Esther Akiva is an orthodox mother of 5 originally from Brooklyn, New York. Three years ago she and her family left the West Bank settlement of Eilon Moreh, where they had lived for 15 years, for the southern periphery town of Netivot. As part of her new role there, she participated in the Heschel Center training course as coordinator of the upstart Local Sustainability Center in Netivot.
“Meeting the people and the concepts of Heschel was a very significant moment for me. I had never heard of sustainability before…learning the ideas and concepts surrounding sustainability help pull things together to form a coherent world view and gave me a clear path. I had intuitions before on these subjects but now I knew how to act on such important issues as environmental responsibility, reducing waste, saving water and public transportation. I received the tools that only influenced my own life but also to influence the community I lived in.
The Local Sustainability Center at Heschel Center promotes 14 Local Sustainability Centers (LSC) in the social and geographic periphery of Israel. Each center helps develop frameworks and programs to galvanize local community and municipality leaders to implement sustainable practices through local community capacity building. Each Center is designed around a physical demonstration and meeting space with its own unique set of priorities that speak to the needs of their community.
The Centers are modeled after the One Planet Living concept developed in the UK by the WWF, bioregional and the knowledge of local communities participating. Heschel’s role has been to develop a set of modular tools that help translate ideas into action, according to community needs engaging local skills and heritage. LSCs run such programs as:
- Open House Days where families host and showcase sustainable practices.
- Sustainable Neighborhoods – with a Handbook and guidelines for neighborhood led initiatives on the ground.
The LSC Network offers the various Centers a platform to pool resources and know -how to help leverage projects in each town. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Bedouin Arabs, Ethiopian Immigrants, Mizrahim are the various populations served and makes for a very diverse and lively pluralistic cross section of Israel, most of whom have till now little access to sustainability concepts and practices. With amazing results:
Esther can boast many accomplishments that she has effected in Netivot – the ultra-orthodox community there has gone from 0 to 100% participation in the local recycling and waste disposal program. As a result of a Food and Health campaign nutrition habits are changing. She is proud that every school in Netivot, from K to grade 12, with the support of the municipality, is now engaged in sustainability education.
“The terminology and concepts help to create what I like to call ‘a positive domino effect’ where every positive environmental action creates the conscious awareness and desire to do another one.”