Dr. David Lehrer of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies will speak at Emanu-El
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has undertaken two seemingly impossible tasks.
The first is that it exists to help our beleaguered natural world. Second, it does this by bringing together Jews and non-Jews in the Middle East in the Israeli desert work and study. Yes, together, and no, it doesn’t go perfectly.
Dr. David Lehrer has worked hard for all the work, and you can ask him about that and more during his visit with Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun during the weekend of March 4-6. The Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center, both programs of the Jewish Federation of Milwaukee, as well as Women of Emanu-El and the CEEBJ are co-sponsors.
Lehrer led the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies for more than 20 years and is now its director of international development. This year it is also a lecturer at Boston University. The current plan for the weekend is that he will travel to Milwaukee for several events open to the community. at the CEEBJ. The entire plan will shift to fully virtual if necessary, depending on the state of the pandemic.
Lehrer’s visit is a direct result of CEEBJ cantor David Barash’s growing involvement in the Israel Ride, an annual bike ride that supports the Arava Institute, Hazon and the Jewish National Fund..
Barash and his wife Debra met Lehrer when they themselves went on the Israel Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat in 2017.
It was inspiring. In 2019, David Barash organized a team of 13 people, and for the Israel Ride in November 2022 he assembled a team of 17 people, mostly from Wisconsin. Barash is now part of an Israel Ride marketing committee and hheard that Lehrer would be in Boston.
“It started to spin: now that he’s in the States, we should bring him here,” Barash recalls.
So how does it work ?
Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians working together to build a more sustainable and peaceful Middle East – how does it work?
When the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies was founded in the 1990s, it was initially thought that “we could just get a bunch of Jews and Arabs together in a room and teach them about the environment, because that’s something something that everyone can agree on”. said Lehrer.
“We found out very quickly, it doesn’t work,” he said. “If we hadn’t initiated the conversation, the conversation wouldn’t be happening.”
The Institute thus created a program called “Peace Building Leadership Seminar”, which added studies on subjects such as water, energy, nature, conservation, environmental law and the ethics of environmental education.
The Peacebuilding Leadership Seminar is once a week, non-credit program, required for all students.
“This is where we talk about what they don’t want to talk about. We talk about history, politics, religion, war, occupation, terrorism, and because it’s the Middle East, these sessions are not very quiet. And they often end with one student after another shouting and screaming and kicking the door. But, you know, because the institute is located in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere, they really have no place to go and go back to the same dorms, where they all live together. Jews and Arabs share tea, share coffee, share space.
Lehrer said these efforts act as a valve to relieve pressure, which can often come from external events in the news.
“In the United States, often on college campuses, a safe space is referred to as a place where no one talks about politics, no one can talk about hot issues,” he said. “At the Arava Institute, we see a safe space as the exact opposite. It’s a place where anyone can say what they think about their opinions, their differences, but in a way that accepts the other, in a way that not only allows you to express your opinion , but to be able to listen to the other.”
“And we do that by training people to really talk about the region’s toughest issues, while still being colleagues, friends and working together on the environment. And I think that’s really the greatest achievement of the Arava Institute.
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Weekend events: “Environmental Peacebuilding in the Middle East”
- Friday, March 4, 6:15 p.m. Shabbat Environmental Worship Service. Israel’s role in addressing the challenge of the climate crisis in the Middle East.
- Saturday, March 5, 9 a.m. Shabbat Morning Minyan Study. Climate Change and Regional Stress in the Middle East – What Can Israel Do?
- Sunday, March 6, 6:30 p.m. Presentation of the Arava Institute. Nature knows no borders: Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and international students learn together how to protect the environment and build peace at the Arava Institute.
All events are free and open to the community – in person or online. Call Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun at 414-228-7545 or visit Ceebj.org for details and to register.