Israel and Argentina Embark on Environmental Partnership

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 9:17 AM

“We must ensure that everyone has the basic necessities for a livelihood. This aspiration is common to all nations and shared by adherents of all religions.”
 

On his visit to Israel, Argentina’s Minister for the Environment Rabbi Sergio Bergman toured the country and met with KKL-JNF representatives to discuss advancing environmental collaboration between the two countries. “KKL-JNF’s mission is tikkun olam (improving the world), one of the important values that Judaism has contributed to humankind,” said government minister Bergman.
 

 

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“I never expected to have the opportunity to visit Israel as Minister for the Environment,” remarked Rabbi Bergman. “Argentina and Israel are natural partners. Although we shall not forget the contribution made by Argentinian Jews, we must ensure that this partnership not remain an internal Jewish matter: it has to be a joint enterprise shared by the two countries.”

Rabbi Sergio Bergman is known for his warm relationship with Israel, where he lived for a number of years while he completed his MA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was ordained as a rabbi by Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College.
“I feel at home here,” he said during his visit.

Professional ties

“It’s no small matter to sit here with a minister in the Argentinian government and conduct the conversation in Hebrew,” said KKL-JNF Vice Chairman Hernan Felman on the first evening in Tel Aviv. “It’s important to us to involve the minister in the activities of KKL-JNF, show him what we do and offer our services in our areas of expertise.”

Director of KKL-JNF’s Latin American Department Ariel Goldgewicht presided over the festive event. KKL-JNF Vice Chairman Nisan Cialik, KKL-JNF Head Forester David Brand and Argentinian Deputy Head of Mission Gabriel Jorquera were among the notable figures present.

The evening began with a short film about KKL-JNF’s activities in a variety of spheres, and after that it was time for the speeches of welcome. In his speech Minister Bergman described the condition of Argentina’s forests, which have been badly damaged as a result of irresponsible farming practices. “We shall create professional ties with KKL-JNF,” he emphasized. The minister also mentioned education as another target issue for cooperation with KKL-JNF. “The educational activities we have conducted in Jewish schools in conjunction with KKL-JNF need to be extended to apply to the Argentinian educational system as a whole,” he said.

At the conclusion of the event Rabbi Berman announced, to applause from all those present: “With the help of science and technology we must ensure that everyone has the basic necessities for a livelihood. This aspiration is common to all nations and shared by adherents of all religions.”

Roots and fruits

Continuing his tour of the country, Rabbi Bergman made his way to Aminadav Forest in the Jerusalem Hills, where he planted a tree in company with KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar.
“A remark you made to me at our previous meeting – that it was time to emerge from the Jewish communal space into the global space – has been incorporated into KKL-JNF policy,” said Atar to the Minister for the Environment.
 
The world chairman stressed Israel’s eagerness to deepen its cooperation with Argentina. “KKL-JNF’s extensive experience can find expression in Argentina, too,” he said.
 
“Protecting the environment means protecting life,” Rabbi Bergman told those present. “A tree symbolizes not only deep roots, but also the fruit it produces. When we plant a tree, we do not do so merely in the earth or in this world alone: its roots reach the sky, and when it bears fruit we celebrate together.”
 
On the issue of cooperation between Israel and Argentina he said: “Every day we bless the miracle that is Israel. KKL-JNF represents Zionism, and we in Argentina need its expertise.”
 
When he had finished speaking, all those present recited the Planter’s Prayer in both Hebrew and Spanish, before planting a tree together in Israeli soil. For Rabbi Bergman, using a hoe was not enough, and he dropped to his knees to fill in the hole in the ground with his hands. Sometimes the connection with the soil is much more than just a slogan.

Forests, parks and water

The third and last day of the Argentinian Minister for the Environment’s meetings with KKL-JNF was devoted to a tour of projects in northern and central Israel: Mount Carmel Forests, the Ramat Menashe Biosphere Park and the Kfar Sava biofilter.
 
Mount Carmel is a symbol of the damage that we human beings can cause the environment, of nature’s ability to renew itself and of humankind’s ability to help it do so. In 2010 an enormous fire that broke out on Mount Carmel took the lives of 44 people and devoured 25,000 dunam (approx. 6,250 acres) of countryside. At the time, the forest’s future seemed bleak and hopeless. But when we visit Mount Carmel today, the heart lifts at the sight of its magnificent green landscapes. While they cannot compare with the rainforests of Argentina, by Israeli standards this is as green as nature can get.
 
During their visit to Mount Carmel the delegates met KKL-JNF Chief Forester David Brand, who explained the organization’s afforestion policy and emphasized, “We define an objective for each forest, and then act in accordance with it. Our aim is to interfere as little as possible with natural regrowth and renewal.” 
 
KKL-JNF’s Northern Region Forest Engineer Nik Herr guided the group on a visit to the ancient agricultural terraces uncovered on Mount Carmel in the wake of the great fire that had consumed the vegetation covering it. KKL-JNF has restored the terraces and the orchard at the site, transforming the area into an attractive eco-tourism venue.
 
Yaakov Arak, the Director of KKL-JNF’s Menashe-Sharon region led the group on a tour of Ramat Menashe Park, which UNESCO has officially declared Israel’s first biosphere reserve. Yaakov Arak explained:
“This is an area in which the natural ecosystem is protected without neglecting the needs of the human population. Development proceeds in an ecologically responsible matter and it is based upon a desire to maintain the delicate balance between economic development and conservation of natural resources.”
 
KKL-JNF has equipped the park with a trail that makes its way through the woodland, along the gullies and across the open spaces. All along the way recreation areas, built with the support of Friends of KKL-JNF throughout the world, offer green spots for resting and picnicking. Ramat Menashe Park has bicycle trails, disabled-accessible paths and routes suitable for private cars and off-road vehicles. The delegates enjoyed exploring the Nahal HaShofet gully, which was developed by KKL-JNF and has been made entirely accessible to people with disabilities.
 
Ramat Menashe Park extends over 84,000 dunam (approx 21,000 acres) of forest, natural woodland, nature reserves, rivers, springs, farmland, grazing land and rural communities. In the past the area was covered with forests of Tabor oak that were slowly destroyed over time. Today KKL-JNF is sowing acorns in an attempt to encourage regrowth and restoration.
 
The final stop on this fascinating tour was at Kfar Sava, where the delegates visited the remarkable biofilter project promoted by KKL-JNF with the help of its Friends in Australia, as part of the Water-Sensitive Cities initiative. Director of KKL-JNF’s Central Region Haim Messing explained that the runoff water that flows through city streets picks up pollutants as it makes its way towards the rivers and the sea. Two hundred million cubic meters of rainwater are wasted every year in Israel, and they pollute the country’s beaches and shoreline.
 
The biofilter project is designed to make this rainwater available for use, stop the pollution and prevent Israel’s groundwater reserves from dwindling further.
“This is how we can transform a nuisance into a resource,” said Haim Messing.
“That’s a very Jewish concept,” replied Rabbi Bergman, amid the laughter of those present.
 
Haim Messing explained that the runoff water is collected in an ecologically friendly water-purification facility consisting of several layers of sand and plants. The upper layer is covered with special vegetation that helps to purify the water, while the oxygen-poor layers lower down encourage the development of bacterial colonies that promote water-purification processes. In summertime, when no rain falls, water can be pumped out of polluted wells and purified in the facility before being returned to the ground.
 
Monitoring systems installed in the biofilter show that the technology is working well: the polluted runoff water that enters the facility emerges from it almost fit for drinking.
 
So far three biofilters have been installed in Israel. The first of these was the Kfar Sava facility, which was followed by installations in Ramla and Bat Yam. Visitors to the biofilters often expect to be confronted with ugly water purification plants, and are agreeably surprised to discover that these facilities consist of verdant parks studded with landscaped pools surrounded by paths and cycle trails that serve the local community.
 
Ariel Goldgewicht summed up the events of the successful day: “This was, without a doubt, an important visit by one of the most prominent people we have had the opportunity to meet. Environmental Minister Bergman came here to find out how we can collaborate with Argentina on issues that are of such vital importance to all of us. We have toured northern and central Israel and shown him KKL-JNF’s successes in afforestation, forest rehabilitation, fire prevention and management of water resources.”
 
The day ended with a final meeting at which the representatives discussed how their desire for cooperation could be translated into practical action that will enable them to apply KKL-JNF’s technological know-how to environmental projects in Argentina.