For the 27 students in the junior class of North Carolina’s American Hebrew
Academy (AHA), spending time in even their Hod Hasharon dormitory bathrooms
provided them with inspiration for environmental action at
Unaccustomed to turning off the water tap on and off during showers
or tooth-brushing sessions, cartoons taped to their bathroom walls served as a
“The issue of really saving water is really more felt
here,” said Miriam Roochvarg, of Charlotte, North Carolina, one of six
16-year-old students who sat down with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “It’s by
being here and learning about these things that we can try to spread back home
the importance of saving water.”
The students are finishing up their
10-week junior year study abroad period in Israel, a program that their home
school in Greensboro, North Carolina, mandates. A pluralistic campus with an
environmental focus, AHA is the only Jewish day school in the United States to
have received governmental Green Ribbon certification for its environmental
conscientiousness. The school’s founder, Maurice “Chico” Sabbah, was an
agronomist and environmentalist who formerly lived on a kibbutz in Israel and
practiced environmental activism there, according to the school. Students come
from all over the world to attend AHA, and Mesfin Hodes said that his parents
sent him all the way from Ethiopia to receive a Jewish education
At home on the 11-year-old southern US campus, the students have
organized their own Green Team, which is dedicated to community service and
environmentalism, while the school’s kitchen buys as much locally sourced food
as possible to save on carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, the students have
access to composting facilities and waste separation at source in the dining
hall, as well as recycling facilities campus-wide, school information materials
the school said. Students have the option to take an Advanced Placement
Environmental Science course, and they plant trees on the school’s grounds every
“We have recycling bins all over the place, including right
where we put our trays up in the cafeteria,” Roochvarg said.
to the environmental opportunities that the school provides to its students, AHA
is also home to one of the largest geothermal energy systems in the world – a
water-sourced system that is used to heat and cool 440,000 square feet (about
40,900 square meters) in 29 buildings, but has the capacity for 700,000 square
feet (some 65,000 square meters), the school said. The system, which was
installed at the school’s opening in 2001, is expected to pay for itself by
“We built an environmentally sensitive campus because that
is what Jews should do,” said AHA principal Dr. Gary Grandon. “We use geothermal
heat exchange because it is the lowest impact form of energy exchange available.
We use electric vehicles and support a pedestrian campus for the same
As it turns out these approaches also save large amounts of
money over the long run.”
During their time in Israel, the students live
and study at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, which is on a
larger educational campus shared with a Hebrew boarding school called the
Mossensohn Youth Village. In the past, students have visited ORMAT, an Israeli
company focusing on geothermal energy, and this year, the students were able to
spend a weekend seeing environmental innovation in the Arava desert.
years – including this one – the AHA group participates in the Yam L’Yam hike
from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to the Mediterranean Sea.
really lucky to experience the ideas that are started here – that’s what AHA is
trying to do,” said Julia Sagerdahl of Greensboro.
“It’s really helpful
for us if we bring back some of the things we learn here back to our
On the grounds of the youth village, experimental biological
filtration ponds are being used to purify gray water, water from sinks and
showers that can be cleaned for reuse. After seeing and learning about gray
water, Roochvarg said she is determined to implement a similar system at AHA and
will be speaking to their administrators about it.
“If you can collect
water and use it for free, then why not use that instead of city water,” added
Matthew Menghert of Greensboro.
Another initiative on the Mossensohn
campus that the students found impressive was the vegetation being grown on the
sides of many buildings, which slashes the need for air conditioning and heat by
providing natural insulation, according to Ross Abramson, originally from
Princeton, New Jersey.
“I want to try to bring back some of these things
to AHA,” Abramson said. “The cool thing about AHA is that it’s not just a select
group of students who want to change things – everybody want to
Not only did their time in Israel expand their environmental
horizons, but it also has caused several of the students to reconsider their
future plans. Sagerdahl said that she could definitely see herself living in the
country, and is looking into gapyear study options before attending university.
Meanwhile, Yuval Ely, who was actually born in Israel but whose family now lives
in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is no longer reluctant about army service: “I
decided I’m going to the army.”
On Thursday, the students will finish
their 10-week session in Israel, but not without first planting trees near
Jerusalem, according to Sagerdahl. This end to their trip is particularly
special to the students, as each year they plant trees at their own school, they
“Now we have the opportunity to use our hands and put the trees
down,” Roochvarg added.
As far as water-saving in Israel goes, the
students noticed that “it’s a lot of small things” that everyone must do to
contribute to the overall conservation effort, according to Menghert.
literally changed our faucets so that you could easily get the water heated,”
said David Mitchell, dean of education at Alexander Muss, who called the
students “a lovely group.”
“Even the toilets [in Israel] have different
options,” Menghert said.
“After millions of uses of a toilet, that really
amounts to something. If you were to do that in America I can only imagine how
much we’d save.”