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Restored Wetlandsa Birding Paradise
Visitors to Israel’s Huleh Valley in the early 1950s would have found a vast area of wetlands and a substantial lake covering up to 23 square miles. By 1958, however, almost the entire wetlands had been drained for agricultural use and only a small remnant was set aside as Israel’s first nature reserve.
Though the peat-based soil was initially very fertile, much of it quickly degraded and a host of environmental problems became apparent.
By the early 1990s, a coalition of national organizations, local government and residents worked together to create a 1,200-acre park on the most extensively degraded area, reflooding close to 300 acres to create the new Lake Agmon.
The area is now one of the most popular nature tourism sites in Israel, attracting close to 250,000 visitors a year and constituting an important part of the regional economy.
According to Itai Shanni, general manager of the Huleh Valley Birding Centre (www.hula-birding.com), “the Agmon has become one of the best birding hot spots for autumn and winter birding in Israel and probably throughout the Middle East.”
Green to the End
Environmentally conscious types are choosing aboveground burial crypts to preserve land when departing this earth.
According to Jeffrey Sussman, spokesman for Cedar Park and Beth El cemeteries in New Jersey, Jewish cemeteries nationally have been building indoor sanctuaries to accommodate growing demand.
The New Jersey cemeteries have the largest mausoleum in the Eastern United States, with a 20 percent yearly increase in aboveground entombments among baby boomers the past three years; this year they added 2,280 crypts, totaling 13,410.
While a major motivation is land conservation (families are placed together in space-efficient alcoves), many prefer the climate-controlled, beautiful and reflective indoor atmosphere. And it’s a “modern version of an ancient tradition,” Sussman adds, referring to biblical times when Jews were buried in caves.
“Jews have been practicing green burials for centuries,” notes Lisa Berenson, director of development at the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts. —Sara Trappler Spielman
The Green Party
As America becomes increasingly green, so too are bar and bat mitzvas. A growing number of parents are choosing to instill their childrens’ rites of passage with eco-friendliness. In Los Angeles, Jennifer Krieger threw her daughter Samantha’s reception in a state park instead of a hotel. In lieu of invitations, Krieger donated to the Jewish National Fund, using JNF certificates as invitations. And she didn’t stop there.
“We decided to forgo the RSVP cards and instead we had everyone reply by e-mail,” Krieger said. Food was served on plates made from bamboo, a sustainable wood, and candles replaced flowers as centerpieces on the wooden tables.
In Melbourne, Florida, 13-year-old Ruby Watts (above) also forewent flowers for centerpieces she constructed from Skittles candy. And instead of buying a new outfit for the occasion, she wore a “recycled” dress—one her aunt wore at her bat mitzva over 10 years ago. Her aunt, Kate Harrison, is founder of the sitewww.greenbarmitzvahs.com as well aswww.thegreenbrideguide.com.
Leave the Tree
Old trees in Israel’s cities are disappearing rapidly as new buildings go up. Now they will be protected by an amendment to the Planning and Construction Law of 1965, which requires developers to mark the location of mature trees on building plans submitted for approval. The amendment stipulates that trees must be preserved in their original locations, moved or replaced by ones of comparable quality if there is no alternative to chopping them down.
Meanwhile, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has invited Jerusalem residents to join Tree Guardians, a group that will survey the capital’s old trees in conjunction with the city and the Agriculture Ministry. “The survey will enable the city to keep an eye on developers and enforce the new law,” said SPNI spokesperson Pazit Schweid.
A similar grass-roots survey called Adopt a Tree is under way in Tel Aviv. —Esther Hecht
Israeli-born entrepreneur Shai Agassi is making the world an environmentally safer place—one electric-car battery at a time. Based in California, Agassi’s company, Better Place (www.betterplace. com), is reducing oil dependence by offering consumers affordable renewable energy to support electric cars.
Israeli leaders have encouraged Agassi’s vision. Israel was the first country to partner with Better Place, which is building a network of charging spots at malls and parking lots and developing automated battery-switching stations for trips over 100 miles.
Consumers who buy electric cars will be able to purchase miles on their batteries, similar to cell phone minutes. The first pilot station opened in Israel late last year. Denmark, Australia, California and Hawai’i have also signed on. —Rahel Musleah
Back From Near Extinction
Tucked away in the Carmel Mountains is a sanctuary bringing back animals that have disappeared from the Israeli landscape. Hai Bar Carmel (www.parks.org.il) has reintroduced several large mammals into the wild and reinforced struggling populations, from the griffon and Egyptian vultures to the tiny fire salamander.
In the 1970s, four Persian fallow deer were brought from Iran, part of the last wild herd of 25. They and two other deer acquired from zoos formed the nucleus of a breeding colony. In the mid-1990s, these animals began to be reintroduced into the wild and are today thriving.
Hai Bar Carmel Director Dotan Rotem is particularly proud of achievements regarding the Bonelli’s eagle. “Today, we are the only place in the world that has been able to successfully breed this bird in captivity,” he notes. Next up, he says, is a plan to save the Eurasian otter. —M.B.
On Mount Gilboa overlooking the Jezreel Valley, foundations are being laid for Israel’s first green town. Nurit—Hebrew for buttercup—will boast wind turbines and solar panels for its electrical needs and rainwater-collection systems. The country’s first eco-friendly town expects to have 100 homes ready next year and hopes 400 families will be calling it home by 2012.
“The environment is a topic that the Gilboa Regional Council is promoting in many ways: environmental education in our schools, infrastructure and establishing a new ecological community,” said Daniel Atar, head of the council. “We hope that Nurit will raise awareness of ecological issues and draw a new crowd to the Gilboa.”
Residents will be expected to put in high-level insulation systems and grow leafy trees around their homes to cut down on the need for air conditioning and heating. A town reservoir will be the repository for collected rainwater. Meanwhile, a system for collecting gray water—waste water from washing dishes and bathing—will be used for local fountains and for watering gardens.