Plant a seed and watch it grow: a little bit of Kibbutz Lotan at OSRUI

By Marlene Dodinval with Arielle Solomon, Teva Specialist, OSRUI (URJ Camp, Oconomowoc, WI)

18 months ago I introduced Alex Cicelsky of Kibbutz Lotan to OSRUI’s Associate Director, Susan Alexander in the hope that ARZA could help foster a partnership between the URJ’s first camp and Lotan.  I watched Susan’s excitement grow as they discussed the possibility of bringing the values and teachings of Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology (CfCE) to OSRUI campers. A year later the camp sent Arielle Solomon, their new Teva Specialist, to the CfCE Green Apprenticeship program.  Below Arielle describes the experience and her vision for bringing what she learned to Reform Jewish youth at camp:

Kibbutz Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship is a lot more than just a course about sustainability, agriculture, natural building, and ecological design. By living in the Bustan neighborhood, where participants lived in 10 geodesic domes covered in straw bales and mud, we were able to truly internalize the concepts we learned in our lessons, as well as put the sustainable technologies and methods of ecological living to the test. For two months I simultaneously slept in a dome, which was cool during the hot days and warm during the cool winter nights, and learned about the effectiveness of their design in my classes. We used concepts such as Bal Tashchit, or do not destroy, in our everyday practices, and learned about Kibbutz-style living and intentional communities.

One of the main focuses of the Green Apprenticeship was permaculture, or the designing of integrated systems through the use of ecology. Rather than simply learning about permaculture principles and concepts, we were able to use them in our every day lives outside of classes. We were constantly using local resources, such as branches from the date palm plantation on the kibbutz, and climate-specific knowledge, such as which vegetables grow best in the Arava Desert, to build and create and learn by doing. Our teachers pushed us to learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the Arava, to solve problems on our own (but ask for help when needed), and to take advantage of the opportunities and resources on the kibbutz.

Arielle Solomon

For the Teva program at OSRUI, I strive to emulate the same encouragement and support that I received on the Green Apprenticeship by engaging campers with place-based learning and hands-on experiences. In addition to playing an active role in tending the new garden, the campers learn how to identify local plants to strengthen the connection to their home-away-from-home. We help the campers observe and appreciate what is around them while thinking about our needs versus the needs of the ecosystem in which we live. Judaism is an agricultural and an ecologically-minded religion, and we use Teva (both the garden and what we can find growing on its own) to teach campers how to be more enlightened and environmentally-aware Jews. Although southern Wisconsin is a very different climate than Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava Desert, the way we approach ecological mindfulness is the same.

Looking for more information about Kibbutz Lotan and the programs they have there? Visit their website at Note: there is rolling registration for the Green Apprenticeship and Sustainable Israel semester program with grants of up to %40 from MASA- Israel Journeys. 

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