A down-to-earth connection with Israel

BY FRAN CANTOR

I don’t often go around advertising how passionate I am about preserving the environment, and thus the world, for future generations. Somehow, in the face of hunger, wars and violence, it seems trite to express passion about ecosystems.

But, I do care about ecosystems. I care about them on a selfish level because I love nature and being outdoors and I want to hand a beautiful world to my grandchildren and their grandchildren. Even more importantly, I care about ecosystems because everything in our world is linked. The examples are everywhere we look. We put fertilizer on our lawns and the excess nitrogen ends up in the dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico where algae is destroying thousands of miles of ocean. The carbon we emit by the use of fossil fuels is causing the earth to warm and the polar ice caps to melt. The list goes on and on and on. Every ecosystem is related, and in the real world you can’t have paradise in a vacuum.

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Probably twenty years ago, I was reading Sierra, the publication of the Sierra Club. I was reading the little ads at the back of the publication when I came across an ad for an organization that was working on environmental issues in Israel. It turned out it was Jewish National Fund (JNF). I knew how JNF had purchased land in Israel piece-by-piece in the name of the Jewish people. I had planted trees, but it wasn’t until I read that ad that I began to realize what an important environmental organization JNF is. All the pieces fell together. Here was an organization that spoke both to my Jewish and environmental yearnings. The more I learn about JNF, the more impressed I am with what it is accomplishing.

We (JNF) planted forests, but now we know we need to plant forests with diversification. We are reclaiming wetlands. We are providing crucial resting sites for migrating birds. We are leaders in water conservation, cleaning up polluted rivers, and building reservoirs to recycle water for agricultural use. We are using the best methods to push back the desert and make it habitable while remaining acutely aware of the need to do so this in a sustainable manner.

Recently, JNF launched a Web site to help individuals offset their carbon footprint. You can go to the JNF GoNeutral web page and calculate your personal yearly carbon emissions. It’s like getting on a scale! You don’t want to tell anyone the number that shows up. The beauty is you get immediate guilt-relief by purchasing trees to offset your yearly carbon emissions. Then, of course, you can consider how you want to lower your carbon emissions number.

Martin Luther King, of blessed memory, isn’t the only one who had a dream. I dream of Israel, at peace with her neighbors, exporting environmental practices that can literally save the environment of our Earth and I look at JNF with pride. As a non-governmental organization at the United Nations, JNF generously shares what it knows with the rest of the world and is also a founding member of the International Arid Land Consortium, an organization comprised of six U.S. universities, Jordan, and Egypt, dedicated to exploring the problems and solutions unique to arid and semiarid regions. It is enough to make an American environmentalist pay attention. It is enough to make a Jewish American environmentalist kvell with pride and feel hopeful for the future.

Please seriously consider supporting the work of JNF. You will truly feel you are accomplishing something good for the planet.

Fran Cantor is a member of the St. Louis JNF Board and past president of Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis. She and her husband, Harvey, reside in Creve Coeur where she served as chair of the Recycling, Environment and Beautification Committee.