Sviva Israel and the Jewish Agency's Partnership 2000 of New Jersey-Delaware/Arad-Tamar are finishing a successful first year that paired two Israeli schools with two US schools in their Eco-Connection program.
Next school year, the project will be expanded to 12 schools. Sviva Israel executive director Carmi Wisemon spoke to The Jerusalem Post for World Environment Day, which the United Nations marked on Friday to stimulate awareness of environmental issues.
The Eco-Connection project, which began in January, focused on measuring pupils' ecological footprints and the three basic tenets of environmental behavior - reduce, reuse, recycle. Pupils surveyed their ecological footprints and worked on campaigns to get their schools to reduce water and energy use. They also learned about Jewish responses to environmentalism as well as clean technologies.
Another unique angle to the program was the use of Internet and video tools to connect the schools across the sea and really make it a joint project, Wisemon said. The schools produced videos and slide shows and used a blog to leave messages for one another (Wisemon translated the messages into the respective languages).
The four schools were the Albert Einstein Academy of Wilmington, Delaware, the Six-Year School of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, Solomon Schechter of Monmouth and Ocean, New Jersey, and the Yeelim-Ofarim School of Arad.
"The goal is to cooperate through social media tools, Web technology. Nobody has done that in Jewish education up until now. We believe it's an area education has to move on to," Wisemon told the Post.
"People spend more time on social networking formats than they do talking to people. You can connect people throughout the world. The schools were thousands of miles away, with different native languages. Now you can run a joint program with one relatively small startup organization coordinating the work.
"It used to be that to go to Israel meant actually going to Israel. To get to know Kibbutz Ein Gedi you had to go there. Now we're getting Jewish kids to work together," he said.
Sivia Braunstein of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American chairwoman of the New Jersey/Delaware-Arad/Tamar Partnership 2000, added, "This project is wonderful in the way it connects our kids in the States with kids in Israel through an issue that is important to both. The beauty of Eco-Connection is that Carmi Wisemon insures the continual flow of communication through a shared ongoing curriculum, blog and Web site. The kids here are having a blast with it."
Both the American and Israeli pupils were far more environmentally aware than youngsters studying 10 or 20 years ago, Wisemon said. However, some differences were discernible between the two groups.
"In water, food and electricity conservation, the Israeli and American students are quite similar. Some differences appear in the responses related to recycling and reusing, but the most significant differences in their ecological footprints are found in responses relating to housing and transportation.
"The greatest factor in the size of the US students' ecological footprint was their larger cars and homes, lifestyle habits over which the students have limited control," Wisemon wrote in a summary report.
"A second area in which a wide gap was revealed between the Israeli and US students is that of environmental literacy. Though the US students have a higher level of consumption, the majority understand that consumption is the root of our environmental crises, and thus have an incentive to create change.
"For the Israeli students, raised in communities that have economic stop-gaps which prevent them from becoming overly consumption-oriented, recycling is the solution to Israel's environmental ills. They have not internalized the cause and effect between Israel's growing rate of consumption and its environmental crises.
"Large cars and large houses, as well as other luxury consumer items are still beyond the reach of many Israelis. As Israel becomes a more affluent, consumer-oriented society our environmental ills will only become exacerbated," Wisemon wrote.