On Sukkot, Israel needs to consider its environmental policies - editorial

Israel needs to consider its policies on construction and land use, recreation, transport, energy, air quality, waste, avoiding marine pollution, protecting wildlife, etc.

PUTTING UP sukkot in Mea She'arim on October 2.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
PUTTING UP sukkot in Mea She'arim on October 2.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a special time, particularly in Israel. During the holiday, which starts on Sunday night, temporary booths can be found everywhere. These tabernacles recall the way the Children of Israel traveled the desert for 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt. One of the nicer traditions is to host guests in the sukkah, bringing people together.

Celebrating Sukkot in Israel is part of the natural rhythm of life. Even the weather plays a role. Although it might rain briefly during the holiday, it is usually still warm, and Israelis sit and sleep in their sukkot. At the end of the festival, we recite the prayer for rain. This prayer, marking the change in the seasons, carries a moving message: “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall? May it fall as a blessing and not as a curse. May it be for life and not for death. May it bring abundance and not famine.”

Just as the sukkot are meant to act as a powerful reminder of our fragility and vulnerability, the wording of this prayer has a similar message. Altogether, the holiday, traditionally in part an agricultural festival, is the perfect time to consider nature and our role in protecting the environment.

This year, coming out of the COVID pandemic but with much of the world influenced by the havoc caused as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the vulnerability is hard to avoid. The cost of fuel and energy and the crisis in supplies of grain are very real. Add to this the dramatic and lethal climatic phenomena.

Fortunately, in Israel, we have so far been spared the worst of the impact, but there is no reason for complacency.

 Ultra orthodox Jews shop the four species, for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in the ultra orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Ultra orthodox Jews shop the four species, for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in the ultra orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

More challenges for Israel

The fact that Israel’s population continues to grow is a blessing but brings with it special challenges. The country needs to consider its policies wisely in every field, from construction and land use, recreation, transport, energy, air quality, waste, avoiding marine pollution, protecting wildlife and more.

In many cases, the topics are being discussed, or argued about, while missing the main point. Take for example the talks on natural gas. The use of natural gas instead of coal is clearly a cleaner way of producing energy, but this too is a finite resource. The country needs to ensure that part of the profits from gas is spent on developing clean, affordable renewable energy sources such as solar energy (given that we are blessed with free sunshine.) This needs to be done carefully, learning from the mistakes of others, but it needs to be done.

Another example is the arguments over whether or not to operate public transport on Shabbat. These are being heard before the public transport to the “periphery” is fully functional. Having a decent train service that runs at convenient hours needs to be a priority. Encouraging the use of public transport instead of putting more and more cars on congested roads is something Left and Right, religious and non-religious should be able to agree on.

Israel is a leading and creative force when it comes to developing meatless meat and milk without cows. This should be encouraged but while animals are kept in the farming industry, their conditions must be improved. This is not only a moral imperative, but it is also essential from a health point of view, helping prevent the spread of Avian flu and other pandemics, for example.

While desalination plants have helped prevent a water crisis in Israel despite the arid climate, more care needs to be taken to prevent pollution of natural water sources. In general, Israel has good environmental protection legislation, but it needs to be enforced to be effective.

These are just some of the issues worth considering during the holiday that will continue to determine our quality of life today, and that of future generations. The general public can help not only by abiding by an environmentally aware lifestyle, but also demanding more of municipal and national leaders. Although the election is just three weeks away, the main parties are all but ignoring environmental issues. But these are inseparable from both security and economics and should be beyond politics.