Trees in Israel may soon have roots that stretch to Pittsburgh.
For years, the Green Team at Community Day in Squirrel Hill has made the school more environmentally friendly through initiatives like replacing the school’s Styrofoam cups with reusable ceramic ones and a current project to establish Trash-Free Tuesdays.
Now, with the help of two teachers and the Jewish National Fund, the scope of the initiative is about to go one step further.
With the start of school this fall, Community Day will become one of 12 Jewish day schools in the country to adopt the JNF Ambassadors program.
The program is designed to “provide schools with a direct and meaningful link to the land and people of Israel,” according to Michelle Wachtel, program coordinator for the JNF.
The Jewish National Fund aims to “energize” the American Jewish community to form deeper ties with both the land and the people of Israel. With money gathered from ubiquitous blue “pushkies” (charity boxes), JNF teams have been planting forests in Israel for more than 100 years.
The JNF Ambassador program is not entirely an environmental effort, Wachtel said, but it includes environmental programming “because of Israel’s role as a global environmental leader, and JNF’s work with water, forestry, and sustainable development in Israel.”
This year, 23 ambassadors will administer the program, including Lindsay Levine and Eddie Shaw at Community Day. In order to qualify to be ambassadors, Levine and Shaw attended the 2009 Teva Seminar on Jewish Environmental Education held at Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring, N.Y.
“It was intense,” Shaw, a part-time Spanish teacher and social worker at the school, said of the experience. “It was challenging and all-encompassing, but also very Jewishly stimulating. It is a Jewish responsibility to use land well and to live sustainably everywhere we live, but especially in Israel.”
Because of Shaw’s long-standing interest in ecological and conservation projects in Squirrel Hill, he looks forward to incorporating this interest with what he learned about sustainable land and water use in a semi-arid desert environment like Israel at the seminar for use in the program.
Tzippy Mazer, Head of Hebrew/Judaic Education at Community Day, touted the program’s potential to help students to engage with Israel.
“We will continue with our regular Israel education but we will have this to supplement it,” she said. “We appreciate this opportunity and we’re very excited for it.”
But she emphasized that the program is “still a work in progress.”
For Wachtel, the greatest potential of the Ambassador program is the opportunity it offers to build relationships, not only among students, between students and Ambassadors, and also between the students, the Ambassadors and Israel.
“This is a very personal way of getting Israel education and awareness into the minds and hearts of the next generation,” she said, “and there’s nothing better than personal.”
(Derek Kwait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)