From Vision to Action: Building Israel Sustainably - An Interview with Efi Stenzler

Zionism has contributed an important role to the creation of the State of Israel.  Many philanthropists have opened their hearts, and decided to take part in this pioneering work of making life prosperous in the biblical Land of Israel.  Every year since its independence, Israel has witnessed great progress in development, literally turning desert into a blooming high-tech land.  I traveled to Tel Aviv to meet the World Chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the organization''s enthralling vision.
Efi Stenzler at Kibbutz Ketura, where the author currently studiesEfi Stenzler at Kibbutz Ketura, where the author currently studies
Efi Stenzler. Photo: Shmuel Willner
Mr. Efi Stenzler is the World Chairman of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), and his responsibility is to lead the organization with the vision of creating a sustainable Israel for future generations.  Mr. Stenzler got introduced to KKL-JNF already in his early age in kindergarten, where the Blue Box was used to collect money for KKL-JNF’s projects.  Later when he was involved in Jewish youth movements, he used to camp in KKL-JNF forests with his friends.  As an adult, he served as a Mayor for the city of Givatayim which is built on the land owned by the KKL-JNF.  This is what shaped his vision to lead one of world’s most important Jewish organizations.
“We have to have an idea of new Zionism, that is, to prepare Israel in a way of sustainability for the next generations who would like to come and live in Israel; we constantly need to make Israel a better place.” Efi Stenzler began.  The new Zionist idea is to develop Israel''s periphery, namely, the Negev and the Galilee.  “These plans include, for instance, establishing new communities for the people that were evacuated from Gaza.” he continues.
“Most importantly, we need to be number one in science and technology,” emphasizes Mr. Stenzler. “Our prime expertise is in water, land and food”.  In addition, renewable energy will play a key role in Israel’s future development.
A few years ago, KKL-JNF decided to invest in the Arava Power Company in order to advance the renewable energy sector in Israel. “We have to free Israel from imported oil”, states Efi Stenzler. He quotes David Ben-Gurion who dreamed about the potential of using solar power to run Israeli economy, “The largest and most impressive source of energy in our world, the source of life for every plant and animal, yet a source so little used by mankind today, is the sun”.  Like Israel''s first Prime Minister, Mr. Stenzler too dreams of the Negev becoming a ‘sunny source’; just like the Silicon Valley is for California.
There are several main ideas that will drive KKL-JNF in the coming years.  Efi Stenzler lists some of them.  “Our main goal in the coming years is to make the Negev flourish, and on the other hand, bring the people from urban places into nature”.
The Dead SeaThe Dead Sea
The Dead Sea. Photo: Shmuel Willner
“Our other main goal is to advance plans to build a channel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, which would help bringing life to the Arava and the Negev,” says Mr. Stenzler.  This project would create a long conveyance that would take water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea where it would utilize the difference in the heights between the two seas to generating green energy at a hydropower station.
“What we have to do is to save the Dead Sea from continuous deterioration; furthermore, we have to protect this unique environment,” adds Efi Stenzler.  In the same way KKL-JNF helped to develop the Hula Valley in the Northern Israel, and was involved in planning the National Water Carrier which conveys water from the Sea of Galilee to Southern Israel; the organization can contribute a great deal to the Mediterranean Dead Sea Project.  He says, “We have the best engineers in Israel”.
Efi Stenzler mentions the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, which was sponsored by the World Bank.  According to him there is value in both the Med-Dead and Red-Dead projects.  “Both solutions are saving the Dead Sea” he says.  “However, personally I like more the conveyance option that starts from the Mediterranean Sea.  We can gain support from all over the world, because it is a project that brings life to the Arava and the Negev regions”. 
Despite the fact that Israel has significant offshore gas discoveries which will help the country to become more independent in energy production, alternative renewable energy and water resources need to be developed.  The next few years will show which direction the country takes.  In this process, organizations like KKL-JNF can play an essential role.