Environmental Desk Warriors: Nature’s First Line of Defense

By Josh Brandt
Neve-Sha'anan rooftop garden. Photo Galia Hanoch Roe

Summer internship at SPNI

I was extremely nervous on the first day of my summer internship.  I had never worked in an office before (and never wanted to), and I was already feeling like a “suit,” a rigid and boring businessman.  Dressing up for others has never been something that I particularly enjoy, but I had to make a good first impression, so there I was decked out in my new work wear: a button down shirt, beige slacks, and nice shoes.

Gardening workshop at Neve-Sha'anan SPNI rooftop garden. Galia Hanoch Roe.

But the moment I met my boss, Aya, who sported dyed red hair, a funky style and a huge smile, I began to breathe a little easier.  Aya took me on a tour of the office and made me feel at home.  While eating lunch together on the rooftop patio, Aya told me a little bit about the nature sites I would visit and write about for the English newsletter.  Later, she took me on a walking tour of the neighborhood, and we discussed the best restaurants in Tel Aviv and the ins and outs of Israeli politics.

In no time at all, I felt like a part of the team at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and a full-fledged member of Israeli society.  Once I felt comfortable among the people, it was time to get acquainted with the land.

SPNI’s main office is located in the South Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, an area that has been blighted by the construction and abandonment of the old Tel Aviv central bus station and is overrun with an unsavory element of Israeli society.

I was previously unaware that such rough areas even existed in Israel, and my walk to and from work opened my eyes to some jarring new realities.  But I was also introduced to numerous breathtaking nature sites created, maintained, and protected by SPNI. 

In Tel Michal, an urban nature site situated on the coast of Herzliya, I saw firsthand how the organization was empowering seniors through conservation activities, bringing them back into the community through public service projects that include beautifying this previously neglected archeological site and leading tours.

In Jerusalem, the nation’s capital, SPNI fought for and successfully established several stunning urban nature sites, including the 64-acre Gazelle Valley Park and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, which is within earshot of the Knesset.

Palestine Sunbird at JBO. Photo Amir Balaban

I was supremely impressed by the many eco-tourism focused field schools established and operated by SPNI across the country.  In addition to serving as core team members for conservation projects, the field school staff lead nature excursions and provide educational programming for both young and old to enjoy.

And in its own backyard, the ramshackle neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, SPNI built a rooftop garden for an apartment building occupied primarily by refugees.

As I began to settle into the rhythm of office life, I found myself connecting to the other SPNI team members through mutual interests, shared experiences, and our dedication to a common cause.  We discussed the many projects I had seen, and I began to understand just how much time and effort went into every element of the work that was being done around me. 

Everything from tackling new sources of environmental degradation, which seemed to pop up almost daily, to marketing campaigns aimed at generating public support for environmental initiatives took so much time and dedication, and nothing was a simple walk in the park (or forest, as the case may be).

I finally understood that no one at SPNI could ever be considered a “suit.”  Yes, they worked day after day in an office building spending most of their time behind desks, reliant on computers and concerned with cutting costs.  But their dress is way too casual, their demeanor too friendly, and their ideology too inclusive to ever fit the pejorative connotation of that overused term.  Making that assumption was my mistake.  But then, I had never met anyone quite like the SPNI staff before.These environmental desk warriors are nature’s first line of defense. 

Most SPNI employees spend a good amount of time in the field, visiting sites, collecting data, and helping lead public initiatives.  But every moment in the field is made possible by hours of office work.  Grants must be secured.  Logistics must be solidified.  Promotional materials must be developed.  Every task is essential to protecting the environment and keeping it safe from predators of all kinds for generations to come.

Tel Michal site, Herzliya. Photo Josh Brandt.

As I look back on my time at SPNI, I am so grateful to have spent my summer in a cubicle.  Not because I love office work, but because I now understand how much office work is required to save the environment.

This summer, I didn’t become a “suit,” as I had feared.  Instead, I spent eight epic weeks becoming an environmental desk warrior, a label I wear proudly.  





Josh Brandt is a native of Los Angeles, CA, who served as a Marketing and Communications intern at SPNI during the summer of 2017.

Category: Our Global Community