Though a cliché, it is no less a truism that the environment knows no borders. While the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel focuses inward on what's happening in Israel, we cannot afford to ignore the environmental concerns and best practices that are negatively and positively impacting our region and areas around the globe.
As the largest environmental NGO in Israel, SPNI often interacts with other civil society players in our neighboring countries in the Middle East and with countries that are part of a European Union-designated Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot. In the Mare Nostrum project (“Our Sea” in Latin), for example, SPNI took the lead in coordinating with other civil society organizations across the Mediterranean Basin to create a shared framework to protect the Mediterranean Sea and coastline.
A signature international project that has been driven by SPNI for decades focuses on teaching farmers to use barn owls and kestrels as natural pest control in order to reduce the amount of pesticides. This project now involves some 5,000 nesting boxes across Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
SPNI also organizes an international birdwatching race called “Champions of the Flyway” that draws hundreds of professional and amateur birders from around the world each year and has raised $350,000 for bird conservation across Europe and Africa. It is now among the premier international birding events. Our expert ornithologists visit North America regularly to lead birding adventures in local hotspots and engage in conferences and competitions, all with the aim of raising support for protection of the world's crucial migration flyways.
Our relationships with other organizations in Europe have created cultural exchange opportunities for education and environmental professionals and young people from Israel, Italy, Germany and throughout the EU to share their knowledge and exchange ideas regarding how best to protect our planet and confront the challenges of climate change.
SPNI has valued supporters in countries around the globe, with affiliates in the United Kingdom and France, and of course in North America. On a recent visit to Ottawa, I met with local supporters, Canadian parliamentary officials, and the leadership of CIJA, the non-partisan Israel and Jewish advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada. These fascinating interactions will hopefully spur more international cooperation between Israeli and Canadian policy professionals regarding the shared challenges of environmental protection, such as renewable energy, land conservation, and sustainable fishing.
But we don’t only engage environmental professionals, as they alone cannot turn the tide in many environmental struggles. The citizens of every nation around the world must join the efforts as well, and so we engage with as many of them as possible. Meeting with our supporters – and people interested in environmental issues in Israel and locally – at parlor meetings, synagogues, JCCs and business offices always rank among favorite encounters when I travel to North America. When I hear about dry riverbeds and wildfires in California, overfishing in the Chesapeake Bay or urban planning in Seattle, I know that we are not alone, and I can share what SPNI is doing about these and similar issues in Israel.
(Please let me know if you'd like me or one of SPNI’s other environmental professionals to visit your community in the next several months!)
Our shared environment, the biosphere on this blue planet, our healthy habitats, flowing rivers, polar ice packs, forests, jungles, savannas and deserts, and our desire to preserve them – this is what unites us.
Here in Israel, we have a humble Mediterranean scrubland habitat called batha. It stretches throughout much of the country, along our varied topography and climatic zones. It’s not flashy, not naturally forested, but rich in biodiversity and under the twin threats of encroachment and climate change. We tackle challenges like these daily – protecting the batha habitat, renewing Israel's rivers and wetlands, and helping make our cities dense, sustainable, and the best possible places to live – and we wouldn’t be able to do so without the continued support of our extended conservation family in Israel and around the world.
We invite you to join SPNI's activities and meet-ups abroad, by contacting our international affiliates as follows:
USA: Robin Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
CANADA: Avi Sadiv, email@example.com
FRANCE: Norbert Lipszyc, firstname.lastname@example.org
UK: John Levy, email@example.com
Category: Our Global Community
Summer internship at SPNI
I was extremely nervous on the first day of my summer internship. I had never worked in an office before (and never wanted to), and I was already feeling like a “suit,” a rigid and boring businessman. Dressing up for others has never been something that I particularly enjoy, but I had to make a good first impression, so there I was decked out in my new work wear: a button down shirt, beige slacks, and nice shoes.
But the moment I met my boss, Aya, who sported dyed red hair, a funky style and a huge smile, I began to breathe a little easier. Aya took me on a tour of the office and made me feel at home. While eating lunch together on the rooftop patio, Aya told me a little bit about the nature sites I would visit and write about for the English newsletter. Later, she took me on a walking tour of the neighborhood, and we discussed the best restaurants in Tel Aviv and the ins and outs of Israeli politics.
In no time at all, I felt like a part of the team at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and a full-fledged member of Israeli society. Once I felt comfortable among the people, it was time to get acquainted with the land.
SPNI’s main office is located in the South Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, an area that has been blighted by the construction and abandonment of the old Tel Aviv central bus station and is overrun with an unsavory element of Israeli society.
I was previously unaware that such rough areas even existed in Israel, and my walk to and from work opened my eyes to some jarring new realities. But I was also introduced to numerous breathtaking nature sites created, maintained, and protected by SPNI.
In Tel Michal, an urban nature site situated on the coast of Herzliya, I saw firsthand how the organization was empowering seniors through conservation activities, bringing them back into the community through public service projects that include beautifying this previously neglected archeological site and leading tours.
In Jerusalem, the nation’s capital, SPNI fought for and successfully established several stunning urban nature sites, including the 64-acre Gazelle Valley Park and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, which is within earshot of the Knesset.
I was supremely impressed by the many eco-tourism focused field schools established and operated by SPNI across the country. In addition to serving as core team members for conservation projects, the field school staff lead nature excursions and provide educational programming for both young and old to enjoy.
And in its own backyard, the ramshackle neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, SPNI built a rooftop garden for an apartment building occupied primarily by refugees.
As I began to settle into the rhythm of office life, I found myself connecting to the other SPNI team members through mutual interests, shared experiences, and our dedication to a common cause. We discussed the many projects I had seen, and I began to understand just how much time and effort went into every element of the work that was being done around me.
Everything from tackling new sources of environmental degradation, which seemed to pop up almost daily, to marketing campaigns aimed at generating public support for environmental initiatives took so much time and dedication, and nothing was a simple walk in the park (or forest, as the case may be).
I finally understood that no one at SPNI could ever be considered a “suit.” Yes, they worked day after day in an office building spending most of their time behind desks, reliant on computers and concerned with cutting costs. But their dress is way too casual, their demeanor too friendly, and their ideology too inclusive to ever fit the pejorative connotation of that overused term. Making that assumption was my mistake. But then, I had never met anyone quite like the SPNI staff before.These environmental desk warriors are nature’s first line of defense.
Most SPNI employees spend a good amount of time in the field, visiting sites, collecting data, and helping lead public initiatives. But every moment in the field is made possible by hours of office work. Grants must be secured. Logistics must be solidified. Promotional materials must be developed. Every task is essential to protecting the environment and keeping it safe from predators of all kinds for generations to come.
As I look back on my time at SPNI, I am so grateful to have spent my summer in a cubicle. Not because I love office work, but because I now understand how much office work is required to save the environment.
This summer, I didn’t become a “suit,” as I had feared. Instead, I spent eight epic weeks becoming an environmental desk warrior, a label I wear proudly.
Josh Brandt is a native of Los Angeles, CA, who served as a Marketing and Communications intern at SPNI during the summer of 2017.
Category: Our Global Community
Jewish sustainable celebration of Trees
Wouldn’t we all wish to be like a tree? Familiar with the soil we are planted in; possessing fresh foliage and firm roots that withstand strong winds?
As the world becomes faster and more interconnected, Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish "Birthday for Trees" - celebrated this year on January 25th - invites us to stop and observe. Where have we put down our roots? What is the culture that they are growing in? How does our landscape and environment form our identity? Where do we want to raise our children?
The Mishnah describes our roots as an expression of our values in action. According to the Mishnah if we want to strengthen our roots we must reinforce our knowledge with actions. As part of this concept we can celebrate Tu B’Shvat as a day to deepen our environmental activities. Whether we choose to spend our time planting new trees or caring for old ones, taking action to reduce our consumption, spend time volunteering in the community or launching a new social action project – we will not only deepen our roots but enjoy a healthy and sustainable environment.
Tu B’Shvat – the social aspect:
Tu B’Shvat first appears in Chapter 1 of the Mishnah, in Rosh Hashanah tractate. According to Beit Hillel Tu B’Shvat was the date used to distinguish which fruits were grown in the past year and those grown in the coming one, for the purpose of tithe – donation of one tenth of the produce to the poor.
This date was created as a result of the ancient Israelites observations of nature, as they noticed the changing seasons.
They noted that most of the winter rains had already fallen halfway through the Jewish month of Shvat, and the fresh fruits had begun to grow. Hence, they chose it to mark the boundaries between the current fruits and those of next year’s crop.
Tu B'Shvat – the spiritual aspect:
Over the last two millennia the social aspect of the festival was forgotten and preserved only within the Ashkenazi tradition as a date forbidden to fast and to eat plenty of fruit.
In the 16th century Tsfat spiritualists and Kabbalists revived the concept of a Tu B’Shvat ‘Seder’ – a festive Tu B’Shvat meal where 30 different fruits would be eaten and blessings recited within a specific order. For the Kabbalists the Seder emphasizes the spiritual aspect of nature, seeing man as a partner in the act of creation and its daily renewal, who is able to repair the world through his or her actions.
Tu B'Shvat – a national aspect:
With the beginning of the Zionist enterprise Tu B'Shvat once again evolved, gaining a new practical significance – becoming the day when children from across the country plant trees, putting down their roots figuratively and taking an active part in its building and blossoming.
Tu B'Shvat– the international aspect:
In recent years, with our growing awareness of a worsening global ecological crisis Tu B’shvat has taken on a new significance as Jewish "Earth Day".
Many Jewish communities around the world have chosen Tu B’Shvat as a time for ecological introspection and acknowledging that the destruction of nature does nothing but cut through the branch on which we sit. Tu B’Shvat allows us to take action to create a balanced world where nature and man co-exists in harmony.
Tu B'Shvat – the personal aspect:
Today Tu Bishvat is a special day uniquely combining tradition, history, spirituality, mysticism social action, Zionism and environmentalism. We all have the right - and the obligation- to pour our own personal values into this celebration, as we fuse our heritage with the current modern Israeli version of Arbor Day.
So what can you do to celebrate?
Plant a fruit tree: celebrate the traditional way. Just remember a tree is for life not just for Tu B’Shvat! Give it a few years and with the right care you enjoy its fruit at your own Tu B’Shvat Seder.
Make your own Tu B’Shvat Seder: download a Seder ceremony composed by “Teva Ivri “and invite your friends over to celebrate. You are more than welcome to join one of the Tu B’shvat Seders organized by SPNI in several locations such as Alon Tavor, the Beit- Ussishkin museum at Kibbutz Dan, and more.
Get out and enjoy nature, wherever you are: And if you’re lucky enough to live in Israel, SPNI has many activities planned, including our traditional tree planting and guided hikes around Modi’in, attended by thousands. If you live abroad look out for details of activities in your area.
Respect the elderly (trees): every tree has its own story and some trees in your neighborhood may be hundreds of years old. Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity to do some of your own research and discover your neighborhood’s natural history. What you might find may surprise you.
Protect the environment: the environment is much more than just trees; you can volunteer in a conservation project by your local organizations, join one of the many action-oriented campaigns spearheaded by SPNI, or support SPNI’s all year round nature protection work.
Category: Our Global Community
The Culture of Consumption is Killing Us
You might not have heard yet that the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving has a name, and a very important purpose. Giving Tuesday, this December 1, is the result of a global movement pushing back against a holiday season of consumer extravagance. So after the mass sales of Black Friday and the online shopping boom of Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to focus on giving rather than consuming.
Reducing consumption is one of the most important, fundamental challenges that face us. The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day and consumption per capita is continuing to spiral upward. Such trends are not a natural consequence of economic growth but the result of deliberate efforts by businesses to win over consumers, so brilliantly detailed in the ground-breaking video The Story of Stuff, which convincingly shows how our "materials economy" is not sustainable. Planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence are just two of the main tricks of the trade to get us to buy, buy, buy. This global culture of excess that could wipe out any gains from government action on climate change, or even a shift to a clean energy economy.
I once heard Annie Leonard, the producer of The Story of Stuff, talk about a letter she received from one of the 20 million people world-wide who viewed her video. It was from a woman in Texas who wrote saying that she didn't realize how detrimental is the problem of overconsumption, and now that she has seen the video, she doesn't feel it is right to take her 3 school-aged daughters to the mall to shop every Sunday. She ended the letter with a plaintive query, which speaks volumes about the ubiquitous nature of this crisis: "What", the woman wanted to know, "can we do on Sundays instead?"
How about we take a cue from the state of Vermont, where the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is teaming up with some doctors with a plan to get more people outside and exercising by having the physicians write "prescriptions" that are really free passes to any Vermont State Park. The "Park Prescription" program is designed to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic health issues by encouraging exercise at state parks, combining the physical benefits of exercise with the mental and emotional benefits of spending time in nature.
Here in Israel, SPNI meets the challenges of consumer excess in two important ways: we advocate and advance sustainable practices for government, industry, and the public, and we provide quality nature-based experiences and nature education for millions of Israelis every year. By supporting ASPNI on Giving Tuesday, you will be making a statement for the importance of nature in our material world.
We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving, and perhaps, for a bit, getting out of our malls and into nature! Both of these acts will do us a world of good.
If you wish to support SPNI make a donation now
Category: Our Global Community
60 Years of Nature Protection in Israel: What’s next?
In many ways it felt appropriate that the day after the passing of Azaria Alon, the forefather of Israel’s environmental movement and co-founder of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), SPNI pondered the question “What’s next for Israeli nature” at its 6th Annual Jerusalem Conference. The picture emerging from the various panels is that 60 years of environmental activities has kept Israel’s biodiversity in relatively good shape; but that many threats and challenges exist that leave no room for complacency. Perhaps the best hope will be the publication, in 2015, of Israel’s National Biodiversity Masterplan, with much energy at the conference spent discussing what it should include.
After a moment of silence in memory of Azaria Alon, MK Amir Peretz took the stage. The Israeli Minister for Environmental Protection delivered a passionate speech attacking the government’s plans to build a railway to Eilat and Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar for appointing 5 new members to the Park and Nature Authority Council, who Peretz believes, were appointed to authorize the railway’s route through protected nature reserves. Amir Peretz left no doubt in the mind of any of the over 500 people in the audience that he will do everything in his power to prevent this ‘megalomaniacal’ project from becoming a reality and that he stands with us to protect Israel’s nature.
The other major statement came from SPNI CEO Moshe ‘Kosha’ Pakman officially announcing SPNI’s appeal to National Council for Planning and Building against the approval of plans for an enormous housing project on former Israel Military Industries land in the Sharon region. SPNI is appealing to the National Council for Planning and Building to totally reimagine their plans and include a park to preserve 373 plant species and contiguous open spaces in the Central Region. SPNI hopes “the park would protect the public’s natural assets and serve as a center for educational activities and public events for many residents.” This appeal embodied many of the ideas stemming from the conference of the need to protect open spaces and their contiguousness through national strategic planning.
Throughout the day experts from SPNI, Israel Parks and Nature Authority, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, government ministries and the business world presented their ideas and debated planning reforms, environmental education, community engagement, urban nature, and the role of business in preserving biodiversity. There emerged a general consensus among the experts that Azaria Alon has left behind a healthy legacy. However, a lot of work remains for us and all Israelis to ensure that we and our children can enjoy a country with birds, butterflies and flowers. As in Azaria Alon’s famous sentiment, what is life without them really worth?
Category: Our Global Community