Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back to Nature

Photos (c) Amy Samin

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 10 May 2004.

Israelis have always had a love affair with nature. Most weekends find them heading to nature reserves and parks around the country. Recently, I found myself joining the crowds at the Poleg Stream, a small brook that usually goes dry in summer, and which flows into the Mediterranean Sea. For several years activists have been working to clean up the area - and the stream itself - and to have the area placed under the protection of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority.

There has been an organization charged with protecting nature and the environment in Israel since the early 1950s. Even when the state was in its infancy, protecting the environment was considered important. Some even drew a lesson from the bible, in which the Hebrew word for "man" (adam) is closely linked to that for "earth" (adamah). From the link between these words, and their basis on the same three-letter root, the concept of humankind's stewardship of the earth was born.

One of the most successful programs ever implemented by what was, in the 1960s, called the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel was geared toward increasing awareness of the beauty and value of natural wonders in our country. For the last forty years, Israeli children have been taught to appreciate and respect nature, especially certain species of flowers, such as iris, anemone, and cyclamen. These flowers are protected, and all children (and their parents) know they are not to be picked.

Another important program is the reforestation effort spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund. Over 200 million trees have been planted in Israel since 1948. These have mainly been Jerusalem pine or eucalyptus trees. Today, the reforestation effort is mostly focussed on trees that were part of the biblical landscape, such as carob, terebinth, cypress, acacia, olive, almond and many more.

There is at least one nature magazine for children published here, and several for grown-ups, including a Hebrew version of National Geographic magazine. In addition to the National Geographic channel on cable televsion, there is an Israeli nature channel. Kids can enjoy after-school nature classes and field trips, as well. All of this is in addition to the nature classes the children get at school.

For example, all year long the children at our local elementary school have been learning about the Poleg Stream, its ecosystems and wildlife, as well as the efforts to clean up the place. After learning about the rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, porcupines and various species of birds and turtles in the classroom, each class made at least one trip to the stream to actually view these creatures in their natural habitat. On April 30th, the more than 800 students from our school, together with their teachers and parents, celebrated the beauty of the Poleg Stream with music, dancing, crafts, and of course, nature walks. As we walked along the paths, I overheard children excitedly telling their parents the many things they had learned. It was a lovely way to pass along the duty, and the joy, of stewardship to the next generation.

(c) Amy Samin

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