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Experiencing Israeli Environmentalism at Kibbutz Lotan

Experiencing Israeli Environmentalism at Kibbutz Lotan

Greetings from the Holy Land!  A land flowing with…environmental engineering and solar energy?

This past week, I had the incredible experience of seeing a leader in Israel’s green innovation: the Reform Movement’s Kibbutz Lotan, situated in the heart of the Arava Valley.

At Kibbutz Lotan, I enjoyed a Reform Shabbaton and had the opportunity to tour the impressive EcoCampus, with the Center for Creative Ecology’s director of Research and Development, Alex Cicelsky. The work Lotan is engaging in to explore the intersection of Judaism, the environment and ecology with the participants of the “Green Apprenticeship” program under Cicelsky’s leadership is unparalleled. A few weeks ago at the URJ Biennial in San Diego, I joined Cicelsky, Rabbi David Freelund of Cape Cod Synagogue, and Cantor Ross Wolman of B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Chicago, IL, as a panelist in a session called “Judaism, Energy and the Environment,” which primarily focused on congregational greening. I was blown away by the diverse greening initiatives that are transforming their communities, but it was truly remarkable to experience Kibbutz Lotan in person.

For nearly two decades, Cicelsky and his team have been experimenting with creating mud-building construction using straw bales and recycled waste. Utilizing these simple materials and waste-free techniques, they have already constructed ten dome-shaped apartments built of earthquake resistant geodesic frames, which are inhabited by members of the Green Apprenticeship and students of the Center’s Peace, Justice and the Environment Academic college programs. These unique (and beautiful) structures are up to the highest fire and safety codes and are carbon neutral; the thick straw bale walls are efficiently insulated for temperature stability. Recently, the Center employed this building technique in constructing a large communal space within their EcoKef education campus – the first of its kind.

In addition to Lotan’s creative construction, the EcoCampus has Israel’s first recycling station shaded by a solar shed that supplies more clean energy than the buildings consume. In the Center’s EcoKef education campus, visitors learn about ecological systems by exploring constructed wetlands, an organic garden and composting toilets!

Kibbutz Lotan is an eco-haven that impressively brings together environmentalism and Jewish values. Over the years, graduates of Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship program have gone on to implement and disseminate the permaculture and ecological building techniques they first learned there. These combined efforts are in response to the growing issue of environmental justice and those who have been inspired by their experiences at Lotan are working to address how human impact jeopardizes the health and well being of our planet and its inhabitants.

Next time you find yourself in Israel, Kibbutz Lotan is well worth a visit!

Sophie Golomb is a 2013-2014 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She graduated in 2013 from Brandeis University and is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she is a member of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue.

Sophie Golomb
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