Meet Beer Sheva’s veteran “green” activist

AACI Beer Sheva’s veteran “green” activist, Ethelea (a.k.a. Leah) Katzenell, tells about environmental action in the capital of the Negev:

When I arrived in Beer Sheva in 1972 on the day before my 22nd birthday, I was young, energetic and in love with the pristine desert surroundings. It was so different from the American commercialism, superficiality, soot and smog, and I decided to strike my roots in the desert soil of this small, newly forming academic town. By September, I’d rented a tiny ground-floor apartment in Shekhunah Aleph, which, at that time, had no paved sidewalks or streetlights and little greenery. However, the daily desert winds did blow around the trash carelessly discarded by inconsiderate people so that many undeveloped spots were littered like garbage dumps. So in the fall of 1972, I prepared a stock of large bags, a batch of colorful bow-tie ribbons on safety pins and a small gift package. I then called out all my neighbors to join me in a one-hour clean-up campaign – offering the one who picked up the most trash a prize. It was a fun event for adults and children which called their attention to the need to keep things clean. This may have been the first community clean-up campaign held in Israel!

By the late 1970s, as an active AACI Southern Branch Board member, I was one of a group of volunteers, along with Joan Avigur, Ahuvah Mitbah and others, who tried to get paper recycling started in Beer Sheva. We convinced the Israeli paper company to put out paper collection bins, but often they were set on fire—and finally the Fire department vetoed the public recycling of paper. Only secure bins remained in certain institutions, like at AACI and at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Library (where I work).

In the early 1980s, we placed recycling boxes for spent batteries in all the photo shops, post offices and, of course, in the B.G.U. Library – which are periodically collected by the postal service and taken out to Ramat Hovav for proper handling – to prevent their poisonous acid from seeping into and polluting the soil and the water supply.

Through AACI, we also lobbied to prevent smoking in public places and for the passage of the national law prohibiting this (finally passed in 1983). Remember that secondhand smoke is no less of a killer than smoking yourself! Again, we persevered and succeeded.

Having accomplished this, in the 1990s we moved on to coordinate an arrangement between the regional plastics company, “Aviv Plastics,” and the Beer Sheva Municipality, whereby the company set out collection bins all over the city for people to dispose of their used (non-refundable) plastic items. The company collected these bottles regularly at its own expense and recycled the plastic, transforming it into outdoor furniture like inexpensive park benches and electric poles (green, durable and waterproof) for use in public areas. This arrangement also helped the city fulfill its mandatory annual recycling quota. By law, all Israeli cities are obliged to recycle a certain percentage of municipal waste. In addition, if we do NOT bury all those voluminous bottles and containers in the local landfill, the landfill can accommodate our garbage for ten years more.

I’m among the founders of Earth’s Promise (at:, whose mission is: “To improve and safeguard the quality of Israel’s environment by creating replicable grassroots models of sustainable urban development.” We have created a large, successful community garden at the Kalisher Absorption Center, which now serves as a model for both urban agriculture and intergenerational community action. We have also established a citywide network of composters and offer ecological training courses.

By the year 2000, my pet project was finding practical/artistic uses for recycled pastel-colored plastic fruit/vegetable bags. I tried to convince the local colleges that teach art teachers and all the community centers that offer handicrafts classes to instigate special courses in “Recycling Art” or “The Art of Recycling,” which would include the creative reuse of clean plastic bags as raffia material, for the crocheting of colorful, flexible, durable, waterproof sunhats and handbags, or the forming of game balls, etc. Plastic bags are terrible for the environment, because all petroleum-based products give off toxic fumes when burned and aren’t biodegradable when buried.

As a longtime member of local, regional and national “green” organizations, ranging from “Amutat Beer Sheva Yeruka” and “Negev Bar-Kayama” to “Adam, Teva ve-Din” and “Greenpeace Israel,” I sit on the Municipal Environment Committee as a delegate for the citizenry. I have attended many meetings between the third sector and leaders of Israeli industry as part of a campaign to promote transparency, “responsible care,” environmental awareness and cooperation across the board – to achieve win-win scenarios for the economy and the environment.

In 2005, I instigated a project to identify environmental problems in all 15 residential neighborhoods in the city. I “drafted” and trained 50 volunteers, showing them what to look for in the public domain (e.g. rusty objects, exposed wiring, standing water, potholes in sidewalks & roads, etc.) and how to effectively report such things to the Municipality for repairs. I also asked them to share what they’d learned with others, especially their children.

Now Beer Sheva is among those few cities in Israel at the forefront of “green” action. The city has agreed to participate in a national trial – to separate liquid and solid wastes in the homes. The city is promoting the “green” education of the public and is currently implementing a special citywide program for the recycling of: plastic, paper, cardboard, batteries, used clothing, electronic parts, CDs — setting out dedicated bins in all the neighborhoods. My latest, personal project is to get glass recycling into the program as well. Wish me luck!

All in all, it’s lovely living in Beer Sheva, especially as the city becomes cleaner and more beautiful every day – eternal urban oasis.

“My Oasis in Beersheba”

by Ethelea Katzenell

To awaken to the lovely sound
Of birds in morning song,
To the touch of light,
Warm sun on my cheek.
To rise in tranquility
And gladly face the day.
The cool morning breeze
Blowing the past behind me.
My home, my private garden,
Sanctuary, safe haven, Eden.


Purim Smarts

by  Deborah Rubin Fields

(This is an edited version of the article previously published in AACI’s April-May 2011 edition of the VOICE)

Purim:  a holiday that Jerusalemites love, but the environment hates. Why? Because of the wastefulness that goes with the holiday. This Purim, let’s try to “go easy” on the excessive plastic gift packaging and disposable table service. Below are some suggestions for making Purim into more of an eco-holiday.

    • Send e-blessings, rather than (cutting down trees to make into) paper cards.
    • Choose healthy mishloach manot items which can be used as part of your friends’ seudah (think whole grain crackers or containers of hummus, for example).  Many health-conscious recipients end up tossing sugary junk food into the trash.

  • Wrap your mishloach manot in a reusable cloth towel rather than cellophane or other plastic wrap, which would sit in a landfill for more years than you can imagine! Package in reusable containers, such as attractive mugs or netillat yadaim cups, rather than  disposables — your friends, and the earth, will be grateful to you all year round.
  • Borrow costumes from a neighbor or a gemach, rather than buying (and discarding) flimsy new ones each year.  If you are handy with a sewing machine, make your own costumes, which will be unique and creative, as well as sturdy enough to outfit little pirates or princesses for years to come.
  • “Green” your seudah table in a number of ways:

Napkins and tablecloths: Consider using a cloth tablecloth. If you use cloth napkins and tablecloths, they ideally should be made of organic cotton. If you use paper products, make sure they are unbleached products. The point here is to reduce the reliance on environmentally harmful petroleum-based pesticides and chlorine.
Cups and Plates: If you do not have a permanent, reusable set of cups and plates in your home or congregation, or the means to acquire them, then purchase only paper or compostable products. Read the label on the paper dish package to ensure that they do not have a plastic coating. Currently, disposable dishes that are acceptable for composting are composed of sugar cane, maize or potato products. In Jerusalem, for example, you can find compostable tableware at Gindhi’s paper supply store on Agrippas Street and Party Time in the Achim Yisrael Mall in Talpiot.
Cutlery: Instead of using plastic forks, knives and spoons, put out wooden toothpicks. Needless to say, using wooden toothpicks will require you to carefully consider what holiday refreshments may be served with such utensils. Leave out a small container (marked “Toothpicks for Composting”) so that congregants can dispose of their used pieces.  Alternatively, use a permanent, reusable set of cutlery or arrange a refreshment table of just “finger foods.”  Finally, you may also purchase compostable cutlery at the above mentioned stores.
Beverage Bottles: Recycle glass wine/grape juice bottles and plastic water/soft drink bottles. Teach your guests to turn over the empty plastic bottles to check that the bottom has the triangular recycling symbol. Point out the recycling triangle, as well as the code name PET or the number 1.  Take your glass bottles back to your grocery. Redeem the deposit. Donate the returned change to your favorite charity.
Leftovers: If your neighborhood has a compost container, collect non-dairy and non-meat based food leftovers to throw into the compost box. Do not, however, put in oily foods or foods that have seeds. Alternatively, you can take your organic waste to the City’s Recycling Center in Givat Shaul across from Herzog Hospital. This center is open daily, throughout the day.
Clean-up: After everyone leaves, tidy up using environmentally friendly cleaners. These products generally have a plant base. They contain no phosphates, no animal ingredients, no chlorine, and no petroleum. Furthermore, they have not been tested on animals. After the floors have been scrubbed, nourish your garden with the gray water.

Deborah Rubin Fields is a Jerusalem based educational writer and copywriter. She is the ebook author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams.


AACI will  be hosting 2 Purim events this year.

1.     Songs, Stories & Snack for Purim! (Children’s Programs with Mimi)
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 from 15:30 – 16:30 PM
Who: For children ages 3 and up
Where:AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center, Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2, Talpiot   MAP
Cost per child: AACI members NIS 25/non-members NIS 30. Family price (3 siblings or more): AACI members NIS 60/non-members NIS 75

Please pre-register so we know how much snack is needed. To receive more information, to register or to volunteer with the children’s programs, call 02-566-1181 or 052-754-7111 or email
2.     Rabbi Ada Zavidov: A Feminist Perspective on Purim (AACI Jerusalem Retired Active Persons )
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012, at 11:00 AM
Where: AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center, Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2, Talpiot   MAP
Cost:NIS 10A weekly update of RAPS programs is sent by email. To receive these, please e-mail