Adventures from SPNI, Intern Edition

By Luke Finkelstein

Hi! My name is Luke, and I’m working at SPNI this summer through an internship program called Onward, an opportunity that empowers U.S. college students to live and work in Tel Aviv. Originally from and now attending school in Philadelphia, being in Tel Aviv for several months is a real adventure. Because of that, I thought it could be nice if I started a blog about my experience in Israel and at SPNI—so, welcome, and thanks for tagging along!

As my favorite author J.R.R. Tolkien said, first let me give you “enough to go on with.” Out of a wide set of interests, I came to work at SPNI because I care about the environment, politics, and Israel. The interview process got me excited since the organization seemed to fuse these core interests together. Still, I could hardly begin to suspect the incredible scope of SPNI’s impact. What I’ve learned just by being in Israel for a few weeks is that SPNI is a giant in the field of
nature protection and a household name. I feel deep pride and intense gratitude that I can be supporting such meaningful work.

Since its founding in 1953, SPNI has championed important advocacy, activism, research, education, tours, and cross-border cooperation projects, doing it all with thoughtfulness and humanity. In fact, these projects can’t be lumped into just one category: they’re deliberately ambitious.

An especially exciting project right now is the rewilding of wetland areas in the north of Israel. Historically, the northern portion of Israel was home to a thriving wetland system, but it was destroyed for agricultural land and fishponds. Now, many of those lands have become unproductive and abandoned. SPNI is seizing the opportunity to restore the area. Partnering with local kibbutzim like Kfar Ruppin, SPNI is transforming defunct fishponds again into a healthy wetland system, reclaiming a crucial stopover site for bird migration. And these are no small numbers of visitors, not just a few sparrows from your backyard: 500 million birds migrate from Eurasia to Africa and back each year, and Israel is on their route!

What’s more, there is already promise of cross-border cooperation with Jordan, since the project, Start-Up Nature, has proven to be such a success. I am visiting the Kfar Ruppin flagship site next week and could not be more excited. I plan to write about the trip in my next blog entry, so stay tuned!

It seems that my supervisors are emulating the very same thoughtfulness and integrated mindset that I’ve sensed from SPNI as regards my internship. In addition to working in the office, supporting these projects through donor outreach, readings, and engagement, I’ll also be going “in the field.” They wish for me to live and experience SPNI, learning about nature protection from both sides of the office door. I am truly grateful for this adventure.

In fact, just this past Wednesday I visited the Jerusalem Bird Observatory (JBO, see picture above). It was the first bird observatory I had ever been to, and I found it magnificent. The JBO is a gem, tucked away beneath the road leading up to the Knesset. When I walked into the observatory, it was like turning down the volume knob on everything: the chatter of pedestrians, the rough noise of wheels on asphalt, the hot sun hanging in the air—it all gently pulled back, and nature was restored to its grandeur. Now I had entered the kingdom of birdsong, and I heard feathers flapping in joy. A sparrowhawk, its yellow eyes glittering in the sunlight, bathed in the quiet stream. Turtles peaked their heads out of the water; I think maybe they were smiling. Was this the same world I had experienced on the road just above the observatory? I wondered if it was.

I’ll be visiting Gazelle Valley later in the summer and, as I shared a bit ago, the Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz (that flagship site of Start-Up Nature) next week. I can’t wait to share my impressions of these places with you, doing my best to describe the musical notes of the birdsong, or the fresh smell of the trees in the sweet Jerusalem wind. But of course, one can only do so much with words.

If you would also like to live and breathe these places fully, I encourage you to check out Nature Israel’s upcoming November trip, which you can find here.

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to be on this adventure, and for you to be joining me!