Thinking about the Arava desert on Tu B’Shvat

Tu B’Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, falls on January 28 this year.  Traditionally known as the New Year of the Trees, it is regarded as the point at which the trees in the Land of Israel sprout their buds, a harbinger of the spring agricultural season following the winter rains. Today, this ancient recognition of the natural cycles of the earth and all growing things has expanded to include our interaction with our environment and our earth, writ large. It is a time fitting to consider both environmental challenges and opportunities that arise from those challenges.

By Rebeca Rosengaus.

The Arava desert is an arid valley nestled between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. This desert region provides a unique opportunity to learn and experience the challenges faced by all living organisms exploiting this ecologically harsh environment. Several human cultures (Bedouins, Kibbutz members, tourists) also live in this area and they too have had to deal with extreme conditions, including lack of fresh drinking water and lack of water for irrigation. They also experience extreme high temperatures in the summer. Focusing on the creation of innovative renewable energy technologies while engaging in cross-border/cross-cultural collaborations can promote sustainable and more eco-friendly living, thus minimizing the human footprint in this region of the world. Needless to say that these efforts can also encourage peace-building among the peoples/cultures of this region. Education, collaboration and our common love of and respect for nature can ultimately result in peaceful coexistence. Everyone WINS!

This spring, two of Northeastern University’s colleges (the College of Social Sciences and Humanities through the Humanities Center and the Jewish Studies Program, and the College of Science through the Department of Marine and Environmental Science) are collaborating with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and the Center for Creative Ecology at Kibbutz Lotan (both in the Negev desert region of Israel) on a seminar series which will examine and discuss sustainable living, renewable energy, cross-border collaboration, peace-building through environmental education, activism, policy and diplomacy. The series will run for nine Sundays, from 1:00-2:30 pm (EST), starting February 28, 2021, and feature an international array of experts in these fields, including Jordan, Israel, the UK, and the US.  Registration is free and open to all, but required at by February 19, 2021.

Northeastern students who are interested in continuing to learn about these topics will have an opportunity to visit and study in the Arava desert on a Dialogue of Civilizations program I will be leading in summer 2022. In the meantime, celebrate Tu B’Shvat by signing up to learn about the Mid-East desert environment, sustainable practices, and cross-border environmental peace initiatives!

Rebeca Rosengaus is Associate Professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Science at Northeastern University.

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