The second Interfaith Crossing the Jordan Seminar, on March 31, gave a group of 38 people – Jewish, Catholic and Lutheran clergy and seminarians based in Israel, as well as Israeli tour guides – a firsthand look at the challenges facing the Jordan River and various ways to take action.

At the Yardenit baptism site, Elizabeth Koch-Ya’ari and Hagai Oz from Friends of the Earth Middle East reviewed the serious ecological problems plaguing the historic waterway. FoEME brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists to promote cooperative efforts to protect the Lower Jordan River, the Dead Sea and shared groundwater resources.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development led a discussion of the Jordan River in Jewish tradition, while co-pastors Angela and Martin Zimmann of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem provided a perspective from the Christian tradition.

“The Jordan, like many other rivers in this land, is significantly degraded, and the people living here have a responsibility to care for it and treat it with respect,” Neril tells ISRAEL21c. “The Jordan’s environmental situation is quite extreme because Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians dump raw sewage into the river and have diverted over 90 percent of its normal flow for their own uses.”

Neril said a similar event in March2012 also included Muslim clergy, who were not able to attend this year.

“People of faith, and in particular seminary students, seldom meet each other in meaningful encounters, and bringing them together over environmental issues is a unique way to foster cooperation and understanding among clergy of different faiths,” adds Neril.

Participants visited the Alumot dam and a sewage treatment center under construction, as well as other key sites along the river.

“We had a session on practical things people could do, such as speaking and teaching about the Jordan and its environmental issues in their congregations,” says Neril. “We encouraged participants to take practical actions themselves, and inspire their congregants to be aware of how they use water.”

Learning about the riverbank area. Photo by Siiri Bigalke/ICSD
Learning about the riverbank area. Photo by Siiri Bigalke/ICSD

Koch-Ya’ari tells ISRAEL21c the main goal was to raise awareness and recruit faith-based communities, in Israel and abroad, to champion the Jordan’s rehabilitation. FoEME offers materials to support activities including a special Mass focusing on the biblical and modern significance of the river.

Neril says the connection between faith and ecology is not stressed in religious seminaries of any religion, nor in courses for tour guides, “so this filled a particular niche.”

For information about FoEME trips and study tours, contact the Tel Aviv office at

For more information on the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, see