The Curses and Blessings of the New Year 

By Dr. David Dunetz

Rosh Hashanah
 is a landmark event in our annual calendar. It is customary to wish each other a happy new year through the greeting: “May the year and its curses end, a year will begin with its blessings” (Machzor Rosh Hashanah). It is easy to understand this blessing as encouraging a passive attitude that curses “happen to us”, a type of magical thinking that allows one to blame someone or something else. That we are blameless and share no responsibility for our situation.

It also seems that there are no shortage of “curses” that fell upon us this year. Remember where we were just a year ago? The COVID period had ended and the Israeli elections had yet to take place. No one could have predicted how this past year would unfold: that we would see an unprecedented social movement protesting the judicial reform, that there would be a horrific increase in the number of murders in the Arab society, and that there would be continued climatic changes all over the world along along with the disintegration of the social, security and economic fabric in countless societies and communities.

Reality is quite complex and volatile, and obviously unpredictable. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus described it back in the 5th century BC: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” The water has continued to flow, and we ourselves are not the same people. The essence of being is to always be in constant movement and change.

But this time we’ve really overdone it. Changes are coming in bunches and at a dizzying pace, and not only in Israel. In the “Age of Man”, the Anthropocene, we are no longer inhabiting the same planet. The human and biosphere space is changing at an accelerated pace with plenty of uncertainty, increasing a pressure that is taking a toll on both our physical health and mental wellbeing. Desperation and despair have began to set in for many of us, as we throw up our hands and wonder if there is anything left for us to do. Maybe the pace of change is already out of balance and control?

I disagree. I actually believe that this situation calls for increasing our sense of activity and ownership, otherwise known as Agency.

This is also where the term “adaptation” comes from. How can you develop the ability to function and even thrive in a situation of uncertainty and constant change?

It is not always easy, as we know, but many studies point out certain factors that increase personal happiness and health, even in the face of dramatic changes and upheavals. For example, the presence of social support. Social capital, solidarity and a sense of belonging have a very high correlation with the ability to adapt to changes. Knowing how to be grateful and help others also increases our own personal happiness. By embarking on our journey as a trust-based organization, the Heschel Center envisioned a future where these insights would serve as our organization’s mode of operation–a particularly good recipe for this time.

As a new year beckons, let us return to the matter of the curses and blessings. The Jewish tradition often links the words “curse” and “corruption”, drawing a direct connection between our actions and and their consequences. It is worth remembering the midrash that warns: “Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.” (Midrash Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Raba (Vilna edition) 7:28)

Acknowledging the corruption and the blind spots is a necessary condition conducting an honest accounting of our situation, or in other words the Din v’Chesbon that we perform on Yom Kippur. Where have we been numb to the suffering of others, who have we excluded, and who have we willfully ignored? These critical and reflective understandings that we are part of the corruption opens the door to fixing it.

This matter corresponds with the concept of depth in the tradition of Rosh Hashanah, which sanctifies a time for self-reflection and the consideration of perhaps the most practical of questions: how can one turn a curse into a blessing?

The Rosh Hashanah blessing can be understood not as wishful thinking, but as a moral and active commandment: “May the year and its curses end”. There is a call to action to put an end to our curses through intent and action. In this way and only in this way, “a year will begin with its blessings”, and we will turn a curse into a blessing and bring a renewed and just hope for both our society here in Israel and for all humanity throughout the world.

Shana Tova and Happy New Year!

Program Updates

Local Sustainability

September 2023, Sondos Saleh speaks to the heads of ALAs group about climate resilience.

A unique and first-of-its-kind climate crisis adaptation training program for Arab local authorities was held just before Rosh Hashanah. The training focused on the challenges posed by the climate crisis to the ALAS and the various actions they can take for dealing with them, despite of and in addition to dealing with the immediate and urgent challenges, like the increasing violence and the loss of personal security. Sondos Saleh, climate resilience coordinator at the Heschel Center, led the training together with the Galilee Association, and it was held in collaboration with the Western Galilee cluster of authorities. The program is based on the concept that in order to change the existing situation, there is a need for multi-sectoral cooperation in the area – government, civil society, local authorities and residents. The presence of about 20 heads of authorities and managers from eight different authorities indicates that intensive field work and a deep familiarity with the current challenges are essential in order to mobilize the authorities and create the commitment required to implement the conceptual theories that the Heschel Center develops and promotes.

Tevel Project Launches Social Innovation Lab

The Tevel project aims to invigorate the Education system, help it conduct an in-depth assessment, and develop a variety of educational policies and relevant means of application to the question – what is the role of the education system in the era of climate change? The project includes a senior professionals program (the Tevel program) a social innovation lab (the Tevel lab) and a professional community. 

The program graduated its first cohort which transitioned into the role of a task force. The group is scheduled to continue its meetings during the next academic year. 

Tevel Lab is expected to start accompanying processes for five initiatives of alumni of the Tevel program in which the alumni together with the Tevel lab team and other experts explore and examine the following questions: 

  • How can green building be implemented in educational institutions on a large scale?
  • How can we nurture and support multi-generational and diverse communities engaged in climate entrepreneurship at the local level?
  • How can extracurricular learning be a gateway to clarifying the connection between the values of the national religious education system and the issues of climate and the environment?
  • In the Ministry of Education, what is the connection to nature its effect on the well-being of children, the educational staff and the kindergarten communities? 
  • How can the school contribute to climate resilience?

We’re looking forward to sharing the results of these exciting pilots! 

The Heschel Fellows Program

The recent period and the current crisis raises a sense of urgency and necessity to take action, even more than ever. After 23 cohorts of the Heschel Fellows program and with over 450 alumni, we are dedicating all the efforts and abilities to the Heschel community and assist them to initiate projects, accelerate them, create collaborations and promote the many changes required in our society. 

Therefore, in the last months of 2023, the Heschel Fellows team will dedicate their time and effort to the alumni and strengthen the practical infrastructure of the Fellows program.

The 24th cohort will begin its programming in January 2024.

Project NZO

The NZO project continues to develop theoretical and applied knowledge, and influences the policy makers and regulatory bodies responsible for promoting renewable energies. Despite the political climate that does not place environmental issues high on the scale of priorities, work done within the framework of the NZO project, including a comprehensive study that shared the recommendations for the advancement of the field, contributed to important decisions and actions of the regulators: 

Among these decisions, are the regulations of the Electricity Authority for providing a premium for renewable energy in urban areas and for the integration of storage in the electricity grid, and the publication of the index comparing the percentage of dual-use renewable energy in local authorities in Israel by the Ministry

 of Energy, a need that was identified and demonstrated in the project ” Shemesh Jezreel”.

Another effect is the provision of government support to local authorities in projects designed to promote renewable energy in their area even if their impact cannot be assessed immediately (such as information centers on renewable energy for residents). Today, the electricity grid is a barrier that prevents the connection of renewable energy in many areas of the country. A study by NZO showed ways to integrate technologies that would allow increasing the ability to connect solar installations to the grid, indirectly helping the decision that  was recently made to allow an additional 2,000MW to be connected to the existing grid.

The Heschel Center Publishes 3rd Anthology

September 2023, the cover of the new Heschel Anthology

After many months of collecting, translating, editing, and designing, we are excited to launch for the first time the new, digital, and interactive anthology of the Heschel Center for Sustainability, and open the new year with a new economic story. This anthology is the third in a series of collections of essays by the Heschel Center for Sustainability in environmental-social thinking: “Space for thought, sustainability: vision, values, implementation”, and now: “A New Economic Story”. It is divided into divisions according to three dimensions: growth versus stability, competition versus cooperation, disparities versus equality. 

The book provides a reasoned critique of the prevailing economic approach and shares the ways in which it can lead to harming the general welfare, creating injustice, and contributing to the destruction of the planet. At the same time, it envisions an alternative paradigm with a different system and a brighter future.
For Hebrew readers, the anthology appears on the Heschel Center’s Hebrew website.

Heschel in the Media

The most burning thing in the world of labor: the Climate Crisis

Ran Raviv, director of local sustainability at the Heschel Center was interviewed on the Israeli Podcast – “Notnim Avoda” by the Arlozorov Forum (Hebrew)

Who are the workers who are already being influenced by the climate crisis? Who are the ones that are next in line? How will this affect our lives? What is the role of governments in preventing this kind of damage to the workforce? 
The answers to these questions and more will be published in a research paper written by Ran Raviv for the Arlozorov Forum in the coming weeks.   

This podcast is in Hebrew.

Politics, Nature Reserves and the Price of Electricity

Alon Segall, Director of the NZO Project was interviewed on the Life and Environment Podcast – “HaGorem HaEnoshi” (Hebrew)

Alon Segall, Director of the NZO project was interviewed about the NZO project, and the challenges to transition to renewable energy in Israel.  
This podcast is in Hebrew.