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Eilat, in feathered frenzy, chooses a city bird

Noam Weiss
July 3, 2016

Eilat's Mayor holding the poster of the city’s official bird. Photo Shachar Weiss

Official bird for the city of Eilat

If you know Eilat, you know it is a very unique place. It's remote and beautiful, surrounded by fantastic natural treasures such as the marine life, desert landscapes, bird migration, and the people who live here who have their own unique character.

So we at SPNI wanted the people of Eilat to embrace their uniqueness by connecting them to the birds of Eilat. The Environmental Education Unit of the Eilat municipality called it "place-making" and I called it getting the birds in to the hearts of the people. I guess it was both.

 Our basic assumption was that the uniqueness of Eilat – the extreme climate, remoteness and outstanding landscape - creates a special character for both humans and birds, which adapt to the habitat. We picked 10 flagship bird species that seemed to have identity issues: The Sunbird is a tiny and energetic bird that originated in Eilat but is widespread across the country; the Blackstart that looks grey and shy but has a built-in colorful character; the Little Green Bee-Eater – the most beautiful bird in town and knows it too; the Rosefinch, connected to the desert ground;  Brown Booby, is a “Tropical Storm” at sea that no one can ignore (it's a bird, just Google it!) and the Flamingo – that art-deco pink and ever-optimistic bird. 

White eyed Gull Photo Noam Weiss

Two months of bird madness struck town. Every school took a day to discover its Bird Identity, the local radio station was pumped with nonstop campaigns for birds and interviewed every possible person about their chosen bird, and signs were hung throughout the town and in work places. Our nature guides, dressed with the competing birds’ costumes, went through town and lobbied people to take a vote. The town was in a total birdy madness. 

 

Last week everyone gathered in the Eilat Bird Sanctuary; school children, teachers, families and even the Municipal Council moved their monthly meeting to the festive venue, SPNI's important birding research center at the southern tip of Israel's crucial global migration flyway. The mayor announced the iconic White-eyed Gull as the official bird of Eilat, having received 5,670 of the 15,769 votes. Eilat chose our calmest bird, one that can only live in quiet sea water, and is endemic to the protected waters of the Red Sea– local patriotism at its best.


Eilat's Birding Center team Photo Shachar Weiss.jpgThe event was nothing less than touching and exciting. The school kids played and guided the visitors, and the guides of SPNI, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and El Arzi educators quizzed and entertained the children with the bird costumes and games. It felt like the whole town was at The Bird Sanctuary, in spirit if not in flesh, from the Mayor and his Council to my favorite checkout girl at the supermarket. A flamingo and curious Caspian Terns showed up too and we all enjoyed the best celebration in town for a long time, in 113 (Fahrenheit) degree heat, but who cares. It's our party.

Thanks to all the 'dream-come-true' makers – the Municipality of Eilat’s Environmental Education Unit, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature and Parks Authority and the religious field school – El Arzi.


Noam Weiss is the Director of the International Birding Research Center in Eilat, SPNI

Category: Animals

Tagged under: Birding, Naom Weiss, Eilat

 

Nature on your plate

Aya Tager
February 23, 2016

Foraging tour feast

SPNI Foraging Tour

One sunny Saturday in November, I participated in one of SPNI’s Foraging Tours along Nahal Taninim (Crocodile Creek).

We are all familiar with the term ‘hunter - gatherer’ which relates to mankind’s food sources prior to agriculture, when human communities relied on naturally growing fruits and vegetables  as a main source for food and medicine. 

SPNI Foraging Tour Modern agriculture and urban living enabled humankind to produce food and on a much larger scale. A relatively comfortable routine was born, but this evolution entailed a down side; we lost touch with our gathering traditions, and most botanical information, that was once common knowledge in every household, was forgotten.

In modern times, the uses of Israel’s wild plants are mostly remembered by women in Druze, Bedouin or Arab rural communities and with every new generation less and less of this herb lore is being passed-on.

Luckily, some professionals have made it their mission to provide us with first-hand experience of traditional harvesting and cooking of commonly -found wild plants. 

One such culinary educator is Yatir Sade, whom I met on SPNI’s guided gathering tour, which took place along the Taninim stream one Saturday in November.

Sade’s family name fits him well – it means field in Hebrew and he certainly possess a field of fascinating knowledge on wild leafy greens.

Yatir opened his tour with a brief introduction, and made it perfectly clear that we will pick only wild plants that are abundantly found and under no risk of extinction.

As we made our way towards the stream, he picked seemingly different plants only to show us it is actually the different development stages of the same plant; thistle (Gdilan in Hebrew).

he informed us when will be the optimal picking stage and what will be the best use of each stage.

Rumex stew

The Taninim stream was chosen by Yatir since it is one of the few clean rivers left in Israel - another SPNI success story - so the wild vegetation that grows along its banks are safe to eat.

The first plant we encountered grows almost everywhere in Israel but is often overlooked, maybe because it has no remarkable features -  rumex, (Humea in Hebrew) has medium sized leaves that form a basal rosette at the root. But don’t let the plain-looking weed deceive you; once stir-fried with a couple of chopped onions and mushrooms it creates a delicious dish, prepared in no-time!  

Rumex is also considered as possessing anti-oxidant qualities and the ability to alleviate skin irritation. 

The second plant we gathered was watercress (Gargir Nahalim in Hebrew) an aquatic plant and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. Since it only grows in fresh flowing water, you need to get your feet wet to pick it - but it’s truly worth it! 

 Watercress is botanically related to mustard, radish and wasabi and is often added to salads in its fresh form. We turned it into a mouthwatering pesto spread; balancing the piquant flavor with roasted cashew nuts, traditional olive oil and crushed garlic. Watercress was traditionally used to ease digestion and raise low blood pressure. In Arab culture it was believed to prevent impotency in men. 

wild celery and tangarine salad We collected three more wild herbs that are found in wetlands - a type of wild celery (Apium nodiflorum) and two types of wild mint which we used to season a fresh tangerine salad.

The rising awareness of sustainability and the growing realization that nature is disappearing around us does not mean we can’t enjoy the great nutritional and medicinal benefits of native plants – it’s simply calling on us to get educated and learn how to do it responsibly.

 

If you want to join one of SPNI’s tours please contact our call center +972-3-6388688

Category: Nature Trips

 

"The Tree of the Field is a Person"

Einat Kramer
January 25, 2016

Almond in bloom Photo: Arie Tenenbaum from PikiWiki  web site

Jewish sustainable celebration of Trees

Wouldn’t we all wish to be like a tree?  Familiar with the soil we are planted in; possessing fresh foliage and firm roots that withstand strong winds?

As the world becomes faster and more interconnected, Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish "Birthday for Trees" - celebrated this year on January 25th - invites us to stop and observe. Where have we put down our roots? What is the culture that they are growing in? How does our landscape and environment form our identity? Where do we want to raise our children?

The Mishnah describes our roots as an expression of our values in action. According to the Mishnah if we want to strengthen our roots we must reinforce our knowledge with actions. As part of this concept we can celebrate Tu B’Shvat as a day to deepen our environmental activities. Whether we choose to spend our time planting new trees or caring for old ones, taking action to reduce our consumption, spend time volunteering in the community or launching a new social action project – we will not only deepen our roots but enjoy a healthy and sustainable environment.


Citrus fruit Photo Yefet Cohen from PikiWiki website

Tu B’Shvat – the social aspect:

Tu B’Shvat first appears in Chapter 1 of the Mishnah, in Rosh Hashanah tractate. According to Beit Hillel Tu B’Shvat was the date used to distinguish which fruits were grown in the past year and those grown in the coming one, for the purpose of tithe – donation of one tenth of the produce to the poor.

This date was created as a result of the ancient Israelites observations of nature, as they noticed the changing seasons.

They noted that most of the winter rains had already fallen halfway through the Jewish month of Shvat, and the fresh fruits had begun to grow. Hence, they chose it to mark the boundaries between the current fruits and those of next year’s crop.

 

Tu B'Shvat – the spiritual aspect:

Over the last two millennia the social aspect of the festival was forgotten and preserved only within the Ashkenazi tradition as a date forbidden to fast and to eat plenty of fruit.

In the 16th century Tsfat spiritualists and Kabbalists revived the concept of a Tu B’Shvat ‘Seder’ – a festive Tu B’Shvat meal where 30 different fruits would be eaten and blessings recited within a specific order. For the Kabbalists the Seder emphasizes the spiritual aspect of nature, seeing man as a partner in the act of creation and its daily renewal, who is able to repair the world through his or her actions.

Tu B'Shvat – a national aspect:

With the beginning of the Zionist enterprise Tu B'Shvat once again evolved, gaining a new practical significance – becoming the day when children from across the country plant trees, putting down their roots figuratively and taking an active part in its building and blossoming.

 Photo The Religious Kibbutz Movement Archive from WikiPiki site

Tu B'Shvat– the international aspect:

In recent years, with our growing awareness of a worsening global ecological crisis Tu B’shvat has taken on a new significance as Jewish "Earth Day".

Many Jewish communities around the world have chosen Tu B’Shvat as a time for ecological introspection and acknowledging that the destruction of nature does nothing but cut through the branch on which we sit. Tu B’Shvat allows us to take action to create a balanced world where nature and man co-exists in harmony.

Tu B'Shvat – the personal aspect:

Today Tu Bishvat is a special day uniquely combining tradition, history, spirituality, mysticism social action, Zionism and environmentalism. We all have the right - and the obligation- to pour our own personal values into this celebration, as we fuse our heritage with the current modern Israeli version of Arbor Day.

 Overlooking Adolam.Photo Dov Greenblat SPNI

So what can you do to celebrate?

Plant a fruit tree: celebrate the traditional way. Just remember a tree is for life not just for Tu B’Shvat! Give it a few years and with the right care you enjoy its fruit at your own Tu B’Shvat Seder.

Make your own Tu B’Shvat Seder:  download a Seder ceremony composed by “Teva Ivri “and invite your friends over to celebrate. You are more than welcome to join one of the Tu B’shvat Seders  organized by SPNI in several locations such as Alon Tavor, the Beit- Ussishkin museum at Kibbutz Dan, and more.

Get out and enjoy nature, wherever you are:  And if you’re lucky enough to live in Israel, SPNI has many activities planned, including our traditional tree planting and guided hikes around Modi’in, attended by thousands. If you live abroad look out for details of activities in your area.

Respect the elderly (trees): every tree has its own story and some trees in your neighborhood may be hundreds of years old. Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity to do some of your own research and discover your neighborhood’s natural history. What you might find may surprise you.

Protect the environment:  the environment is much more than just trees; you can volunteer in a conservation project by your local organizations, join one of the many action-oriented campaigns spearheaded by SPNI, or support SPNI’s all year round nature protection work.

Happy Holidays!

Category: Our Global Community

 

Don't Buy, Give!

Jay Shofet
November 18, 2015

SPNI youth activity. Photo: Hen Portugali

The Culture of Consumption is Killing Us

You might not have heard yet that the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving has a name, and a very important purpose. Giving Tuesday, this December 1, is the result of a global movement pushing back against a holiday season of consumer extravagance.  So after the mass sales of Black Friday and the online shopping boom of Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to focus on giving rather than consuming.

Reducing consumption is one of the most important, fundamental challenges that face us.  The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day and consumption per capita is continuing to spiral upward.  Such trends are not a natural consequence of economic growth but the result of deliberate efforts by businesses to win over consumers, so brilliantly detailed in the ground-breaking video The Story of Stuff, which convincingly shows how our "materials economy" is not sustainable. Planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence are just two of the main tricks of the trade to get us to buy, buy, buy.  This global culture of excess that could wipe out any gains from government action on climate change, or even a shift to a clean energy economy.

I once heard Annie Leonard, the producer of The Story of Stuff, talk about a letter she received from one of the 20 million people world-wide who viewed her video. It was from a woman in Texas who wrote saying that she didn't realize how detrimental is the problem of overconsumption, and now that she has seen the video, she doesn't feel it is right to take her 3 school-aged daughters to the mall to shop every Sunday. She ended the letter with a plaintive query, which speaks volumes about the ubiquitous nature of this crisis: "What", the woman wanted to know, "can we do on Sundays instead?"

Israel National Trail. Photo: Eyal Horev, Elie Peper

How about  we take a cue from the state of Vermont, where the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is teaming up with some doctors with a plan to get more people outside and exercising by having the physicians write "prescriptions" that are really free passes to any Vermont State Park.  The "Park Prescription" program is designed to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic health issues by encouraging exercise at state parks, combining the physical benefits of exercise with the mental and emotional benefits of spending time in nature.

Here in Israel, SPNI meets the challenges of consumer excess in two important ways: we advocate and advance sustainable practices for government, industry, and the public, and we provide quality nature-based experiences and nature education for millions of Israelis every year.  By supporting ASPNI on Giving Tuesday, you will be making a statement for the importance of nature in our material world.

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving, and perhaps, for a bit, getting out of our malls and into nature!  Both of these acts will do us a world of good.


If you wish to support SPNI make a donation now 

Category: Our Global Community

Tagged under: Giving Tuesday, Sustainable living

 

How to get more than you gardened for

Aya Tager
October 28, 2015

SPNI community garden in Bat-yam

A memorable visit to one of SPNI’s community gardens

 You don’t have to have ‘green thumbs’ to notice that community gardens are on the rise in just about every urban area in the world, and this is true for Israel too.

A lovely manifestation of sustainable urban-living, community gardens enable residents to grow their own fresh and healthy produce, spend quality time with others while working outside, and practice sustainable agriculture methods such as biological pest control, water conservation, composting and waste management.

Successful community gardens have numerous benefits, helping create thriving neighborhoods and fostering a positive social ripple-effect. 

Sounds great doesn’t it? But I urge you to keep in mind that a prosperous community garden is the result of careful planning and constant work - establishing a community garden is a complex task, especially given the hectic, socially isolated and screen-addictive culture we live in.

Enosh gift shop with handmade soap. Photo: Aya TagerRooftop community garden





 

 




Recognizing the value of community gardens as a driving force that strengthen communities and improve quality of life, especially in underprivileged areas, SPNI professionally supports more than 250 gardens nationwide (see map for details) in partnership with local municipalities, governmental offices, and both public and private organizations. Some of the gardens are located in absorption centers for new immigrants.

I had the recent opportunity to visit one charming garden found on the roof top of ENOSH’s employment center in the bustling heart of Bat-Yam, a large city just south of Tel Aviv.

ENOSH, the Israeli Mental Health Association runs this center which is housed in a 3 story building. It includes a natural soap factory and gift shop, operated by the community members.  The products are all hand-made out of natural oils and herbal essences. Gila Nevo, the center’s manager shared her future vision with me - to grow fragrant herbs in the community garden to supply the factory.   

 Hydroponic system. Photo: Yoni Brauman

The rooftop garden was established by SPNI in collaboration with the community members and MIVNE, a commercial real estate company that not only funds the project but encourages their employees to work in the garden once a week.

On the day I visited hydroponics system was being set up on the roof and a small greenhouse was built on the ground, putting a less attractive spot next to building to good use.

The vertical hydroponics system will be used to grow all kids of leafy greens, in addition to the already existing vegetation such as chard, peppers, tomatoes, many herbs  and flowers that are planted in beautiful wooden cases and hanging baskets around the walls of the roof.

Since the community center is overlooked by much taller apartment buildings curious residents started to participate in the community garden creating a heartwarming ‘side effect’ that I evidenced on my visit.

One such sweet lady was present that day and together with a community member and a MIVNE employee we started a spontaneous discussion around chard leaves’ picking. Soon enough we discovered a shared fond for Jewish-Turkish cuisine, and even exchanged recipes.

At the end of my visit I was given sweet basil seeds from the garden’s flourishing shrub, and they have already sprouted in an upcycled planter I made from an old closet drawer.


Wooden planters with blooming flowers.Photo Gila NevoThis type of relaxed and friendly interaction between people of different backgrounds, ages and mental health status carries many benefits far beyond the immediate experience.

The community members that participate in the program eagerly voiced their enthusiasm and said they felt wonderful being responsible for maintaining the garden and that taking care of the plants brings happiness and satisfaction into their lives.  In addition Gila informed me that the center is now inviting the neighbors to come and create their own planters, filled with herbs and vegetables to take home! 

The reward of such delicate yet determined operation by all the partners involved is what SPNI is looking to cultivate in Israeli society.


 I plan to visit more community gardens and get a first-hand experience of the magic that they spread.


 If you wish to support community gardens make a donation now and write community gardens in the comment box so we can allocate your contribution to these lovely projects. 

Category: Education

Tagged under: Community gardens, Environmental Education, Enosh community center