Galilee Diary: Sustainability
When the Holy One Blessed be He created the first humans, he showed them all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to them: See how wonderful and pleasant are my creations! Everything I created – I created for you. Take care not to spoil or destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one to fix it for you.
-Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13
Traveling recently with a study tour of young American Jewish professionals, we were connected by the environmental study center at the Sde Boker College in the heart of the Negev with a Bedouin who is trying to help his community reclaim some of the environmental and health benefits of their traditional way of life. Salman received us in a tent, in a small sprawl of tents and shacks a few hundred yards off the main highway through the central Negev. While bread baked in the coals, he presented a [somewhat romanticized, I think] description of the “good old days” when the Bedouin lived in harmony with nature, using just what they needed. Those were days, he said, of happy and disciplined – and healthy – children, and a simple but high quality life. In recent decades, however, controversial government policies seeking to control and even urbanize the Bedouin, the influence of western culture, and the influx of modern innovations (like plastic bags) have destroyed this idyll, resulting in bored and alienated children, health problems, and pollution. When your waste was organic and minimal, tossing it into the desert was a good idea, and it would be rapidly recycled. When you buy lots of stuff in packages, tossing the waste into the desert is disastrous, and the results are blowing in the wind all over the Negev. Salman has a vision of re-educating his own community to learn how to live in balance, restoring traditional values and customs while choosing thoughtfully from the tempting attractions of western consumerism. Not a simple challenge.
Meanwhile, back in the metropolis, we also visited Hiriyah. Just east of Tel Aviv, this served as the Tel Aviv metropolitan garbage dump from the early 50s until it was closed in the 90s. During that time it grew to a mountain rising nearly 200 feet above the flat coastal plain, visible for miles. Among other dangerous nuisances it generated, the flocks of gulls it attracted posed a major danger to airliners landing at Ben Gurion airport. Since decommissioning, a reclamation project has been underway and is very impressive. The mountain and its surroundings are being converted into Ariel Sharon Park, which will be the largest park in Israel, with recycling facilities, an education center, fields and gardens and walking trails and water-ways – and a look-out with a commanding view of central Israel. All the energy consumed by the entire facility is produced from methane generated by the buried layers of garbage. The bright and airy education center is cleverly furnished with objects reclaimed from trash, and runs recycling art programs for schools and camps.
So where is all the garbage going now? Today, at the base of the mountain is a large pit covered by a corrugated metal roof; this is the transfer station, in which all the region’s garbage is dumped (1,000 trucks daily), to be loaded in giant tandem trailers for trucking to the Negev. Standing on the catwalk around the transfer pit, watching the bulldozers working the vast quantities of garbage, it is hard not to wonder if we really can’t find a better way. We put our trash out in the morning and it disappears within a few hours. Unless we visit the Hiriya transfer station, we have no awareness of what becomes of it, and of the resources devoted to is removal from our sight.
Salman may have some hope of returning his neighbors to a simpler, more organic lifestyle (unless they all get buried first under the urban detritus of their more modern neighbors to the north). But what about the rest of us?
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah