"This area was a biosphere from the moment it came into being, and it still is today." Mr. Carmel Sela, head of the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council, was speaking at the Ecosphere Festival that took place during the Pessach holiday at a valley green with ancient olive trees beneath the Ein Hod artists' village in the Carmel Mountains. "In a cave nearby, remnants of early man were found, which should really come as no surprise, because this is the only place in Israel where mountains meet the sea. This means that we're talking about a sustainable ecosystem that contained fish from the sea, trees, shade, caves and animals, making it very convenient for early human habitation."
The Ecosphere Festival included an area where one could buy various "green" products, art exhibits in nature, and pavilions organized by Israel's environmental organizations. As Israel's leading green organization and one of the sponsors of the festival, KKL-JNF hosted a large pavilion where families learned about the importance of trees in fighting global warming and carbon sequestration. Aya Shoham, co-founder of the festival along with Niv Zohar-Horowitz, told us that the idea to create the Ecosphere Festival first came to them when she and Niv, both of whom live in Ein Hod, first became parents to small children: "About a year and a half ago, Niv and I were talking, and we realized that if people don't do something, our children will live in a very different world than the one we are familiar with, a world where it will be hard to find natural areas to hike in, where there are fewer plants and animals, a world whose climate is radically affected by global warming.
"We started thinking about what we could do to make some sort of a difference, and we came to the conclusion that the most effective way of impacting our children's future would be an event that would increase public awareness of the need to live in harmony with our planet. We contacted the various green organizations and I must say that KKL-JNF responded immediately and positively, saying they would be a part of the festival and encouraging us to go ahead with it. The Council for Culture and Arts of the Israel Lottery provided a good deal of our financial backing, and our dream started to become reality.
"Everyone involved in this project has one goal - promoting sustainability. We want to get people involved and committed not by scaring them about how horrible the future is going to be, but by engaging their curiosity and encouraging them to think in creative ways about how to take our biosphere into consideration in daily life."
The KKL-JNF pavilion was a popular stop for families with their children, who participated in various activities related to the environment in the welcome shade. KKL-JNF's Eti Azulai said that one of KKL-JNF's goals is to help people realize that if we care about our environment, our environment will care for us in return: "There are things that everyone can do, like recycling, using biodegradable plastic, composting, and so on. We also emphasize the importance of planting trees and protecting Israel's green spaces to make sure that biodiversity and our fauna and flora are preserved for future generations."
One of the most fascinating parts of the festival was the art works in nature, placed among the ancient olive trees in the luscious verdant valley, which was full of wildflowers thanks to the late-season rains. Dana Tagar-Heller, the curator of the art exhibit, explained to visitors that the idea was to expand the definition of what is considered ecological art: "Besides using recycled materials and focusing on the dialogue with our environment, the twenty-six artists concentrated on interactive exhibits that invite participation, like the bottles of olive oil affixed to the olive tree. Many of the artists are from abroad, for example, Yoko One, who created a special 'Wishing Tree'. We named the exhibition 'On the Spot', both to express the sense of immediacy and also to reflect the relevancy of the locale to the exhibits."
MK Gideon Ezra, former Minister of the Environment, had been supportive of the festival during his recent tenure: "One of my conclusions from serving in the Ministry of the Environment over the past three years is that education about sustainability should be at the forefront of our efforts. This festival is a perfect example of how a couple determined people can accomplish something that affects people on a large scale."
Ayelet, a painter, dancer and art historian from Ein Hod told her grandchildren to leave the commercial activities they were participating in at nearby Zichron Ya'akov and to come to the valley immediately: "It's wide open here, the children can run around and experience nature directly, it's so different and nice. Since the nature here is so beautiful and the trees are so dominant, I would recommend that in the future, more emphasis be put on the art exhibits, which almost get lost in the breathtaking scenery."
The day concluded with the signing by Israeli notables on the UNESCO Declaration of the Responsibilities of Present Generations Towards Future Generations, which will be ratified by the Knesset. The ceremony was addressed by Judge (ret.) Shlomo Shoham, former Knesset Commissioner for Future Generations, who said that when he approached government officials and told them that we need to plan for the future, he was often met with ridicule: "They told me that it might be a nice idea for Europe, not for Israel where we need to deal with issues of daily survival. I answered that our concern for our children and grandchildren's future is at least as important as our own well-being. I recommend that everyone read the text of the Declaration, everything written in it seems so self-evident that one would think it superfluous to even mention it. The problem, however, is implementation, not ideas. The time has come for us to walk our talk, and the sooner the better."
To read the UNESCO Declaration, click here.