Director’s Blog: March 2015

I am writing the introduction to this month’s blog from the seat of a plane as I fly from Newark Airport in New Jersey to Virginia Beach, Virginia.  I am in the middle of a fundraising trip which began with my participation in the annual Friends of the Arava Institute (FAI) Board meeting which was held in Boston this year.  Also in attendance were Ambassador Daniel Shek, Chair of the Public Council in Israel, Dr. Clive Lipchin  Director of the Center for Trans-boundary Water Management, Suleiman Halasah, Senior Researcher from the Institute and Yousre Al Bachar, Arava Institute Alumna.  The Middle East delegation joined 21 US FAI Board of Trustees Members for the Board Meeting and for the Public Forum held on Sunday March 22nd and attended by over 75 participants from the Boston area and around the country.  In parallel, the North American Arava Alumni Network held its annual meeting with 35 participants who later joined Board members and others at the public Forum.  Frank Chudnow, chair of the Board of Trustees of the FAI Emceed the Event which in addition to presentations from all of the visitors from the Middle East included greetings from the Consul General of Israel to New England, Yehuda Yaacov. On a subsequent leg of this trip I had the pleasure of driving with Palestinian Alumna from Jordan, Yosra Albakkar, from West Hartford CT to Philadelphia PA; about a 4 hour journey.  Yosra and I held our own private Peace-building and Environmental Leadership Seminar (PELS) session talking about the Israeli elections, the American Jewish Community, my motivation for moving to Israel, the tragic histories of our peoples, Anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia and the role of religion and peoplehood for Jews and Moslems outside of the Middle East. At one point, Yosra said that she understood Judaism to be a religion.  I told her that while Judaism is a religion, being Jewish means being a part of the Jewish People, much like the fact that she will always see herself as a Palestinian, no matter where she was born or where she will live.  Yosra then asked me what was my favorite aspect of Judaism.  I immediately responded that Passover or Pesach in Hebrew is my favorite holiday.  She asked why and I told her that Pesach is a holiday which is first of all centered around family and food and not around the synagogue and prayer.  It is a holiday full of important themes like freedom and remembering our own suffering as slaves so we will be empathetic to the suffering of oppressed people today.  It is also the holiday of spring when we celebrate the rebirth that takes place in nature.  I explained to Yosra that the most important symbol of Pesach is the matzah, a bread baked in a hurry by fleeing slaves,  not given the opportunity to rise, to become inflated and puffed up.  Matzah is the symbol of humility and Pesach gives us the opportunity to dispose of our pride (our hametz) and remember that we Jews, Moslem, Christians, Druze, Hindus, Buddhists etc, are all just human beings struggling to live normal lives in peace with each other and in peace with our fragile little planet.  Happy holidays of freedom, rebirth and humility and may they be filled with good food, good friends and family gatherings. – David Lehrer


Pre-Election Visit from Tzipi Livni, Yael Cohen-Paran & Erel Margalit

On Tuesday March 10th students of the Arava Institute and Kibbutz Ketura  members were invited to campaign speeches for the 20th Knesset elections.  Tzipi Livni, leader of  Hatnuah party, Yael Cohen-Paran, co-chairwoman of the Green Movement party and Erel Margalit of the Labor Party all both spoke on the kibbutz as representatives of the Zionist Union coalition party. Livini was part of the former government in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians. She was fired after many disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding relations with the Palestinians, leading her to jointly establish the Zionist Union party with Isaac Herzog. Livni spoke of her intentions to open negotiations with the Palestinians and improve relations between Israel, Europe and the US.  After responding to a question asked by an Arava Institute student, Livni spoke directly to the students of the Institute in English, praising their work and dedication to coexistance. When Livni and Margalit continued on the campaign trail, students stayed after the dispersal of the crowd to meet Yael Cohen Paran, number 25 on the Zionist Union list. She discussed her work  and hope for environmental changes  as an integral part of national development. The  March 17 election resulted in 30 seats for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and 24 for the Zionist Union party, leaving Cohen-Paran’s voice for environmental protection out of the new Knesset. Submitted by Yaakov Prois and Eliana Chana Farber


Arava Institute Water Trip

10422974_980064145351292_6229388145658631649_nThe Arava Institute conducted its annual Water Trip from March 17 through March 20, focusing on transboundary water management issues. The trip was sponsored by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Dr. Clive Lipchin, Director of the Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management (CTWM). AIES students were joined by Master’s students from the University of Maryland for this adventure. In Israel students learned about the shrinking shorelines of the Dead Sea and Jordan River, as well as  the destruction ravaging both from the human impact of mining and pollution. Students also toured the Palestinian Salt Factory, IMG_1667the only producer of food grade salt along the Dead Sea, the wastewater treatment plant at Rahat and a Bedouin school with a wastewater management program. In Jordan students were joined by AIES alumnus Abd Al Raouf from the Aqaba Development Corporation who presented water issues facing Jordan. The group explored Wadi Rum and concluded with a site visit of the Aqaba Water Company and wastewater treatment facility. Submitted by Julia Weeks


North American Alumni Conference

On March 22nd, over 35 alumni came together for the third annual North American Arava Alumni Network (NAAAN) conference.  Over 20 alumni came together for activities and socializing, starting with an introductory address by AIES Executive Director David Lehrer. The conference featured alumni-led workshops including Media Framing of the Conflict with Noa Milman, Business with a Conscience with Sam Hendler. Rabbi Michael Cohen  lectured on Conflict Resolution, after which participants delved into the Arava Institute’s relationship with the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF/KKL). There was a wide range of opinions on the subject, not only about the relationship itself but also about the need to have the discussion. Alumni then participated in regional breakout sessions to brainstorm about grassroots organization of promotional activities for the Institute in their communities as well as improvment of the North American alumni network. The conference was also comprised of lunch with Israel Ride alumni and Friends of the Arava Institute (FAI) board members and numerous guest speakers including Yehuda Yaakov (Israeli Consul General to New England), Ambassador Daniel Shek (FAI board member) alumni Yosra Albakkar and Suleiman Halasah, and the Institute’s Dr. Clive Lipchin. An alumni panel closed official conference activities but participants gathered until late into the night to network and reminisce.  Submitted by Josh Neirman


Intern Profile: Gerardo Tremont

11072913_10155361657100531_4777631457573191267_nGerardo, aged 25, is from Maracay, Venezuela. He completed his undergraduate degree in 2011 with a major in International Relations from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, his country’s capital. While attending UCV, he participated in Model United Nations (MUN) in the US, Argentina, and Mexico, and was part of the national MUN organizational team. Gerardo went on to work as a consultant for the government, coordinating and assessing large-scale social projects to promote entrepreneurship in international villages. He also interned with the British Embassy where he provided analysis on the the political situation of Venezuela. He then worked for a British company in Venezuela, De La Rue, that produces bank notes for the Central Bank. In 2013 Gerardo came to study at Tel Aviv University for a year-long Masters program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation. After completing this degree he lived in Spain before coming to the Arava Institute to work with Dr. Clive Lipchin, one of his former professors. Gerardo plans to continue at the Institute until January 2016. He is enjoying both campus life and work with the Center for Transboundary’s Water Management (CTWM). Gerardo is helping to manage CTWM’s Transbasin regional research exchange for his internship. Submitted by Melanie Nakashian

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