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Galilee Diary: Half a Glass

Galilee Diary: Half a Glass

How beautiful are the nights in Canaan, cold and bright… The wail of the jackals, mournful, cuts through the silence of the night.
       – popular Israeli "folksong" actually written by Isaac Katzenelson, a poet who lived in Poland and died in Auschwitz

It’s a winter night; the sound of the jackals’ howls is carried up from the valley on the cold air, feeling very close, while we are cozy and warm inside.

You can learn a lot about environmental issues in Israel from that sentence:

The howling of the jackals: the population of jackals has been increasing in recent years in the Galilee and elsewhere in the country. We are told that this is largely due to the easy availability of food, especially carrion. A century ago, when the population was sparse, it made sense to dispose of organic waste by throwing it over the fence, where it would biodegrade and not bother anyone. But with increased population, the centuries-old practices of agrarian recycling aren’t practical any more. So if the residents of our neighboring Arab village slaughter sheep at home and dump the entrails in the valley, what was OK when there were a few hundred villagers is not so OK now that there are 5,000. The jackals have a picnic. And if the chicken farmers on a moshav could toss the occasional carcass over the fence in the 1950s, those large scale industrial chicken farmers today, seeking to avoid the cost and hassle of legal recycling, end up creating a public health problem – and a jackal population explosion. The government tries to enforce the prohibition of these two types of dumping, but has not allocated sufficient resources to keep up with the violations. So whenever the muezzin of the mosque calls the faithful to the evening prayer, his mournful chant stimulates the jackal choir to sing backup. And occasionally one of them wanders through the yard, just outside the dining room window.

Cozy and warm at home: Twenty years ago we used our new immigrant customs exemption to put in a central air conditioner. Shorashim’s climate is sufficiently temperate to allow us to both heat and cool with air conditioners (heat pumps). State of the art two decades ago is passe today. Heating/cooling the whole house when we are only occupying one room at a time – with a system whose energy efficiency is of a previous generation – seems an affront to environmental correctness. Fortunately the government is running a subsidy program to encourage people to junk obsolete air conditioners and replace them with new, efficient models, so we signed on, and now have individual heat pumps in each room. We are feeling both comfortable and virtuous. Last year we took advantage of a similar program to replace our 23-year-old fridge with a new energy efficient model – with a 40% subsidy. There was another campaign last year, in which the government bought up old cars for cash and junked them.

It’s really interesting how these two cultures exist side by side here – a pre-modern assumption that the commons are infinite – and no one’s responsibility, and a very 21st century commitment to using technology and economics and legislation to ameliorate environmental threats. Recycling bins are everywhere; and a new law is about to go into effect, requiring manufacturers and importers of electronic devices to take responsibility for the future disposal of what they sell.

And it is interesting to contemplate just what is the dividing line between these two mentalities: East vs. West? Pre-modern vs. modern? Local view vs. global view? Passivity vs. activism? I wonder if Herzl realized just how prophetic he was when he chose to title his novel about the future Jewish state "Oldnewland."

Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein, the author of Galilee Diary: Reflections on Daily Life in Israel, grew up in Highland Park, IL, at North Shore Congregation Israel. His first visit to Israel was as a high school student in the first cohort of the NFTY-EIE program in 1962. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1975, and received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in modern Jewish history, while a Jerusalem Fellow. In 1990, he made aliyah, moving to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee. Until his retirement, he served as executive director of The Galilee Foundation for Value Education, a seminar center that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence, and as director of the Israel Rabbinical Program of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.


Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein
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