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Published in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle on Aug. 12, 2005

The Greening of Zion

By Hampton Stevens

Cherishing the land of Israel has always been an essential part of Zionism. But, according to the Green Zionist Alliance, the call to nurture the land has been ignored for too long.

Founded in 2001, the GZA (www.greenzionism.org) seeks to change that. This week, the alliance launched an effort to build a robust, broad-based delegation to the next World Zionist Congress in 2006.

The GZA has hired Kansas City native Hal Klopper to be its new executive director. Klopper was formerly a fundraiser with the "American Friends" groups of both Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.

The GZA's main goal is "to secure an activist environmental presence within the Zionist movement." It won its first seat to the 2002 World Zionist Congress, where it was represented by Rabbi Michael M. Cohen. Rabbi Cohen is executive director of the North American office of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which is located on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel's Negev desert. Rabbi Cohen was co-founder of the GZA.

Speaking from his New York City office, Klopper said the Arava Institute has been doing good work on the Middle Eastern environment for nearly a decade.

"For nine years, it has been bringing together students; Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Egyptians, as well as students from the United States. They live together and study the environment. It is very valuable work," Klopper said.

Rabbi Michael Cohen agrees. He said caring for the earth is a core Jewish value. 

"Our connection to the land has been one of the primary ingredients in maintaining Jewish identity," said Rabbi Cohen. "Therefore, since we've returned to that land, we have even more of a responsibility to take care of it."

Israelis from across the political spectrum have embraced the environmentalist cause. Unlike the United States, where the very notion of protecting the environment is seen as coming from a left-wing perspective, the GZA's agenda boasts Knesset supporters from right-wing Yuri Stern to left-wing standard bearer Shimon Peres.

But is it hard getting people concerned about ephemeral, if not abstract, problems like clean air and water when Islamic terrorism poses such a direct threat?

Rabbi Cohen said the question poses a false dichotomy. Rather than being at odds, protecting the environment and protecting Israel can go hand in hand. Securing water for the next century and cutting fossil-fuel dependence, for example, would make Israel both a cleaner and a safer state. 

"In terms of the political reality, the issue of caring for the natural world has been pushed aside for a long time," Rabbi Cohen said. "For many social issues in Israel, it is always after the conflict; after the conflict. Well, we can't wait any more. The environment is too important for Israel, internally and externally."

Thus the GZA's current push for increased representation at the upcoming World Zionist Congress. From now through mid-February 2006, Jewish Americans may register to vote for the U.S. delegation to the 2006 World Zionist Congress. (For more information or to register online, visit the Web site of the American Zionist Movement, www.azm.org.) The election will be held, via mail, from mid-November through Feb. 28, 2006. The GZA aims to be the third-largest delegation from the United States.

For those wishing to venture deeper into environmental thought, Rabbi Cohen teaches classes at the Arava Institute in on environmentalism in the Torah. 

"At the beginning of Genesis, in chapters 1 and 2, you have these two very different creation stories sitting right next to each other. Each retelling of the story embodies an existential aspect of the human self — especially in relation to the environment. One is to have dominion and control over nature. The other is to take care of it; to guard it. There is that existential balance. That's what we need to find when dealing with the environment today."

How would Rabbi Cohen sum up GZA's vision?

"Think of a desert," he said. "It looks barren, but a little bit of water completely changes everything. That's a nice metaphor for what we are trying to do — be that little bit of change; the one drop of water that makes all the difference."


Israeli Nature Poll

What is your favorite natural area of Israel?


"God said to Adam: 'Be careful not to spoil and destroy my world. If you do so no one will repair it.' "

- Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13

Did You Know?

Israel has nearly as many plant and animal species as California.

Mideast Green News

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