Passover, Water, and the Generosity of Israel

April 11, 2014 1:29 pm 1 comment
Mekorot, Israel's national water company, operates the Eshkol Central Filtration Plant, in the Galilee. Photo: Mekorot.

Mekorot, Israel's national water company, operates the Eshkol Central Filtration Plant, in the Galilee. Photo: Mekorot.

In a few days, Jews around the world will  gather at their seder tables to celebrate the Passover feast and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Not long after the Red Sea parted, the Bible tells us that, with the help of the Almighty, Moses brought forth water from a rock to quench the thirst of the ancient Hebrews. For those who made it to the Promised Land, and the future nation of Israel, the trials encountered during their trek through the wilderness far outnumbered the occasional water crisis.

More than three thousand years later, today’s people of Israel have mastered how to live in harsh desert conditions and now share their technology with the rest of the world. As a result, partnerships have been created in states across the U.S., and in countries with needs as diverse as Rwanda, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These partnerships help transform formerly arid environments into agricultural food centers, produce solar energy power as an alternative to expensive and polluting fossil-fuels, and bring life-saving water to communities in need of fresh supply. To better prepare for the future, last month California Governor Jerry Brown welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Mountain View, California, to sign an agreement to “boost economic, cultural and academic cooperation between California and Israel, with an emphasis on water conservation, alternative energy, cybersecurity, health and biotechnology, education and agricultural technology.”

Israel’s smart, sustainable water solutions make the most of living off a land where little rain falls. I am proud to say that much of the science that has reshaped the former wilderness has been at the hand of Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its partners around the world.

I often remark that a single drop of water is too precious a commodity to use only once. JNF has been at the forefront of water management and conservation in Israel, increasing the country’s total water supply by 12% and helping Israel become a world leader in water recycling and reuse. More than 77% of the recycled sewage water in Israel is reused, the highest amount in the world. Spain comes in at a distant second at 17%. The United States figures are well under 10%, with most of its recycled wastewater disposed of in streams, seas, or the gutter rather than being reused. JNF’s network of more than 250 recycled water reservoirs provide almost half of the water used for agriculture, saving enough freshwater to meet the drinking needs of 4.4 million Israelis a year.

Today, with the growing threat of climate change, chronic drought and the lack of plentiful water supply for much of the world, the picture is rather daunting. Eighty countries have water issues that threaten health, food production, and economic well-being, while more than 2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. Population growth of some 80 million people each year further depletes ground and surface water supplies. In Texas, where severe drought has brought parts of the state to its knees, the population is expected to double in the next 50 years with a projected increase in demand for water rising by 22%, while at the same time its groundwater supplies are expected to fall by 30%.

JNF and Israel have become synonymous with successful initiatives that address water quality, trans-boundary challenges, recycling, developing alternative water sources, by using drip irrigation, conservation education, desalination, and stream and aquifer restoration. Happily, Israel is willing to share its technology and research with other nations to truly make the world a better place.

As we prepare to break matzo, pour the four cups of wine, and read of our ancestors departure from slavery in Egypt and of their return to Israel, I wish all those celebrating a very healthy and happy Passover.

Jeffrey E. Levine is president of Jewish National Fund and the owner of Levine Builders, Douglaston Development and Clinton Management in New York City and Hampton Assisted Living in Arizona.

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