Editor’s note: This article was published on the morning of October 7. Note the contrast with the adjacent article on Neon, the Saudi mega project.

Extreme temperatures, heat waves, floods, and more are just around the corner, and no one seems to be giving much thought to these phenomena. 


 WORKING THE land at the Shvuat Ha’adama community in Beersheba. (photo credit: Courtesy)
WORKING THE land at the Shvuat Ha’adama community in Beersheba.(photo credit: Courtesy)

The recent heat waves and weather conditions we’ve been experiencing all over the globe are apparently just a prelude to what is yet to come, according to experts. Extreme temperatures, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and more are just around the corner, and no one seems to be giving much thought to these phenomena. 

There is one organization in Israel, however, that has been spending a lot of time and energy coming up with practical solutions for these challenges. 

“The climate crisis is a global problem,” says Uri Carmel, CEO of Eretz-Ir, an NGO that promotes social entrepreneurship and sustainable urban development. 

“If we don’t take action to preserve the planet we live on, we will soon find ourselves in an even more serious predicament. As we saw during the COVID epidemic, maintaining a strong community that engages in activism is the best way to bring about change. I would like to implore Israel’s national and local leaders to take heed: Now is the time to empower communities and allocate resources to help them prosper.”

The decision to establish a network of environmental communities was born out of Eretz-Ir’s understanding that change must come from the ground up. The idea is simple: The Eretz-Ir network provides an economic, professional, and legal structure to support social business entrepreneurs in Israel’s social and geographic periphery. Last month, for the first time ever, a conference was held with the aim of acquainting the public with social activism and encouraging more initiatives of this type.

 URI CARMEL,  CEO of Eretz-Ir (credit: Snap)
URI CARMEL, CEO of Eretz-Ir (credit: Snap)

“Our goal is to help local residents become more involved with the land,” says Anna Bar-Ohr, who manages the Shvuat Ha’adama community in Beersheba. “We take neglected plots of land and transform them into healthy agricultural and communal spaces. We restore rundown urban plots and transform them into urban agricultural centers with natural flora and wildlife, replete with birds, bees, and worms. We teach people who live in the community how to grow vegetables, how to cultivate the land, and to conserve natural resources,” she explains.

“At our community cooking sessions, we all cook together and have a good time,” she Bar-Ohr. “We lead workshops that teach participants how to grow their own vegetable gardens on balconies and rooftops. We offer activities for families and children and organize communal Shabbat meals. Just last week, over 100 people came from all over the Negev, and even from Tel Aviv, to join our meal.

“We organize joint initiatives with Bedouin communities in which we create sustainable development in the Negev. In addition, we’ve provided each neighborhood with compost bins and taught residents which organic food items they can put in them and how to maintain them. We started with 16 bins, and now there are more than 40. 

“The Beersheba Municipality has finally recognized our activities and is now officially collaborating with residents to use the compost created from these waste products to cultivate our gardens and build up a sense of neighborhood cohesiveness, which is the foundation for human connection and a sense of community.”

ANOTHER SOCIAL venture is the Be’eri Farm, located in Beersheba’s Old City. It serves as a center for learning about urban agriculture, teaches residents environmental skills, and is also creating a new type of community.

“Every Monday, we hold an event that is open to the public. Volunteers come from all over the Negev – from Rahat, Mitzpe Ramon, Omer, and Dimona. People aren’t coming because they don’t have a garden but because they value the human connections they form here with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, from little kids to pensioners,” Bar-Ohr explains. 

“They prepare the ground for planting saplings, but mainly they come here so they can feel like they’re part of this huge group of friends. At the end of each gathering, they harvest vegetables, and then cook together in the on-site kitchen, and ultimately sit down to eat together when the meal is ready. Anywhere between 20 and 100 people come each week. It varies from week to week.

“Our community was established with the goal of creating an entrepreneurship platform that would keep young people in Beersheba and convince them to become local leaders and get involved in efforts to revitalize public areas,” explains Neta Levy, HaReshet’s director, who is also from Beersheba. 

“HaReshet has hundreds of members and operates 13 social and ecological initiatives, such as Community Fridge in Neighborhood D, which rescues food and distributes it to needy families. 

“There’s also Food Forest; a neighborhood newspaper; a fair once a month featuring arts and crafts made by residents; a warehouse called Kolboynik that has all kinds of housewares and tools; a composting consortium; and, in collaboration with the Azrieli Negev Mall, we’re going to be opening a community clothes closet, a toy and book closet, as well as community gardens.”

Apart from the management, the rest of the staff are volunteers and people who’ve received grants from environmental organizations and foundations. “People join our initiatives because they want to be part of a community here in Beersheba,” Levy continues. “It’s so wonderful to live in a city where residents want to feel like they belong and would like to be active members of the community. Especially in times of crisis, these types of initiatives give us strength.”

“We’ve built a community garden in cooperation with Beit Moriah in the weakest and poorest neighborhood of Beersheba,” adds Bar-Ohr. “We gather there twice a week with local residents, and together we grow vegetables. Then, at the end of the day, they get to take home healthy, fresh produce which were grown without pesticides. 

“Of course, something bigger is happening there – everyone who comes feels empowered; it gives them a sense of self-worth, a feeling that they have the power to lead, influence, connect, and see (and eat) the fruits of their labor. 

“Shvuat Ha’adama is thriving, and it is such a privilege to be a part of it. Our goal is to create a beautiful, accessible, and lush natural locality, where before stood an abandoned plot. A place full of greenery where you can hear birds sing. It may feel like a dream, but it’s a reality now. It’s entirely possible to achieve. 

“We’ve created a community of people who yearn to acquire knowledge and become empowered, to connect with others. Together we are a civic force. No longer are we just isolated individuals with no impact on each other but part of a large and powerful circle of belonging,” Bar-Ohr asserts.

The common denominator

THE COMMON denominator among all these organizations, is that they are all deeply concerned about the environment and the consequences climate change is having on food, lifestyle, and health, as well as on the future of our children. Gatherings like the conference that took place last month in Beersheba, in which a huge amount of information was exchanged are part of the effort to come up with more solutions for sustainable living.

“We are experiencing an extremely chaotic period right now, in which humans are disappearing within a complex socio-ecological system that is filled with unexpected events,” says Dr. Mali Nevo, author of the book To Preserve, which focuses on sustainable communities in Israel. 

 ‘NOW IS the time to empower communities.’ (credit: Courtesy)
‘NOW IS the time to empower communities.’ (credit: Courtesy)

“Our planet is currently experiencing extreme climate events which are having an especially harsh impact on vulnerable populations. It is leading to the breakdown of social structures, the overflow of information in virtual spaces and, above all, to feelings of solitude and anxiety. In times like these, connecting with nature provides a real anchor, a natural order, and restores simplicity. Belonging to a community helps all of us become more resilient.”

A group of 16 families in Harish decided to purchase a building together, and that is how they created a unique vertical ecological village. “Ten years ago, a bunch of us from Pardes Hanna were trying to find a place where we could live in an ecological and meaningful way,” explains Michal Vitel, one of the founders of the project and a resident in the building.

“We dreamed of owning a plot of land on which each of us could live in a private house, but we very quickly realized that this was way beyond our budget, so we embraced the idea of creating a vertical communal village in one apartment building. If we can succeed in creating more ecological and meaningful living conditions within the building, we can set an example that other Israelis can follow.”

This wasn’t an easy feat, however. The main difficulty was purchasing enough apartments in the same building. After tremendous efforts and overcoming a lot of red tape, they managed to acquire 16 out of the 19 apartments in the building. 

“It’s very important to us that the people who live in the three remaining apartments be interested in communal living and be genuinely willing to go along with the idea of cooperative living. The age range of residents is between 30 and 80, and a couple in their 80s just joined us not long ago. 

“Most of us came from Pardes Hanna, and a few from other areas. Everyone supports themselves economically, and we have a committee in charge of green living. One member specializes in green building consulting, and we also have an ecological architect, a sustainable gardener, an environmental educator, and many professionals who work in therapeutic fields. We’re not a kibbutz, so there’s no official economic cooperation, but we offer each other a lot of mutual support and sharing within the building,” explains Vitel.

How does it work? 

“We have kitchen gardens, a vegetable garden, shared composting, and a communal seating area on the rooftop, where we all hang out. We built a nice deck, and there’s a give-and-take area in the lobby for clothes and other items. We are also very generous when it comes to sharing cars if someone needs to go somewhere. We try to carpool to save on gas expenses and reduce pollution,” one resident explains.

Thus the residents need to be quite dedicated in order to live in the building.

“We have weekly meetings, and we eat Shabbat dinner together every Friday night. Twice a year we do a community hike and. of course, we have a bunch of WhatsApp groups for questions, support, babysitters, and help with picking up each other’s kids, and rides to the grocery store, etc. At present, we’re working on expanding our sustainable gardening on the rooftop and walls, and possibly even to generate electricity on the roof. These projects are funded by our monthly dues,” the resident says.

In such close quarters, disagreements are apt to arise. In that regard, Vitel says, “We have done in-depth conflict resolution preparedness, and the staff at Eretz-Ir have provided us with invaluable social and therapeutic guidance. One of our guiding principles is that we don’t keep things inside or let resentment fester. This happens quite a bit and, of course, it requires a great amount of energy, but we take a proactive approach to handling conflicts respectfully. We have great hope that other communities will see how successful ours is, will want to learn from us, and perhaps even try to replicate our model in other locales in Israel.” 

The biggest challenge for organizations of this type is finances. Some are registered as NGOs, and almost all of them rely on government funding, philanthropic foundations, environmental organizations, and even self-generated income such as training and professional courses. In the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv, for example, residents took it one step further and began turning garbage into money.

Lira Shapira is a community initiative that encourages residents of South Tel Aviv to convert their organic waste into a local currency. “The way it works is for every kilogram of organic waste they deposit into local compost bins they receive one Lira Shapira, which can be used at the local organic farm and specific local businesses,” explains Ruth Aharonovitch from Tel Aviv, who is part of Lira Shapira’s founding team. “It’s all based on trust. We weigh the waste, report the weight, and at the end of the month we receive Lira Shapira notes in our mailbox.”

Aharonovitch adds, “There’s a Lira Circle in which residents offer various products or services, such as granola bread or ceramics or gift items. A large portion of the products are food items. The Shapira Café in the neighborhood accepts 10% of the price in Lira, and the community center also accepts payment in Lira to pay for classes and activities.”

She goes on to explain, “One Lira is equivalent to one shekel. Each kilo of organic waste from our bins, which then goes to Hiriya Recycling Park, gives you one shekel. In essence, we are reducing pollution by separating organic waste from garbage, which means the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills is considerably reduced – and this is worth money. I try to buy all my produce with Liras.” 

A year ago, several volunteers created an organic farm in the neighborhood on land that wasn’t being used, and they started teaching an organic gardening course for residents who wanted to grow their own produce. It was open to everyone, and the cost was subsidized. It’s been so successful that some of the farm’s produce is sold in the open-air market.

“I have a plot, and it costs me 10 Lira per month for upkeep,” says Aharonovitch. “Currently, I’m growing tomatoes, eggplants, corn, and cucumbers. Environmental issues are important to me; but beyond that, I love the communal aspect of the garden, and the currency serves to create a sense of belonging for all of us here in the community. It also helps us foster a positive connection with the land.

“New people are continuously joining, and our circle keeps expanding. Thankfully, we also have strong support from the municipality. The senior citizens’ club in the neighborhood is also very involved, and they run their own small nursery. They particularly like using the Lira for their purchases. It’s a very heterogeneous neighborhood with a mix of old-timers, newer people, traditional, and secular populations. Moreover, many young families have settled on the outskirts of the city.”

In regard to looking ahead, Aharonovitch says, “Our aspirations for the future is that there will be more neighborhoods and models like ours. Many people have expressed interest in learning about Lira Shapira, and we’ve started working on a tour in our neighborhood that would show people how they could create something similar in their neighborhood. Additionally, we are working on digitizing our system so that people will be able to download our app, and make payments on their smart phone. This is a great way to attract more businesses into our system. 

“What’s beautiful about the project is that it’s like a tree. Each time another branch grows, it bears more fruit and allows even more people to benefit from it. All of us are volunteers, and we do everything with love.” ❖

Translated by Hannah Hochner.