The next generation will be more environmentally conscious.Savoring the views of Israel’s green spaces is a spiritual experience for almost anyone – you can’t help but contemplate what a miracle has been created in the last 100 years. Jews and Palestinians planted these trees together – and succeeded in halting the process of desertification. This accomplishment is all the more poignant as one becomes aware that vast green areas are threatened and disappearing rapidly, as a result of unchecked development and a planning system that is biased in favor of developers, and in some cases, corrupt.
I made aliyah in 2004 and joined the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the organization leading the movement to stop the destruction of Israel’s natural areas and to promote sustainable planning. In my opinion, the work of SPNI is indispensable to the future of Israel and I am honored to take part in it, as are my colleagues, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this cause.
The more I come to understand the inner workings of the Israeli government and just how much land, air and water their non-sustainable policies are affecting, the more I become disillusioned with the lack of public awareness of these issues. Yet at the same time, as I work to promote these issues here and abroad, to reach the audience who might take a profound interest, I am also exploring all the pro-active projects the SPNI has initiated nation-wide. Along the way, I find great inspiration – I witness human interactions as moving as the views.
SPNI’s environmental education programs, operating in public schools as part of the curriculum and in community centers as after-school programs in low-income communities, run on a shoe-string. SPNI Education Director Dafna Gan directs the national program ‘Children Make a Difference’ and prefers to show you than to tell you exactly how children are making a difference in Israel today; she will invite you to a lesson or the National Children’s conference and draw you into it! SPNI instructors, who have usually grown up with the SPNI, in our education and scouting programs, and in many cases serving their army time with us, are paid minimal salaries, yet they are starry-eyed and well-informed and their lesson plans are creative, thought-provoking and fun.
I have sat in on lessons in Acre, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheva and all over Israel, and have been heartened watching the children’s enchantment with the subject matter – and with their instructors. From names of plants and their uses to local environmental issues to ways to conserve in the home, our guides engage students’ minds and teach them leadership. The next generation will be more environmentally conscious.
SPNI’s birding programs teach children and youth about birds and bird research on an improbably high level. Israeli kids can monitor bird migration online, from transmitters that are placed on larger birds, while chatting with kids in other countries, as part of the program, ‘Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries’. This program was started by the internationally respected ornithologist, Dr. Yossi Leshem.
In Jerusalem, people of all ages, including handicapped and the elderly, are actively participating in the ringing and monitoring of birds at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Another unique opportunity to learn about birds is located in Jerusalem, where people of all ages, including handicapped and the elderly, participate in the ringing and monitoring of birds at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory (JBO), on the grounds of the Knesset.
As teenagers, JBO founders Amir Balaban and Dr. Gidon Perlman used to bird watch there and discovered that this small green space was a ‘bird magnet’ in the urban landscape. They approached SPNI with the dream of opening a bird observatory, and today their dream has come to fruition in a way that must be seen to be believed. Thousands of Israeli school children and visitors learn bird banding and identification first hand.
Once you visit the breathtaking JBO, you will be sure to return. Among the defenders of the endangered Lesser Kestrel are schoolchildren and their families in rural and urban towns and cities, where the birds nest and breed. These people power the ‘Lesser Kestrel Rescue Hotline’, according to Ifat Liven, founder and director of the Falcon Rescue Society. In a nation critical to international birding migration, children and youth are studying ornithology while protecting birds, thanks primarily to SPNI.
The Israel Trails Committee (and the Israel trail), Green Maps, community gardens, urban nature reserves and the implementation of sustainable planning work done by SPNI architects and planners are just a few of SPNI’s pro-active environmental projects. Please join us in this work, as I believe widespread support is critical to keeping Israel green and livable. I invite you to observe any of SPNI’s projects in Israel, to enter a public classroom and experience the transformation that happens there, or to venture into a community garden where religious Jews work side by side with their Arab neighbors.