Beit Keshet 521.
(photo credit: Nadav Rotem/KKL)
How many Zionists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: 784. Three to
come up with the idea, another 749 to vote in favor of it, and 32 to make it
happen. Right now, we’re waiting on stage three.
Explanation: In June,
the 36th Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem, comprised of 752 delegates.
Almost exclusively, they represented well-established bodies affiliated with
Israel’s political parties, the three major streams of Judaism and an array of
international Zionist organizations. There was, however, one grassroots start-up
that managed to organize itself sufficiently to crash the party. The Green
Zionist Alliance, fusing Zionist zeal with environmentalist enthusiasm,
succeeded in taking on the Zionist establishment in America and wrested away
three of its 145 elected delegates.
They didn’t make the effort just to
come along for the ride; they came to make a difference. To that end, they
entered into an alignment with MERCAZ, the Zionist arm of the
Conservative/Masorti movement with its own commitment to environmental issues
rooted in Jewish tradition, and put forward a slew of resolutions relating to
climate control, alternative fuel sources, sustainable development, carbon
mitigation, recycling and energy conservation. One of them was about changing
light bulbs. More specifically, it called upon the WZO to transition to compact
fluorescent and LED lighting in all its buildings and offices.
Bishvat – the New Year of the Trees – and the annual spike of interest in
matters of ecology that accompanies it, it’s time for some “sole-searching” –
taking stock of the size of our Zionist carbon footprint and what we are doing
to reduce it.
THE NATURAL place to start is with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael,
the Jewish National Fund founded by the World Zionist Organization in 1901 and
still going strong. As the Zionist movement’s official arm for land purchase,
land reclamation, reforestation and maximizing water sources, its 110-year
record is unassailable. No less impressive is the way it has consciously
reinvented itself over the past few years so as to be at the forefront of a new
movement of Green Zionism. In this role, it has also demonstrated a highly
developed social consciousness that is not only commendable, but
A case in point is the effort already under way to
rehabilitate the Carmel forests destroyed in the conflagration of several weeks
ago. Dr. Omri Bonneh, JNF northern region director, speaks enthusiastically not
only about biodiversity and the subtleties of ensuring regeneration of the
forests, but also about another, less-publicized aspect of the reforestation
effort of which he is equally mindful. “One of the things we learned after the
Second Lebanon War was that rehabilitation isn’t just about nature.” Involving
communities in the area, “together we created what we call ‘community-based
forests,’ which means that local residents adopt a forest adjacent to their
homes and help take care of it,” strengthening their bond to what’s being
rehabilitated and providing the opportunity for environmental
The same approach to involving local residents has been
integral to the JNF effort to develop hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths
that are now enjoyed by an estimated 200,000 mountain-biking enthusiasts. The
Alon Hagalil All-Terrain Center that was dedicated just last month is a sterling
example of this. Constructed by physical labor alone to minimize negative impact
on the environment, much of the work was done by residents in the vicinity,
recruits from the nearby army base and Beduin soldier-teachers. Commenting on
such efforts at the inauguration at the end of December of another new trail
that runs from Moshav Dalton to the Arab village of Jish, Efi Stenzler, world
chairman of the JNF, noted that “this country is sacred to all religions and all
of humanity. The Coexistence Trail is the path that connects them
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At the JNF, this sensitivity to social responsibility extends to
the global community. The organization, sometimes in tandem with the Foreign
Ministry, has run hundreds of programs over the years through which it shares
its expertise with other nations in such fields as desertification and
forestation. Reflecting this commitment to international cooperation, the JNF
just participated in the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico,
creating a pavilion there that clearly served multiple purposes. Delegation head
Dr. Orr Karassin reported on fascinating, unanticipated visits from
representatives of bodies as diverse as the Iraqi Ministry for Protection of the
Environment and Venezuela’s Green Party.
Among the areas such groups are
interested in learning about from the JNF is overcoming water
The expertise comes from decades of the JNF being involved in
finding creative and innovative ways to alleviate the water crisis, building
more than 220 reservoirs in the process, including 21 during 2010. Now it has
also turned its efforts to tapping new aquifers, and is poised to open a
first-of-its-kind bio-filter plant on the outskirts of Kfar Saba that will
collect and purify – through layers of plants, bacteria and soil – some of the
200 million cubic meters of water that currently pass through the sewage systems
of our coastal cities and are lost as they run off into the sea.
Robinson, CEO of JNF America, speaks animatedly about his organization’s latest
contribution to the field – the construction of a cutting-edge, energy-efficient
wetlands water treatment system at the Ramon air force base that will save 80
million gallons of fresh water a year and serve as a model for water treatment
and reuse at remote communities throughout the country.
ALL OF this is in
addition to the hundreds of tree-planting ceremonies that the JNF planned for
this Tu Bishvat in the greatest single effort ever orchestrated to connect
Israel’s youth to its roots in the most literal way.
If all this reads
like a celebration of the JNF, that’s because it is. Once in a while, we should
be allowed to rejoice in our accomplishments, and Tu Bishvat is the appropriate
time for doing that when we’re talking environmentalism.
But with all the
justifiable pride that the WZO can take in the accomplishments of the JNF, it
need take a closer look at its own record of action (or inaction), particularly
in regard to the implementation of resolutions adopted by the Zionist
Not that we’re ignoring them entirely. One, for instance,
called upon the WZO “to only purchase new vehicles that are alternative-fuel
models or that meet high fuel-efficiency standards.” Well, I’ve done my
Feeling a bit out of shape and terribly self-righteous when the
decision was made, I went out and bought a bicycle – and actually ride it to
work some three times a week. I mention this spirited instance of personal
example only half-facetiously. While it is still up to the Zionist Executive –
the 32 who have to implement the decision of the 749 inspired by the three – it
is the responsibility of everyone else to make any small contribution they can
to saving our planet.
Accordingly, there’s no reason for the question of
how many Zionists it takes to change a light bulb to remain a joke. The real
answer need not be 784, but one. Just be sure to buy a good helmet along with
your new two-wheeled, alternative-fuel-efficient vehicle.
Happy New Year
of the Trees. And happy trails.The writer is vice chairman of the World
Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive. The
views presented here are his own.
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