seven hours a day, these kids are amazed,” Weil said. “They do not behave like normal kids do, running around and shouting, but pay attention very carefully to what they are learning.”

The Weil family funded construction of the boat and supports ongoing research, but Weil hopes to secure external funding for EcoOcean in the future. However, jumping ship will never happen on his boat: “My goal is to run EcoOcean all my life, whether or not I am living in Israel,” he said. “It will always run as an information organization, and our long-range plan is for our scientists to become authorities on marine research and write papers under our organization’s name.”

It sounds like Israel’s environmental ship has finally come in.

Karin Kloosterman is a freelance writer for ISRAEL21c, a media organization focusing on 21st century Israel.

Not so awful being green, honorable menschen

Greening Hypocrisy

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

Dave Chameides

What a great editorial. Thank you!

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

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

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

Brave — Kudos!

Jennifer Kutner
StandWithUs Publicist

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

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

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

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Go Neutral

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

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

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

Lindsey D. Brengle
Campaign Executive
Jewish National Fund

More Greening

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

Bill Friedman
Studio City

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

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

David Aaronson
Los Angeles

Deserving Menschen

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

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

Marjorie Pressman
Via E-mail

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

Upcoming Greening events

See the documentary, “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World”
Sponsored by the Jewish Vegetarian Society of Los Angeles
Sunday, Jan. 6, 2 p.m., at Valley Beth Shalom, 15730 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
For more information, call (818) 342-5555, or e-mail maegnld@aol.com.

Plant trees for Tu B’Shvat in a local Encino park
Join TreePeople, L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and CoejlSC.
Sunday, Jan. 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For information or to register contact Lisa Sotelo at (818) 623-4879 or lsotelo@treepeople.org.

Learn about Sinai Temple’s Tuv Ha’Aretz (community supported agriculture) Program
Greening Committee meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.
Hall of Builders, Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Open to everyone, but reservations required. Call (310) 481-3243.

Hear Cambria Gordon, co-author of “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming”
University Synagogue’s Family Shabbat Service
Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m., 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood
For more information, call (310) 472-1255.

Participate in the Board of Rabbis Green Congregations Best Practices Summit
Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles
For more information, call (323) 761-8600 or boardofrabbis@jewishla.org.

Let kids rule the land

Kids get a bum rap. They can’t vote, they can’t drive, they can’t call up and order things off the TV without a parent’s permission and they have no say in the way their schools are run. But all is not lost. They can influence how their families handle the growing global warming issue, at least according to Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, co-authors of “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming” (Scholastic, $15.99).

The friends decided to write the guide two years ago, when Gordon, a former advertising copywriter, was writing fiction books for children, and David, producer of the Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was writing about global warming, but for adult readers.

“We knew there was something needed for younger kids,” Gordon said. “The nonfiction format was inspired by an old book I had seen called, ‘EarthSearch.’ It was like a children’s museum in a book, with all sorts of tactile parts, like a spinner to show which way the Earth rotates and a real bag of rice to show world hunger.”

In the end, Gordon said, the publisher opted for a more traditional, less expensive format — printed on recycled paper, of course.

The illustrated, easy-to-read book is divided into four sections: the science of global warming, the effects of global warming on weather, how plants and animals are affected and, finally, ways and resources to help reverse the problem — all in a way kids can understand.

“In speaking to kids on their level and trying to relate the science to their everyday life, we tried to strike a balance between truth and hope,” Gordon explained.

However, Gordon said even she was shocked by some of the things she learned while writing the guide.

“What surprised me the most was the fact that the polar ice cap, the Greenland ice sheet and our many glaciers are melting at a rate faster than scientists had predicted,” she said. “And the fact that everything is related. Someone driving an inefficient car in California can contribute to someone else’s drought in India.”

The book seems to be working on its young readers, who are helping to get their families involved with repairing the world.

“I think some parents are already on the bandwagon about this issue, but others are slower to change,” Gordon said. “For them, a nagging child can be an effective motivator. One mother told me that after I spoke at her daughter’s school, her daughter wouldn’t let her cut the tree down in the backyard to put in the pool.”

And Gordon, a mother of three, does practice what she preaches.

“We’ve installed solar thermal panels and about 90 percent of our lightbulbs are compact fluorescents,” Gordon said. “[My kids] are also very good about unplugging their chargers and taking shorter showers.”

The guide takes dull facts and figures and turns them into fun pictures and kid-friendly information (one section is called “Extinction Stinks”), complete with a handy glossary, Web sites and awesome photos.

“Our book empowers kids,” she said. “This is the message for the adult world, as well. We can solve this problem.”

Cambria Gordon will speak at University Synagogue about “How to Speak to Your Kids About Global Warming,” on Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. during Shabbat services. 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255. For more information on “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming,” visit ” target=”_blank”>www.unisyn.org/

Arava Institute boosts hopes of environmentalists in Middle East

Ilana Meallem and Mazen Zoabi left a morning meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II last spring smiling. The king had just proposed the formation of a regional science fund, and they were certain they would have access to that fund.

The two Israelis, project managers at the ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”students of the Arava institute”>

“Will the funding from Jordan follow?” Zoabi wondered. “I don’t know, honestly, but I think it is in everyone’s interest that they fund us.”

Programs at the institute include examining pollution levels in transborder rivers touching Israel, the West Bank and Jordan; probing air pollution in Jordan, and a special two-year project with Morocco to cultivate argan almond trees that until now have grown wild only in southern Morocco.

Meallem, originally from London, and Zoabi, a Technion graduate from an Arab town near Nazareth in the Galilee region, were to go to China for three months after the conference. The purpose of the trip was to bring back technology to turn small-scale organic waste into energy for use in Bedouin villages in Israel and later in Jordan and possibly the West Bank. The technology, known as biogas energy, is not uncommon but reportedly has been best developed for small-scale use in China.

We don’t yet have a partner for this with the Palestinian Authority,” Zoabi said.

“Perhaps we could do projects with you and get more Palestinians involved in your institute,” Sari Nusseibeh, a leading Arab moderate and the president of Al Quds University outside Jerusalem, told Zoabi and Meallem. “Maybe your generation can go beyond the politics that have dragged us all down.”

In the air-conditioned, temporary conference hall not far from the path leading to the spectacular Nabatean ruins that have put Petra on the map, Nusseibeh was busy chatting with Yigal Carmon, the head of the widely read MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute and a counterterrorism adviser in the administration of the late Yitzhak Rabin.

“These environment projects are great for everyone because it is a win-win situation for all sides,” Carmon said. “You see here that Jordanian politicians and various prize laureates and funders are very quick to speak with Ilana and the others because it gives them a sense of doing something good for people in a concrete way. I think we have seen enough sessions on conflict resolution; the answer is more real projects.”

Wiesel, the conference moderator and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, said his foundation was ready to put up or raise $10 million for the regional science fund that was proposed by Abdullah. The fund would sponsor projects proposed by groups all over the region.

“I think the Arab countries are taking scientific cooperation with Israel very seriously,” Wiesel said. “His majesty the king is a true associate in this endeavor with the young people. He knows, and I know that some of them will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Kholouel Al Dorghan, who is in her 20s and works in the Bank for Trade and Finance in Amman, said she was excited by the possibility of working in Israel.

“I met Israelis for the first time in my life here at this conference, and I felt a real buzz in the air here from the young people and the delegates,” she said. “I would be happy to do research in the Arava Institute or anywhere in Israel.”

Still, several young people who had been invited as individuals from other countries in the region preferred to remain anonymous.

“I would love to work with Israelis,” one said, “but my government would not like that at all and would harass me and my family. There must be a way for us to participate, as well. I am angry about this, but what can I do?”

Cowabunga clean up — in Israel

Surf’s up in Israel!More and more Israelis are taking to the water in wetsuits and board shorts to catch those gnarly waves. And as the sport grows in popularity, so does the need to keep Israel’s water clean and safe.

Billabong, one of the most recognizable names in surfing gear, has joined forces with Zalul, an environmental organization dedicated to cleaning up Israel’s seas and rivers.

The Australian company that has been riding the wave of success since 1973 has designed a rad catalog with Billabong beach items that are now being sold in surf shops all over Israel. Window displays are emblazoned with the catalog’s slogan, “In the end it will be clear,” playing on the name Zalul, which translates as “clear” in Hebrew. The surf-friendly items include a folding bag that turns into a beach mat, an inflatable pillow, a straw hat and a beer/cold drinks holder. In Israel, you can drink alcohol at the beach — far out! All the proceeds from those items will go to Zalul to help tidy up the surf. How awesome is that?

Zalul, of course, is stoked about the partnership. “Co-operations like these are of utmost importance to Zalul, as they help raise the issue of sea protection amongst the public and in particular surfers and beachgoers who are most effected by sea pollution,” the group said in a statement announcing the project. “We want to encourage this public to act and make a difference.”

Zalul has been making a totally awesome difference on Israel’s beaches and rivers since 1999. Its work in preserving the coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat, stopping a waste-treatment facility from dumping sludge into the Mediterranean Sea and removing harmful fish cages from the Red Sea is off the Richter.

Sagit Rogenstein is a project coordinator at Zalul and a mondo activist. Raised in our own San Fernando Valley, she moved to Israel in 1997 and has been involved in the Israeli environmental movement right from the get go. “I followed the Zionist dream and moved to Israel to contribute what I can to make a change in this world,” she said.

Rogenstein is already amped for the next project with Israel’s favorite surfing retailer. They’re designing a Zalul info tag that will be attached to Billabong’s winter line. What will it say? Save the environment, dude! Well, not exactly in those words, but something like that.

— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer

Exhibition offers visions of future intelligent homes

For those who love the experience of shopping for real estate, “Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” on display in Pasadena at Art Center College of Design’s south campus, is not the usual collection of modish conceits by residential architects.

Organized by Art Center in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the show offers a provocative variety of visions for the so-called intelligent house of the future, specifically anticipating advances in technology, building materials and shifting demographics over the next 20 years.

And as hoped for in this day and age of inconvenient truths, threaded through the wealth of contrasting offerings by an international cadre of relatively young designers is an acute concern for the failing, fragile environment and the need for sustainable, or “green,” architecture.

The concerns are, of course, not new, certainly not to those who follow the precepts of tikkun olam, the sacred mission of Jews to repair the world. Among those who not too long ago had to elbow their way into the once WASP-dominated design profession, this meant being particularly sensitive to ecological and contextual constraints; that architecture was a social art that could create places of human endeavor in concert with the earth.

That is, if they had the chutzpah to press the precepts, they were usually labeled as suspect environmentalists or, worse, social activists, among the usually conservative firm principals and even more conservative clients.

This rarely happened, however, and some would say that architects who happen to be Jewish too often assimilated all too well.

But as this exhibition illustrates, repairing the world is back in vogue, and whether this attitude is informed by a mystical Jewish tradition or the rising secular sociopolitical economic concerns — or the heretofore faddish Art Center’s need to be au courant — sustainability will likely increasingly drive the world’s design scenarios.

Among the more provocative, if not prophetic, displays in this exhibition is the “Dunehouse,” by su11 architecture + design of New York, a single-family prototype designed to adjust to the extreme temperatures and harsh landscapes of the Nevada deserts, much like a cactus or tumbleweed.

The “Jellyfish” house by Iwamoto/Scott/Proces2 of Berkeley, goes beyond just providing a unique flexible live/workspace and is designed with a sophisticated water reclamation process as part of its structural skin that the architects claim can cleanse their sites. This house was specifically invented to be located on the toxic soil of Treasure Island, a former military base in San Francisco Bay, but its concept also could be applied to other contaminated locations.

In contrast to such scientifically sophisticated conceits, there are some houses here that are just plain silly, offering comic relief to this thought-provoking exhibition. These include the “open the house ” concept, for which the house need not provide a heating or cooling system, because the inhabitants will simply wear special clothing designed to regulate their own microclimate.

Actually, this is an ancient concept, one my mother appropriated when we complained of being cold in our underheated house, telling us to wear an extra sweater and drink some hot tea.

“Towers in the Park,” which deals with anticipated increased density in the South Korean city of Seoul, includes clusters of vine-entwined structures that soar like giant sculptured topiaries and contain a variety of flexible private “cells” and public spaces. The result is environmentally friendly, landscaped vertical neighborhoods.

One would have hoped for more urban designs addressing the heightening challenges of increasing population, dwindling resources and urban density, as noted by co-curator Dana Hutt in a catalog accompanying the exhibit.

As for the show’s installation, designed by Nikolaus Hafermaas of Art Center, one could quibble with the placement of the display boards, the small type not being at eye level, and the lack of more audiovisuals and interactives, especially considering the topic. Too much tell and not enough show.

But to be fair, quite a lot of information is presented, however convoluted and weighted down in pseudoscientific semantics. For this writer, the history section was a trip down memory lane. Certainly no exhibition on the future of houses can be complete without a look back at the fantasies projected in the past, such as in the visionary work of Buckminster Fuller.

There is much to contemplate here, coming just when you thought you were finished refurbishing your home to make it as environmentally friendly and aesthetically modish as possible, be it by installing solar heating, low-flush toilets or hanging your wash out to dry.

Admission is free and open to the public. Now there’s a concept for both the present and future.

“Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” continues at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena’s south campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., through July 1. Tuesday through Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Seoul Commune”>

Seoul Commune 2026 is a proposal for an alternative sustainable community, viable in an overpopulated metropolis. Courtesy Art Center College of Design