Since the womb, my passion has been environmentalism. Despite my seasonal allergies, I was the kid rolling around in the grass, rescuing animals, and sending ecologically-focused op-eds to my local paper. After studying at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, a Masa Israel Journey accredited program, I decided to turn my passion into my career and I plan to begin a Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania this January.
The Arava program, which seeks to tackle environmental degradation and address the Middle East conflict, combines courses, independent studies, leadership seminars, peace-building skills, and 35 students of Jewish Israeli, Jordanian Arab, and American descent.
Upon graduating from Duke with a focus in international relations and environmental studies, I knew I wanted to work in the environmental sector, but was uncertain about the specific capacity. A position in an environmental consulting firm in Washington, DC left me craving interaction with people. At an internship with a congressman's environmental legislative assistant, I found myself wanting to be the one communicating the needs rather than formulating the policy. With a desire to explore this path and return to Israel after my college Birthright trip, I enrolled in Arava's one-year program.
Arava placed me back in nature, doing hands-on work in the environment, among peers who realized the significance of our pursuits. In the midst of a desert valley, just a stone’s throw from the border with Jordan, lies Kibbutz Ketura, home of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Surrounded by mountains, bike paths, and dusty yellow sand, Kibbutz Ketura is a region ripe for exploration and environmental research. When I first arrived with my parents after two weeks of traveling through the greener north, I was well aware of the importance of the work we would pursue.
While the students spent a great deal of time discussing politics and sharing personal stories of wars and loss, we learned the most about cooperation from the environment. The environment does not respect political borders and it provides a perfect way to bring people from all over the region together to pursue vital and meaningful projects in a country that is on the cutting edge of environmental initiatives.
One such project that I spearheaded at Arava involved the preservation of biodiversity within the Samar sand dunes, which are all too often destroyed to make cement. After learning about the issue in an Arava course, I started researching best strategies for a grassroots campaign to spread awareness. Combining my research about the issue and my correspondence with scientists, activists, and students about their own attempts to publicize the issue, I created a packet of best practices which I sent to relevant organizations.
The opportunity to transform our studies into action was invigorating and uplifting and pervaded our setting and relationships. Though our backgrounds, ages, personalities, and viewpoints were different, the 35 students were all united in the desire for peace and love and respect for nature. On the grassy quad along which we lived, people could always be seen kicking soccer ball and reading for class under the hot sun. We became close during lecture courses, such as Water Management, on 4 AM hikes to the sand dunes, in study groups, and while dancing late into the night in the kibbutz pub. Together, we realized our strength. On the first day of the program, our bodies jolted dangerously as we toured a rocky nature reserve on mountain bikes. Later, we relaxed, cooking kabobs to music, around a bonfire late into te night. This presence of both intensity and serenity, of the desert and the lush green, was a consistent background to our learning and growth. While there are clashes, as in any family, our love and mutual respect for one another grew from our shared common ground.
After being engaged in hands-on environmental work at Arava that brings diverse people together into the field to repair the world, I know which direction I want my environmental work to take and am currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania.