Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekly Report September 12th to the 24th, 2010

  • On September 13th, the new Academic Team including Cathie Granit the new Program Director, Barbara Finkel the new Campus Life Director, Dane Cooper, the new Academic Coordinator, Brenda Hausler, the new Admissions Coordinator as well as the Dr. Elli Groner, the Academic Director and Michelle Shachar, Director of PELS, kicked off the opening of the Academic year with a faculty meeting. The meeting reviewed the achievements of last year as well as the expectations for the coming year, the new developments in the relationship with BGU, admissions (about 35 students expected in the fall semester) and the start of construction of new dorms.
  • The next day, 35 members of staff and a few family members, went on a two day staff seminar. The following report was provided by Michael Edmeston, the new Administrative Intern who replaced Tamar Norkin:
  • Staff Trip September 14th - 15th, 2010
  • Early Tuesday morning the Arava staff gathered at the kibbutz bus station and began a two day tour of interesting ecological projects taking places across the country. The theme of the tour was ‘sustainable food production’. Included in the itinerary were four selected projects: Bio Bees Biological systems located at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in; Emek Netofa a model for cooperative farming in the Bet Netofa Valley; EcoOcean Marine Research and Education operating in the Red Sea and; Hava and Adam an ecological farm near the city of Modi’in in central Israel.
  • Bio-Bees Biological Systems: On arrival at Bio-Bees the group was introduced to the concept rearing beneficial insects and mites as a means for pest control in the agricultural industry. Here we were presented with what can be best described as a nature documentary that utilized the best in 1980’s horror film sound-effects to enlighten the public as to how this concepts works. As a progressive and ecologically thinking company, their objective is to provide the agricultural industry with an chemical-free alternative to protect crops against the invasion of destructive pests. After a brief tour of the kibbutz’s other environmental projects (such as the installation of owl houses in agricultural fields) we made our way to a seemingly enchanted picnic area located on the kibbutz where we enjoyed delicious home prepared bread, pastries and cakes combined with other typical Mediterranean cuisine such as hummus, pickled and fresh vegetables and dolmades.

Hugging Trees at Kibbutz Sde Eliayhu

  • Al Batuf Valley (Emek Bet Netufa):  After reluctantly packing up our lunch, we left Bio-Bees and headed further north towards Galilee and specifically the Bet Netofa Valley. On reaching the ascent overlooking the Valley area we were greeted by Laithi Gnaime, an Arava Institute alumnus, who explained to us his work and vision in developing the valley into model for sustainable and organic farming. The overarching aim of his project is to increase the Valley’s sustainability, independence, and economic viability. The main vehicles for this are the encouragement of traditional and organic agricultural methods, the establishment of an agricultural cooperative to educate, organize, and market the products of this agriculture, and the cultivation of the Valley as a destination for eco-tourist travel.
  • Abu Gil Organic Vegan Restaurant: Having been in the bus for much of the day it was a relief to finally reach our hotel in Tel Aviv where we would be spending the night. We briefly checked-in and then headed to our dinner spot- Abu Gil organic and vegan restaurant. On offer was tasty, healthy plates of various assortments ranging from bean soup to quinoa salad to lentil balls.
  • EcoOcean Marine Research and Education:  Waking early, we once again got on the bus departing for EcoOcean’s research vessel docked at the harbor just north of Tel Aviv. Here we were welcomed by Andreas Weil, the founder of EcoOcean and also a proud alumnus of the Institute. Once on board we were briefed of all the necessary safety requirements before ‘setting sail’. Leaving the harbor, we were educated on the regions marine ecology and provided a short demonstration on how to take measurements of water salinity and sea life. This was followed by a particularly interesting lecture on the marine environment of Israel and the many problems facing those such as Andreas, his team at EcoOcean and other environmental groups when it comes to conserving and protecting the marine and coastal environment.

EcoOcean's Mediterranean Sea  research vessel docked in Herzilya Port
  • Hava and Adam:Arriving hungry, our last stop was the ecological farm of Hava and Adam near the city of Modi’in. Again, as a group we were fortunate and proud to be introduced to the project by another two former students from the Institute- Haim Feldman and Dafna Dagani. Touring the eight-acre farm, we were shown the component necessary in order to truly live sustainably: composting toilets, chicken hatches, vegetables gardens and fruit trees, a grey water system and a herbal workshop to name a few. Having worked up an appetite once more, it was off to get our hands dirty as we prepared to harvest what we were going to eat for lunch. This meant collecting freshly laid eggs for omlettes and eggplant, onions and herbs for a salad and as filling for mud oven baked pastries.
  • Preparing the meal from freshly picked vegitable garden
  • There are not many work days in the month of September due to the holidays.  Other than preparing for the arrival of the new students, things were fairly quite this month. One other exciting event took place on Tuesday, the 20th of September when the Steering Committee for the Alumni Biogas Project met in Susia, a Palestinian/Bedouin village just inside of the Green Line in the West Bank. A group of Palestinians, who live like Bedouins were living near Arad before 1948 and were forced to move to the West Bank during the war. Since the Israeli take over of the West Bank in 1967, their lives have not been easy and have included additional forced relocations as well as the destruction of their tent domiciles in 2002. The Israeli Supreme Court has backed their right to stay where they are, just outside of the Jewish settlement of Susia and to continue to live in tents (they are not allowed to build permanent structures).  A lack of water, sewage, electricity, waste disposal, health care etc. makes life in the village of about  50 families (500 residents) fairly precarious.  Yair Teller, is managing an Arava Institute Alumni project to introduce a low tech biogas technology solution to use animal waste to produce methane gas for cooking and heating.  The project already has one working biodigester and is planning to build 4 more. A number of Arava alumni are working on the project which has included short stays in the village, environmental education programs and technical aid with the biodigester technology. The plan is to expand the areas of aid to include, other technological solutions such as rain water harvesting, gray water reuse, solar panels, agricultural help etc.  The additional help to the village will probably be provided through the new Arava Center for Sustainable Development.  The Steering Committee met with representatives of the village council to create a dialogue on how best the institute and its partners, Ben-Gurion University as well as other non-profits working in the village can best support sustainable development in the village.

David Lehrer and Ilana Meallem (Um Biogas) with the first flames on a biogas burner

David Lehrer

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekly Report August 29th - September 10th, 2010

The pace of the last two weeks due to the end of the summer and the holidays (Id Al Fiter and Rosh Hashonah) has been slow.  Not a lot to report.

  • On Wednesday, August 31st, Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, head of the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation, Hannah Flamm, a research intern from Tufts University and went to Sderot to meet with members of "Other Voice", an organizaiton that promotes dialogue and cooperation between residents of Gaza and Sderot.  We met with Eric Yellin, Julie Chaitin and Nomika Zion the heads of Other Voice and members of an urban kibbutz in Sderot.  Tareq, Hannah and I met with the leaders of Other Voice in order to propose cooperation on a project that the institute is working on together with Tufts University to bring Palestinians from Gaza and Israelis from Sderot and the surrounding area to study together renewable energy. The project is called Solar for Gaza and Sderot (S4GS).  The long term vision is to create cooperative projects between Gaza and Sderot using reenwable energy as the basis for cooperation.  Eric, Julie and Nomika were enthusiastic about the project which will likely start in November or December with a workshop at the institute.
  • On September 1st, I attended the Board of Directors meeting in Tel Aviv of Arava EC&T.  The for profit company founded by Elad Topel, an alum of the institute and two other entrepreneur friends of Elad's Avigal Shorek and Avi Rosenblatt is half-owned by the Arava Institute.  The company is now poviding consulting services to a variety of companies and instititutions in Israel including the Aroma Coffee chain, the Shikmim farm owned by the Sharon family, the Hevel Eilot Regional Council and an off shore natural gas project.  The Board heard reports on the projects and the projections for the rest of the year, which look very promissing.
  • On September 6th, I was back in Tel Aviuv for a meeting of a group of orgaizations interested in promoting the idea of a Green New Deal for the Israeli economy. This is an idea that is gaining acceptance around the world. The basic idea is that due to the world economic collapse, there is an urgent need to reinvest into national economies in order to jump start economic growth. The question is, what type of investment is planned. Are governments around the world going to invest into the same old polluting fossil fuel driven industries of the last century or is the world going to take this opportunity to move forward with renewable energy and energy efficient industries.  Are we going to design policies that promote sustainabilty and utilize the need for massive investments to implement these policies.  The Arava Institute has joined with other NGO's to try to create a New Green Deal for Israel.
  • On Tuesday morning over 30 members of the staff squeezed into the meeting room to raise a toast to the new year.  Miriam and I went through all of the amazing events that took place this past year and we then raised our glasses in the hope that this year will bring even more success but most of all peace and stability to our region and the world.
Shana Tova and Eid Mubarak