This past week, as President of the regional board of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) along with our ARZA Regional Director Jerry Krautman, we welcomed Alex Cicelsky from Israel who is on a national speaking tour sponsored by ARZA. That hour was so exciting and inspiring that I wanted to tell you about Alex and the ground-breaking environmental work being done on Kibbutz Lotan.
Alex is a senior staff member and founder of the “Center for Creative Ecology” (CfCE) and a founder of Kibbutz Lotan, one of two Reform Kibbutzim in the Arava about 60 miles north of the southern city of Eilat. The Kibbutz was founded in 1983, has 200 members with 60 children and is a cross-generational community. The Kibbutz has become a nationally and internationally recognized center for developing cutting-edge environmental technologies and projects.
Originally from New York State, Alex made aliyah in 1982. He studied international agriculture at Cornel University’s School of Agriculture and is an expert in soil and water sciences, desert architecture, and green technologies. He is engaged actively with the Global Ecovillage Network of which Kibbutz Lotan is a member.
Kibbutz Lotan is a remarkable example of what can be done in Israel when smart, motivated, principled, courageous, and inspired people (backed by the Reform movement) join together in common cause. The Kibbutz grows dates, has a dairy of 250 cows and is developing a goat dairy. Most significantly, it is a center for eco-tourism, has a nature and bird reserve which offers rest and food for millions of annually migrating birds, and is constructing its own wetland in the middle of the desert for treating the community’s waste water. Lotan has developed numerous desert energy technologies, designed green architecture for the severe desert climate, water management systems, and desert agriculture. It is a center, as well, for environmental education and peace-building in association with “Friends of the Earth,” drawing together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian youth in a regional network of natural builders and organic gardeners that include the Yesh Meayin Eco-Education Farm and the Marda Palestine Permaculture Education Center.
The Kibbutz built a youth center comprised of 10 desert dormitory structures (25 more units are planned at $25K/unit) that welcomed last summer 600 National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY – the American Reform youth movement). Any American university student can earn 16 course credits for a semester of living and working at Lotan, and post-university green apprenticeships are available. Lotan has also developed materials on how to make “green” businesses anywhere in the world.
Lotan is internationally recognized as a leading ecological center and has received monetary support from the European Union (EU) for its water recycling systems, funds from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for its “Bird Hide” structure built from recycled waste and the nature reserve giving food, shelter and water to migrating birds) and is recognized for its programs to build bridges between Arabs and Jews. For example, it led the building of the Bustan-Medwed Wadi El Naam Health Clinic that serviced the Bedouins living in unrecognized villages that lacked health care.
Alex explained that Kibbutz Lotan’s mission is to fulfill Judaism’s core values of “tilling and protecting” the earth citing the famous Midrash from Kohelet Rabba 7:28: “Upon presenting the wonder of creation to Adam, God said: ‘See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.’”
I was deeply impressed, inspired and proud of what Alex and Kibbutz Lotan have created. It is but one example of how Israel’s Reform movement is breaking new ground and fulfilling the promise of the Jewish State and the Jewish people to be an or lagoyim, a light unto the nations.
For more information on Kibbutz Lotan and Alex’s work, you can go to Lotan’s website, www.kibbutzlotan.com, Facebook (lotan.kibbutz and lotan.ga), and Youtube (kibbutzlotan). If you wish to assist the Kibbutz, you can send contributions to ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) and direct the gift to Kibbutz Lotan at ARZA, 633 Third Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (212-650-4280).