The Unnatural Jew
Created by Noam Dolgin with help from many
An activity that explores the connections between land, time and responsibility, and looks at the Jewish historical and religious connection to Zion and the lands we live on today.
Age: 12 and up
Time: 30 minutes and up depending on how much of this highly flexible program you choose to lead.
2 pictures of Hall Peninsula (Aerial photograph, and Inuit’s recounting)
Reading, The Unnatural Jew by Steven Schwartzchild
Define term: ‘Eco’
How is it used, what words begin with ‘eco’?
What does ‘eco’ mean? It is Latin for ‘home’.
What is home? What makes somewhere home?
a. What land do we call home? What are the characteristics that make it home?
Ask students to draw a map of their home land, with a focus on the geography.
In what ways is it accurate? Why or why not?
What if we drew roads or buildings instead? Would our drawing be more accurate?
Show 2 representations of hall peninsula? What can we learn about the Inuit man from his drawing?
Where does he live? Profession? How long has he/ his family lived in this location?
What does this tell us about this person’s connection to that piece of land? What are the benefits?
What effect does his people long term relationship with the area play?
Read The Unnatural Jew. Make sure that everyone understands what Steven S. Schwartzchild is trying to say.
Do you agree with Schwartzchild? Why?
If we are a people without a land, have we developed an earthly understanding and appreciation? Land ethic? Environmental ethic about the land?
Draw a map of Israel (Zion), with a focus on the geography. Is this map more or less accurate than the original? Why?
How does the Jewish religious connection to the land of Zion affect our relationship with that land and all land?
How does Zionism as an ideology address our connection with land, and the environmental dilemmas we face.
How can we develop a similar land and environmental ethic as Diaspora Jews.
This is very adaptable program, depending on time, age, or area of interest, this program easily molded to fit your needs. Below are a few adaptation suggestions. If you write any of your own please send a copy to email@example.com
To Shorten remove step 3, 5 or 7. Though the combination of approaches and activities enhances the exploration. The program can be to long for certain situations and can stand with only 1 or 2 of these components.
Step 3. Draw an assigned location and compare to actual map. Allows for a true analysis of the accuracy of our drawings. Puts a higher degree of focus on the part of the participants.
Begin at step 3. Introduce concept of ‘eco=home’ at the end as part of an environmental sikkum (conclusion)
Use readings on Jewish connections to the land of Zion, and the Zionist attitudes towards the land, to further develop steps 8 and 9.
The Unnatural Jew
Steven S. Schwartzschild
In my philosophy department the graduate students organize an annual picnic. For some time past quasi-formal invitations have explicitly excluded me on the grounds that I am known to be at odds with nature. So I am. My dislike for nature goes deep: landscapes strike me as opponents, which, as the bible commands, I am to fill and conquer (Gen 1:28.) I really don’t like the world, and I think it’s foolish to tell me that I had better. One explanation of my attitude is historical. My parent’s family lived in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, where I was born, since before 1500. We have been urban for well over half a millennium.
Here I want to analyze whether it is only an idiosyncratic or mainly historical attitude, or whether more important, even philosophical, factors are significantly involved. Might it be that Judaism and nature are at odds? Richard Popkin once asked this Zen problem of me: Who was the last famous Jewish mountain climber? Indeed, most Jews in remembered history are unnatural persons.
In summary: (for younger audiences)
Oases are the warmest parts of Israel in the Arava, the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley. Run-off and underground water accumulate there, enabling trees to grow in the oases, and salt-resistant date palms to flourish around the desert springs.
Steven S. Schwartzchild, a teacher of philosophy, in his paper The Unnatural Jew noted that his students believed that he is at odds with nature. And, he said, they are right. Steven deeply dislikes nature in all its forms; he does not like mountain ranges or old forests; he does not like tundra or sandy deserts. In fact any landscape that is unsettled frustrates Schwartzchild. He wants to conquer all land. In fact, he feels that as a Jew, he is obligated by the Torah to settle and tame the land. He, like many Jews, grew up in a city. His parents, like many Jews, also grew up in a city. His grandparents and even their grandparents grew up in a city. Jews have lived in cities for hundreds of years. Schwarzchild believes that Jewish people are not connected to the earth.
Therefore, he asks himself: is Judaism and nature at odds? Schwarzchild believes the answer is yes. He often asks the question, who was the last famous Jewish mountain climber? The answer, Steven says, is that all Jews in remembered history are unnatural persons.
Mountains of Judea, the Carmel and Galilee
This Mediterranean tree grows in Israel's drier and warmer coastal areas. Much of Israel’s native woodlands have been converted into olive groves.
Jordan Valley and Oases
Ironically, the sabra cactus was originally a “new world” plant! It is native to the southwest United States and Central America (here it is called prickly pear cactus).
All over the North: Particularly the Carmel, Galilee, and the hills of Jerusalem.
Baruch atah Hashem eloheinu melech ha’olam borei pree hagafen.
Carob trees are a part of the Carob and terebinth woodlands that cover limestone hills at the foot of Israel’s central mountain range. (North Central)
The dark brown seed pod of the Carob Tree can be dried and made into a yummy chocolate substitute. Carob chip cookies anyone?
Upper Galilee: Golan Heights, Mount Carmel, and other hilly regions.
Oaks grow on the volcanic rock of the Upper Galilee in areas higher than 500 meters above sea level. Botanists believe that these woodland habitat ranges have decreased substantially during the past century.
Mediterranean Coastal Plain
Orange and fruit trees are a major agricultural crop of Israel. They taste great, they sell well, but… they use A LOT of precious water.
Native Israelis are called “sabras” because, the saying goes, they are sweet on the inside (sabra fruit can be delicious cooked) and tough (like a cactus) on the outside.
Ein Gedi oasis, Jordan River area
Ibexes are beautiful gazelle-like animals.
Golan, Judean Desert
Roe Deer – A reintroduced species
Northern Israel, Galeel, Golan Heights
This is one of the native deer of the Land of Israel. There are not many native land animals left in Israel, but many, like the Roe Deer, are being reintroduced from both zoos and the wild. Successful reintroductions into the wild have already been implemented for the Asiatic wild ass (starting in 1982), the fallow deer (since 1996) and, most recently, the white oryx (1997).
Jezreal Valley, Central Israel
These fish are raised at large fish farms (sometimes on Kibbutzim) and sold in Israeli market places to meet the demands of a growing Israeli population and agricultural economy.
Starlings are some of the HUNDREDS of different species of birds that migrate through Israel every year.
Starlings like to spend winters feasting on food provided by Israel's fish farms and farmland.
Judean Desert (south of Jerusalem, toward the Dead Sea) and in the hilly north of Israel.
A number of birds-of-prey and raptor species make their home in Israel.
Environmental Factor 1:
Salamander (Latin name: salamandra salamandra)
Only seven amphibian species exist in Israel today; their small number is mostly the result of the draining of Israel’s wetlands early in the century.
All seven species breed in rain pools and small ponds.
Israel has an estimated 30,000 species of invertebrates (including Black Widow spiders, common Mosquitoes, and amazing Negev insects, perfectly adapted to the desert climate).
Coral & Sponges
The Red Sea’s Coral Reefs, off the coast of Eilat
The reef ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world: 1,270 different species of fish, belonging to 157 families, make their home there, along with hundreds of species of coral and 1,120 species of mollusk. The region's rich fauna attracts frequent visits of large vertebrates, such as whale sharks, dugongs and dolphins, and the beach area is a nesting site for hawksbill sea turtles. The waters above the coral reef are a popular feeding ground and a vital resting place for some 280 species of birds that overfly this area in fall and spring, on their way from Europe to Africa in the fall and back again in the spring.
Eilat’s corals, sponges and shellfish have been protected, to varying degrees, since 1956.
Urban sprawl and Development in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat, Haifa and other major cities destroys precious animal habitats around these cities. The increase in pavement, cars, and storm water run-off causes water pollution which sickens local plants and animals (and humans, who also drink the water!). Eilat is a popular beach town and tourist destination, but parts of the coral reef are now dying due to disturbances from hotel construction and the thousands of divers who visit the reef every year.
Development: Smart Development. We do not need to stop all development – but we do need to make all new buildings more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. We also need to protect animal and plant habitats by encouraging the Kinesset (Israel’s government) to prevent sprawl and protect local habitat land.
Environmental Factor 2:
Water shortage in the Jordan River [where water is shared by five countries: Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine/Palestinian Territories], causes a continual water shortage in the Kineret (Sea of Galilee). This causes many animal and plant species (including humans) and agricultural crops to struggle for survival, and to fight over what remains.
Environmental Factor 3:
Israel’s Security Fence keeps more than people out. It also keeps land animals from moving freely across the region. Migrating land animals are having trouble finding suitable mates and cannot escape easily from local drought and famine to find areas with more water and food.
Environmental Factor 4:
Global Climate Change will affect everything. Temperatures are rising now and they are expected to rise 2 – 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years. This is huge. This means all bio regions (like the Negev Desert) will need to shift 300-500 kilometers northward to survive. Many animals and plants will not be able to adapt or move their habitats so quickly. Climate change will affect both temperature and precipitation patterns all over Israel.
HOW CAN WE HELP TO PROTECT AND RE-BUILD ISRAEL’S “WEB OF LIFE”?
Water: Use it wisely – in your own life and in Israel! Water is Israel’s most precious natural resource, yet it is often used to water high-water crops like flowers and citrus fruit, which are then exported – sending Israel’s water out of the country! The average Israeli uses way way more water than the average Palestinian; so Israelis must lead the way in water conservation. Encourage friends and relatives in Israel to use less water – and use it carefully yourself!
Global Climate Change affects ALL of us – plants, animals, and humans – and it takes ALL of us humans to slow it down. In honor of Israel’s plants and animals, take on the Jewish law of Bal Tashchit (do not waste) and reduce YOUR OWN carbon footprint. Ask your teachers, parents and friends for low-carbon ideas – or go on-line (www.tevacenter.org has a list of helpful organizations) to find out more!
By Laura Bellows, for the Teva Learning Center
47,000 living species have been identified in Israel, with another 4,000 assumed to exist. There are 116 species of mammals native to Israel, 511 kinds of birds, 97 types of reptiles and seven types of amphibians. Some 2,780 types of plants grow countrywide…A growing population and increasing industrial development in Israel are destroying natural habitats, propelling biodiversity into a decline. Israel has responded by pronouncing a fifth of its land area as nature reserves. 1
"A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey."
Directions, with a 30-foot Israel floor map:
Pass out all the ecosystem cards to students (be sure NOT to pass out the Environmental Factor cards)
Have students find their place on the map. Have them help each other and have teachers help.
Begin connecting the species, starting with the first student (animal or plant) holding the end of a ball of string and throwing it to the next “strand” in Israel’s web of life. Really encourage kids to be creative – How are you connected to the something else on this map? How are all these ecosystems and species connected? By the end, the group will resemble one large spiders web.
Introduce some or (gradually) all of the environmental factors. Work with students to figure out how each factor will affect their web of life. Affected plants or animals drop their strand of web, their loss will affect the whole system.
Debrief by ending on a positive note! What can we do to protect and heal Israel’s environment? Read or reference the list of ideas. There are also helpful websites listed below.
If time, end with a brit.
Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern Environmental Organizations
Green Zionist Alliance – www.greenzionism.org
Teva Learning Center – www.tevacenter.org
Hazon – www.hazon.org
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – www.coejl.org
Canfei Nesharim – www.canfeinesharim.org
Jewish Global Environmental Network – www.jgenisrael.org
Mideastenvironet - contact Professor Stuart Schoenfeld, firstname.lastname@example.org
Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network – www.bjen.org
Israel Union for Environmental Defense - www.iued.org.il
Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership – www.heschelcenter.org
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel – www.aspni.org
Arava Institute for Environmental Studies – www.arava.org
Megamah Yeruka (Green Course) – www.green.org.il/eng
Friends of the Earth, Middle East – www.foeme.org
Jewish National Fund – www.jnf.org
Eretz Carmel – http://www.eretzcarmel.org (click English)
Bustan – www.bustan.org
Other information on Israel’s ecology, fyi (sources below):
Four major features have shaped this floral diversity: the country's location and topography; its rock and soil formations; its climate; and the impact of man. The human influence has been so powerful that it has actually changed some landscapes: during the countless years that man has roamed this area, he has collected and cultivated plants for food, cleared land for agriculture, domesticated grazing animals, selected and deified holy trees,' and brought new plants into the country.
Endanged Species & Reintroduction:
Of the large carnivorous animals - such as the lion, bear, leopard and cheetah - which once stalked the region, only a few leopards remain. Most species survived the hunters of the region until the advent of the rifle, although the lion had already disappeared during Crusader times. The last bear sighted in northern Israel was in 1918. Hippopotami too succumbed long ago, but crocodiles survived in the narrow streams leading into the Mediterranean until the early 20th century.
While it is unrealistic to revive the wild population of many of these predatory carnivores, an ambitious program by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INNPPA) has reintroduced several of the herbivore mammal species that were extirpated in the region. For example, of the nine mammals mentioned in the Bible as fit for consumption - roe deer, Persian fallow deer, gazelle, addax, bison, oryx, wild goat, wild ox and ibex - only the gazelle and the ibex had remained in Israel by the 1960s. the reintroduction into the wild of some of the animals among this group - the fallow deer, roe deer and oryx - was not for the purposes of food. The fallow deer was in danger of extinction in other parts of the world; the oryx was extinct in the wild by 1972; the roe deer had not been seen in the region for more than half a century. 2
Sources for Israeli ecology information: