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Jewish Journal

L.A. displays eco efforts to Israeli delegation

by Ayala Or-el

March 13, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Israeli participants pose in front of Warner Bros. during an environmental tour of Los Angeles sponsored by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. Photo by Ayala Or-el

Israeli participants pose in front of Warner Bros. during an environmental tour of Los Angeles sponsored by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. Photo by Ayala Or-el

While visiting from Israel last week, Gil Yaakov got a lesson in Los Angeles' generosity.

"The city gives away free trees to residents, which is great in fighting air pollution and at the same time helps with shading and beautifying the city," said Yaakov, director of Green Course, a student environmental organization in Tel Aviv.

He said that this concept of giving away green items, such as ultralow-flush toilets, energy-efficient refrigerators and energy-saving lightbulbs is unheard of in Israel.

"Israel can't think in the long run," added Sagit Rogenstein, national project director of Israel's leading environmental nonprofit, Zalul. "They see such an investment as an extravagance, an unnecessary investment. We need to change this way of thinking. The [Department of Water and Power] (DWP) calculated that they have saved more money than they put into this project."

Yaakov and Rogenstein arrived in Los Angeles on March 2 to address an awakening among American Jews to the environmental threats to Israel. The two were among a group of 18 academics, environmentalists and politicians participating in the Friends of Israel's Environment exchange program.

The goal of the exchange, which is sponsored by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is to share solutions for environmental problems that plague both cities, such as air pollution, wastewater treatment, recycling and planning green spaces.

For decades, environmental education and solutions were on the back burner of Israeli politics, but in the last few years, environmental projects have attracted some national attention in Israel. Recently, Israelis received monetary encouragement to recycle when trash fees were raised, and a clean air bill -- something that passed in California 37 years ago -- is now working its way through the Knesset.

However, Israel also has much to teach Los Angeles about water issues. The country is both the birthplace of drip irrigation and home to the world's largest desalination plant.

Last week, the Israeli group met with officials from the DWP, as well as city planners and developers who use green building techniques. A Thursday visit to Warner Bros. demonstrated how businesses can save money while thinking green.

Shelly Levin Billik, the Burbank studio's manager of recycling and environmental resources, has recruited a recycling crew; designed waste prevention, reuse/donation and recycling programs, and changed over to energy-efficient light fixtures.

"Our energy program began in 2002, and we now save over 9 million kilowatt hours of energy and over $1 million through conservation annually," Billik said. "We are also investing in clean renewable energy through carbon-offsetting and the construction of a 72-kilowatt solar power project."

Warner Bros. also operates the first green building in the entertainment industry.

Tami Gavrieli, head of the Strategic Planning Department in Tel Aviv, hopes to adopt the similar construction methods in Tel Aviv.

"The materials used in green buildings are not cheap," she said, "but in the long run, these green buildings save a lot in energy. It has great insulation, and reduces the need to use air conditioners and heaters. We are building our new offices in the Tel Aviv Municipal Building using these methods."

Gavrieli hopes to see more developers in Israel using green building materials.

"I'm going to stay in touch with people I met here, and we'll get new ideas how to promote green building in Tel Aviv," she said.

While Gavrieli believes Tel Aviv has a lot to learn from Los Angeles, she said Angelenos don't know enough when it comes to water conservation.

"We use our wastewater, after it goes through a cleaning process, for agricultural purposes," Gavrieli said. "People here don't have much awareness of these things. Maybe because we have such serious water problems in Israel we are more conscious of them, and we are more advanced in preserving water in any way we can."

While the environmental situation in Israel has improved somewhat with new laws and fines, Zalul's Rogenstein is worried that Israel still has a long way to go until it fully adopts all environmental issues and acts upon them.

"Everything in Israel takes time to happen," said Rogenstein, a Valley native who made aliyah a decade ago. "You know, like the laws to ban smoking in public places. It is years since this law was instigated in L.A., and in Israel it was only passed recently."

She said that the Al Gore environmental documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," has caught the attention of Israelis.

"They are more aware of the importance of recycling, of global warming, of energy conservation, using solar energy and so on," she noted. "So, I'm hopeful that we'll catch up with the green wave, sooner, rather than later."

Evan J. Kaizer, past president of Friends of Israel's Environment and committee chair for the exchange, said he is pleased with the visit and looks forward to the Los Angeles delegation's visit later this year.

"We share the same problems like Tel Aviv, and we can learn how they are fighting for the same open spaces like we do, and we can learn a lot from their city planners," he said.

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