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Archive for December, 2010

We’re Back!

Hello again. It’s been a long time.

Lots has happened since our last post. Jewish Climate Initiative, after helping initiate the Jewish Climate Campaign and going to that shindig at Windsor Castle, lapsed through lack of funding.

 Michael went off to develop algae for biofuels and pharmaceuticals; David’s still doing Israel-US tech cooperation. Yannai works on health and nutrition education in Israel’s Department of Health and I joined a new Israeli company that is designing and developing Ecocities. (More on that, no doubt in future posts.) All stuff in the general environment/energy/climate space, but not as JCI.

We’re back to blogging again here because of the climate. Really, there’s no choice. In Israel, it’s going haywire. Here I am writing this in the middle of winter with cloudless blue skies outside and temperatures well into the 70’s. We’ve just had the driest ever November following the hottest ever summer, following seven successive years of drought. Things are starting to look catastrophic 

As Ehud Zion Waldoks reports here the Kinneret, Israel’s major fresh water lake will, unless something dramatic changes, reach the lower black line in summer 2011. That’s the level at which further pumping from the lake becomes dangerous, risking irreversible damage through salination.

A few weeks ago Israel suffered its worst ever forest fire. It claimed 43 lives, destroyed 5 million trees and ruined the Carmel, one of the most beautiful areas of the country. (Contribute to the rebuilding effort.) It was started by some careless kids, exacerbated by years of neglect of the fire services, but enabled by the unprecedentedly hot and dry summer and fall that turned the forest into tinder waiting for a spark.

From this perspective, climate change denial emanating from air-conditioned think tanks and newspaper offices in the US and UK starts to look rather quaint. Israel has joined the Arctic, the Himalayas, Russia, Pakistan the Sahel and a host of other spots in the world where the daily evidence of dangerous climate change is before your eyes.

As Martin Heidegger (no, I’m not a fan) is supposed to have said: “Maybe the apocalyse has already happened.”

This situation needs a response. Also, we believe, it needs a Jewish response.

The only regular activity of Jewish Climate Initiative which still takes place is that Michael Kagan and I meet each Friday morning to learn Talmud tractate Ta’anit for an hour or two. Not much. Yet this is starting to seem as signficant as anything we did in JCI before. For Ta’anit is the accumulated wisdom of the Jewish people over 2000 years on what you do in the Land of Israel when the weather starts to go crazy.

Tractate Taanit opens with the articulation of a need for rain. For a first century farmer in the Land of Israel, that need was total. Livelihood, food, family, life itself hung in the balance every single year. As the summer waned and autumn began, no matter how successful last year’s harvest was, each inhabitant of Israel felt the existential vulnerability associated with the experience of living in this land. All of life’s needs, every desire for survival and flourishing were condensed and focused on the longed for appearance of rain-bearing clouds in the late October sky. Scouring the heavens for Clouds of Longing was an annual experience.

We’re back. Back to the situation of living in this land and longing for the clouds. Sure, a lot is different too. We’re mostly not farmers anymore, we can import butter if it vanishes from the supermarkets, Israel has world leading research universities, more tech. companies quoted on NASDAQ than all of Europe put together, etc. Yet for all of our technological sophistication (and I’m basically all for it) our well-being here still depends in big ways on the appearance of those longed for clouds. And that with all of our ingenuity, those clouds are outside of our control.

Across the millenia, Taanit speaks with eery immediacy to our lives here today. It defines our predicament and offers a repertoire of responses.  It can give us wisdom and hope for how to face and overcome a situation that people in this part of the world faced and overcame before.

 We hope to bring out some of that on this blog over the coming months.

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