Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weekly Report July 18th-30th, 2010

  • Once every six months, Miriam Sharton, the Associate Director and I have a private feedback session with almost every member of the staff. Sometimes, Miriam and I sit together with a staff member and sometimes we meet seperately with an individual member. It is an opportunity for the staff member to raise issues, give feedback to the administration and in general express how they are feeling at the institute. It is also an opportunity for Mriiam and I to give feedback, both positive and negative to staff members basically to ensure that lines of communication remain open. This feedback system has been a tradition at the Arava Institute for almost 10 years and has been extremely helpful in flaging problems and maintaining a positive work atmosphere. This past week, Miriam and I met with about 25 staff members in order to give and receive feedback. Sometimes these sessions simple and sometimes they can be difficult but no matter what, they are always important.
  • Clive Lipchin and Shira Kronich came back from Kenya where the Arava Institute ran a course on Rain Water Harvesting for two groups of farmers. The course was funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is part of a new initiative at the Arava Institute, headed by Dr. Shmuel Brenner, the Arava Center for Sustainable Development in Arid Lands (ACSDAL) which provides training and extensions services to peoples from the developing world.
  • During the week of July 18th to the 22nd, Arava Institute alumni, Yair Teller, Abeer Abu Sara and Leora Smith began a new alumni project in Susiya, a Palestinian Village in the West Bank building biodigesters to deal with the problem of animal waste while providing clean burning methane gas for cooking and heating. Leora and Abeer ran a parrallel environmental education program for children in order to expose them to environmental concepts.
  • On Sunday, July 25th, Dr. Michael Beyth, the Chairman of the Arava Institute Board of Directors met with our two Israel resource development consultants, Neal Levy and Shlomit Yarkoni from Ben Or Consulting regarding our Israeli Resource Development Work Plan. We discussed different avenues for development in Israel and how to position the institute in terms of Israeli donors. We expect to receive the work plan by the end of September. 
  • That afternoon, I stopped in on ECOWEEK, an international meeting of "green architects" who are spending the week looking at sustainable building design in Israel and Palestine. The Arava Institute is one of the sponsors of the conference. Judy Bar Lev, the institute's office manager and expert on Palestinian permits and Jordanian visas obtained permits for a number of Palestinian architects to attend the conference. One of whom is interested in coming to the institute in the fall. Donny Ornstein, an Arava Institute faculty member represented the institute at the opening session.
  • Tuesday, Friends of the Arava Institute (FAI) past Board Chair and current Board member, Eric Berzon and his wife Danielle Ruymaker arrived at the institute for a few days of meetings and relaxing. Eric and Danielle got a tour of the institute, met a number of different staff members, participated in a staff meeting and of course got a tour of Dr. Elaine Sollowey's experimental orchard.
  • Another visitor on Tuesday was Sam Yosefowitz, from Switzerland, who together with Rennselar University would like to fund a project he calls, an Agricultural Oasis, an independent desert farm that provides itself with its own purified water and energy. If the institute receives the grant, the project will go under the auspices of ACSDAL and will be a partnership between the Arava Institue and the Southern Arava Agricultural R & D Center.
OK -that's about all I got - a relatively quite two weeks at the Arava Institute.

David Lehrer

Friday, July 16, 2010

Weekly Report July 4th- July 16th, 2010

  • On Monday, July 5th, I spent the day in Jerusalem meeting with various people regarding a multitude of issues concerning the Institute.  In the morning I met with Yaakov Mimron and Yossi Vertzberger from the Ministry of Infrastrucure.  Yaakov is head of mining resources in Israel and Yossi, who works under him oversees sand mining. I met with them to discuss an alternative to sand mining of the Samar Sand Dunes, an important ecological resource in the Arava and one which is being threatened by a potential sand mining for building operation.  An agreement was achieved to pursue testing an alternative to destroying the dunes. Sababa, the Center for Sustainable Development in the Arava is very involved in this campaign.
  • In addition to this meeting, I also met with Avner Fuchs, past president of Rotary Israel about how the institute could partner with Rotary Israel and Rotary International on Fundraising.  I also met with Avner Simon, the institute's architect to discuss the design of the new dorms.  Finally, no trip to Jerusalem would be complete without a quick shopping spree in Machaneh Yehuda.
  • On Tuesday, thanks to our Arava Institute board member, Phillip Mendlinker, the Institute hosted directors from the Israeli Electric Company (IEC).  The institue arranged a tour of the region which included a visit to the proposed renewable energy industrial area, the Aora Solar Tower at Kibbutz Samar and a visit to the Arava Institute. Directors of the IEC who visited were, Moshe Bachar, David Almachias, Assad Joubran and Asher Dahan.  The visit was coordinated with the Eilat Eilot Renenwable Energy Initiative and the Arava Power Company.  Much of the discussion with the IEC was how the electricity that will be generated in the Arava will be sent back up north.
  • On Sunday, July 11th, the staff reviewed the price proposals submitted by contractors for building the Research and Visitors Park.  The lowest bid came from Kibbutz Neot Smadar, one of Ketura's neighbors in the mountains behind Ketura.  The building should start by the last week in July.
  • That same afternoon, the institute held the annual summer ice cream party for staff and staff families.  Judy Bar Lev and Ronit Friedman organized the event with ice cream from Kibbutz Yotvata. A very sweet afternoon!
  • For some reason, everyone decided to come visit the institute on July 13th!  In the morning the Arava Institue and the Dead Sea Arava Science Center hosted ICA (Jewish Colonization Association) which is the Baron de Hirsch family foundation that has funded agriculture and development in Israel for over 100 years.  ICA has funded purchasing lab equipment for the renewable energy lab and we have a request for more equipment next year.
  • Next, we hosted Richard Summers, Toronto Federation represenative,  who brought with him consultants who work with the Toronto Jewish Federation in resource development.
  • Finally, Yael Shatiel, Executive Director of JNF Israel (KKL) along with 15 other KKL managers visited the insititute in order here about developments at the institute and updates on the new dorms.
  • In the evening I attended the presenation of the regional master plan 2030, which lays out how the Arava Region (Hevel Eilot) will grow and develop in the next 20 years. As a local environmetnal organization, the Arava Institute and its public involvement arm, Sababa have been very involved in issues around regional planing.  In addtion to myself, Taal Goldman, Sababa Coordinator and 4 other members of the Sababa steering committee attended the meeting and were active in the discussion.  Sababa has established itself as an important environmental voice in the region.
  • On Wednesday, July 14th, Shlomit Yardeni and Neal Levy, two partners at Ben Or Consulting spent the day at the institute initiating the in depth analysis of the institute as preparation for an Israeli resources development work plan that they have been contracted to provide the institute. Shlomit and Neal spent the day meeting staff and talking with each department to get a better understanding of the institute's strengths and weaknesses.  In addition to Neal and Shlomit, Shir Harel, the institute's webmaster also came down to participate in the meetings because we assume the website and new media will be an important part of our resource development strategy.
  • On Thursday, Miriam Sharton and Tamar Norkin arranged a short seminar on renewable energy in the Hevel Eilot region for 15 MBA students from Maryland University.   The tour was led by Asher Epstein, Managing Director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship,Robert H. Smith School of Business.  The students were intrigued by the amount of entrepreneurship in the field of renewable energy in the region.  The visit also helps strengthen the relationship between Maryland University and the Arava Institute which has had a student exchange program for many years.
  • The same day I was in Tel Aviv, meeting with our colleagues from the Heschel Center and representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the joint Sustainable Food Initiative of Heschel and the Arava Institue.  The ministry is very interested in joining the initiative and we discussed other parters from the agricultural, business and civil society sectors who we would like to invite to be part of a wider coalition that supports a social and economic shift towards a more sustainable food system in Israel.
David Lehrer

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Weekly Report June 20th - July 2nd, 2010

It has been a very busy two weeks:
  • On June 21st and 22nd, I attended the 38th annual conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.   A number of Arava Institute faculty attended the conference including Elli Groner, the Arava Institue Academic Director, Shmuel Brenner, Nir Becker, Donny Ornstein and of course Alon Tal.  In addition to faculty a large number of Arava Institute alumni also attended the confernce which brings together Israel's leading academic and professional ecologists and environmentalists to discuss current research in the field.  Shmuel Brenner and Alon Tal appeared on the main panel discussing nuclear energy in Israel.  I gave a presentation of my research on the economic impact of invasive species. 
  • Immediately after I gave my presentation, I left the confernce in order to catch my flight to Sri Lanka where I had been invited to attend a workshop sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to discuss the report that IWMI is preparing for UNEP on the role of ecosystems in providing clean water and other ecoservices for agriculture.  The institue was asked to participate in the writing of the report which is a collaborative work by research institutes around the globe.  It was very exciting for me to visit Sri Lanka as it was my first venture to the Far East.  The people I met both from Sri Lanka and from the research institutes were great.  The meetings were held in Colombo which is the capital of Sri Lanka and the home of the IWMI.  I had one day for site seeing but as it was a Budhist holiday, the shopping was limited.  I was able to visit a Budhist Temple for the first time in my life.  See trip report.  
  • This same week, Clive Lipchin, Shira Kronich and Yair Teller took off for Kenya.  Through its new center, the Arava Center for Sustainable Development in Arid Lands (ACSDAL), the institute has partnered with MASHAV - Israel's development aid department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to run 2 week long courses on water management in Sauri, a rural area of Kenya which suffers from a lack of infrastructure; electricity, water and roads.  Clive, Shira and Yair will be running a course on water management for households and small farms using a rainwater harvesting and treatment system developed especially for this project by an Israeli company called Shamraz.  The demonstration project was first set up at the institue and then shipped to Kenya.  In addition to the course, Clive will be holding meetings with additional contacts in Kenya as well as making a trip to Tanzinia to meet with Sivan Achor-Borowitch, founder of Jewish Hearts for Africa, regarding the establishment of an eco-village.
  • The week of June 20th to the 24th was also the final week of the semester at the institute.  Students completed their papers and took final exams.  They spent the week cleaning the campus and meeting with staff in order to give feedback about the semester.  As usual, the students expressed overwhelming satisfaction in their experience at the institute along with suggestions for improvement.  The final party was held on Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon after a very tearful goodbye, most students got on the bus and left.  
  • On Sunday June 27th, the staff said goodbye to Amit Chertoff our Student Life Coordinator and our two Program Associates, Yousre Odeh and Lauren Rauch.  Though the academic year 2009-2010 presented its challenges, it was very successful and much credit goes to Amit, Yousre and Lauren as well as Michelle Shachar, Student Life Director and the other members of the Academic Staff.  The institute wishes Amit, Yousre and Lauren lots of luck and hopes to see them back at the institute soon.
  • On Wednesday night, June 30th, Sababa held its monthly steering committee meeting.  The committee was updated on a number of initiatives such as the initiative to list Timna Valley as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meetings with the secretariats of the kibbutzim in the area, and the Timna hotel campaign.  In addition, Avi Ramot, from the regional council water authority spoke about the planned new water reservoirs in the region.  The committee then discussed the main issue of the meeting, the Samar Sand Dunes and the contractor's request for a building a mining permit.  Taal Goldman and I updated the committee on what is happening and the committee decided to issue a letter to the region urging action to delay the issuing of the permit.
  • Professor Emeritus, Frank Fisher from MIT arrived on Wednesday night in order to meet with staff and discuss opportunities for collaboration.  Professor Fisher is an economist who has worked on the issue of trans-boundary water management between Israel, Palestine and Jordan.  Professor Fisher and his colleagues at MIT have developed a computer model that serves as a decision support system for water and resource allocation in the Middle East.  Professor Fisher would like to work with the Arava Institute in updating the model (the information is 10 years old) and expanding to other countries in the region.  Professor Fisher is on the Board of the New Israel Fund and the American Friends of Peace Now.  Professor Fisher has also recently become involved in the new JNF Parsons Water Fund.
David Lehrer