Environmental activist to begin Pozez series

Michelle Levine, outreach director for the American Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel

Michelle Levine had long dreamed of influencing environmental issues in Israel. When the perfect job – as the English spokesperson and marketing manager for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel — materialized in 2004, she made aliyah from Tucson. She will speak about “Environmental Victories in Israel” as the first lecture of the 2012-2013 Shaol Pozez Memorial Lectureship Series, on Monday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. at Congregation Anshei Israel.

Now outreach director for the American Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel, and living in Tucson, Levine told the AJP, “Today we think of the State of Israel but it’s important for us to remember our responsibility for stewardship, as laid out for us in the Torah, of the land of Israel. With all the politics, we’ve lost track of the [importance of the] land.”

Levine, 41, went to high school in Tenafly, N.J. “Even then I was an environmentalist who wanted to save the whales,” she says. After graduating from Rutgers University she worked as a lobbyist in Congress for then U.S. Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-S.C.), who came from a logging family. “I tried to convince him not to clear-cut,” says Levine.

In Israel these days “we’ve lost our idealism” due to the country’s rapid transformation over the past 100 years, she says. “There’s pollution because of all the cell phones and new technology. Even the most ardent Zionists have fallen away from ‘the land of milk and honey.’ People often get disturbed [about] environmentalists being anti-corporation,” which, she says, is not necessarily the case, citing the Israel Electric Company’s support of SPNI as an example.

Levine points to Israel’s environmental victories as “being part of a winning team. Our environmental programs are really mainstream. They reach 50 percent of kids in Israeli schools.” One of the themes of SPNI’s curricula has been about conserving energy and water in students’ homes, she says. To see how much water could be conserved in their schools students “went with teachers and plumbers to check toilets and faucets for leaks. Then they lobbied their principals,” notes Levine, adding that they also write letters to the school boards to urge ways to save water.

It’s only natural that the next step for children was to check their faucets and toilets at home, where she says, they “started to make a big impact. Adults may be jaded but they’ll listen to their kids who are still idealistic.” In fact, every year thousands of children attend an SPNI conference to discuss environmental issues, says Levine, adding that in May 2013 Israeli-Arab students will attend.

Levine will travel around the country in coming months touting SPNI, which is, she says, “the single most important nonprofit for the future of Israel. If North Americans who care about Israel were as knowledgeable about nature and environmental issues as Israelis, we would restore some of the idealism that we have so politicized.”

For more information, call 289-0183 or go online to aspni.org.