Jerusalem of green

Whatever Israel's politicians decide about the fate of the capital, one thing that is increasingly unifying the city is the need to tackle environmental issues.

Whatever Israel's politicians decide about the fate of the capital, one thing that is increasingly unifying the city is the need to tackle environmental issues. "We are seeing an increase in the number of activists and ecologically concerned residents," says Naomi Tsur, coordinator of Sustainable Jerusalem and director of the local branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). "Environmental education in schools is becoming more popular and there is more public activity like campaigns for bike users and recycling." The city is currently home to a range of organizations seeking to raise ecological awareness from a religious perspective, as well as through economic and peace-making activities. On November 12 the Israel Center is hosting the Environmental Forum to examine the impact of global environmental issues on Israel and how citizens can respond. The conference, "Responding Jewishly to Global Warming and Other Environmental Threats," will bring together leading environmental figures from Jerusalem as well as across Israel and the Jewish world. Among the issues to be discussed will be: How can the slogan "Think global, act local" be applied in a city with such worldwide significance? Among those tackling this question will be Leiba Chaya, director of the SPNI's environmental education program, who will take a closer look at Jewish environmentalism in Jerusalem. "We will be learning about why environmental stewardship is a Jewish responsibility and why social activism is important," says Chaya. "People can get involved and turn ideas into action." Jerusalem has a growing network of community gardens as well as compost workshops where people can turn their food waste into fertilizer. "These small practical actions are a direct extension of the Jewish ethic of conserving our resources," she says. Gidon Melmed of Green Course will discuss how university students are responding to Israel's environmental problems. Elsewhere in the city, the Nahlaot-based Simhat Shlomo Yeshiva is gearing up for the next semester of its Eco-Activist Beit Midrash on December 28. But it's not just religious groups that are going green. NGOs like Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) are promoting environmental conservation in the shape of their Neighbors Path eco-tourism initiative. Soon Jerusalemites will be able to hike along a new ecological trail to the west of the city which runs between Tzur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin. "The Neighbors Path highlights natural ecological features and can also be an economic opportunity for communities," says FoEME's Mira Edelstein. "It will pass through Wadi Fukin's unique agricultural land, pools and springs, and at Tzur Hadassah visitors can climb up the Sansan mountain ridge." Also, on November 29, FoEME will be showcasing ecologically sound tourism at a gathering of mayors from cross-border communities in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, to be held at the Dan Panorama Hotel. Some progress has already been made in greening Jerusalem. The Environmental Protection Ministry reports that Jerusalemites have been enjoying improved air quality since 2003. But even as Jerusalem cools down for the winter, scientists predict that climate change could increase average temperatures in Israel by over 1.5ºC and reduce rainfall by 4 percent to 8% each year. "Green issues are likely to dominate the municipal elections next year when candidates will be vying to see who is the greenest," says Tsur. "It's up to the citizens to choose." The conference takes place November 12, from 1 p.m. including a film screening at 7:30 p.m. Admission: NIS 20/25 for members/non-members. Israel Center, 22 Rehov Keren Hayesod. Info: 566-7787.