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Becoming a Renewable Light Unto the Nations

Yosef AbramowitzFilmed at JHub

Unlike Noah, who had 120 years to warn about the coming flood, humanity today only has 5 years till global warming and radical climate change becomes irreversible. Come find out how the Jewish people can stop climate change, power development in poor countries, and save the planet with solar power and their Jewish vision.

Named “Person of the Year” at the 2012 Israel Energy and Business Convention and by CNN as one of the top 6 green pioneers worldwide, Yosef I. Abramowitz serves as President of the Arava Power Company, Israel’s leading solar developer along with partners David Rosenblatt of New Jersey and Ed Hofland of Kibbutz Ketura. He was also named by the Jerusalem Post as the 26th most influential Jewish person on the planet. A Jewish educator, human rights activist, environmentalist and entrepreneur, Yossi is working to bring solar power on a commercial basis to a dozen developing nations, to continue Israel’s legacy of helping development in Africa and elsewhere while also providing investors with a healthy return.

A social activist from Boston turned green pioneer, Yosef Abramovitz vision is to harness the sun’s energy. “These deserts are a source of inspiration throughout history and it is what has inspired our mission to bring solar power to Israel and the world.” The sun’s journey over this valley follows the path the Bible says, the Jewish people wandered in exile. Today, it glistens with more than 16,000 solar panels, generating nine-million kilowatt hours of solar energy per year. The unlikely home to the $150 million project? A kibbutz where Abramowitz landed thirty years ago as a young volunteer. Even then, Kibbutz Ketura was known for its environmental innovation. Ketura leases the land to Arava in return for a share in the company. The kibbutz members work on the field, including Arava Chairman Hofland, who makes no personal profit. “We live on a kibbutz, and that’s the basic principle, that the kibbutz will take care of your needs, your family’s needs, then obviously the thing to do is to give your salary to the kibbutz.” Around the kibbutz they call Yosef ‘Captain Sunshine’. Other entrepreneurs come from around the world to see what’s happening here. Yosef says he’s on a mission: To make money with solar energy while helping others to save the planet. “If we can do it, anybody can do it. And how do we become a catalyst to work with other countries, especially poor countries.” One simple idea, one lone pioneer: Capturing the sun’s promise; casting a shadow over the future that could only be brighter. Elise Labott, CNN, Ketura, Israel.

So you heard, I used to a be a Jewish educator and a human rights activist, and now is a solar entrepreneur. As a Jewish educator, what I was always concerned about is that our energies are being dissipated and that we’re not all rowing in the same direction and I felt a creeping parochialism in Jewish life that I thought was actually dangerous. And I always advocated that we should get back to basics and basics to me is a mission statement now certainly at Sinai, we were given a mission statement to be a “Kingdom of Priests and holy nation”, but I didn’t feel that that works for our generation. Like what does that actually mean? And so I thought long and hard and I came up with a mission statement that works for me and is completely convoluted and nobody gets it, but let’s at least start with that. So the mission of the Jewish people is to be an ongoing, distinctive catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilisation. So, ongoing because I’m not a Messianist, even though I was the last of the Lubavitche Rebbe, and therefore I think it’s a multi, ongoing, generational challenge. Distinctive because I think we have very unique values and those values that we share with others need to be mined better; we need to be moral archaeologists to pull out how we understand the world and I do think that it is fundamentally different, even if we just think of the word ‘charity’ and ‘tzedakah’ right? Our ‘tzedakah’ comes from the sense of justice, not from a sense of charity. And to be a catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization, because, I just heard we’re a really small people – where I was sitting, Jonathan, I could not see that red line – so all we can be is catalytic. Where I come from, I believe that Israel must be, should be, has to be a world leader when it comes to renewable energy. Has to be a world leader when it comes to food. And has to be a world leader when it comes to water. And all these things are interlinked. If you think about the over a billion people who don’t have access to clean water and then there’s a lot more that don’t have it reliably, you think of over a billion people going back to the numbers, who are hungry or have a food insecurity, even more than that, and when you think about the 1.6 billion who don’t have access to any electricity and then a lot more with intermittent, you realise that the problems of the world are huge and yet energy, food and water are all intrinsically interconnected. And so what we do in Israel, I find, can have catalytic effect worldwide. And so 2/3rds of our greenhouse gas emissions come from power-plants. We burn things. 99% of Israel’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels. And one third of our greenhouse gas emissions which of course increase global warming and climate change, comes from transportation. So, we hope to take out the coal, gas and diesel plants in Israel with renewable energy and in Israel we’re trying to get off the ground an electric car network. So, with these two things combined, we can actually get Israel to a place, it’s an uphill battle, to 100% renewable. With no carbon footprint. It would be transformative and yet it wouldn’t. We’re such a small country, like less than 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from Israel, so actually it won’t work. It won’t do a thing, unless we look at Israel as our collective world Jewish platform. Unless we’re able to pilot for the whole world: How do you take a carbon-based economy and transform it into one that is based on renewables? And so, that gets interesting, that gets me excited. But why is it important? It’s important, because this week’s Torah portion is Parashat Noah. So, Noah and the ark, a familiar story. Now, Noah, I’m used to thinking about in that moment in time, not only as the righteous in his generation, but also as the luckiest guy on the planet. But not for the reason you’re thinking about. He’s the luckiest guy on the planet because he had 120 years to warn humanity to change our evil ways or else the waters are going to rise and all life is going to be wiped out. If we had had 120 years, that means we would have started in 1892 to warn about the effects of climate change and global warming. He actually got a chance to plant the trees that later he was going to cut down to form the ark. So how many years do we have left until global warming and climate change is irreversible? Anybody? Yeah? (Let’s say about 4 years, maybe less) So, 5 give or take. So let me explain why 4 or 5 years. I mean we wish we had 120 years, don’t we? But we only have 4 or 5 years. So this is pretty important. This is actually really urgent. There’s probably nothing more urgent that we as people can do than figure this out. So remember this number: 350. The earth is in balance when you have 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We can handle it. And yet today, what are we at? 392 parts per million. Now what happens is: In 5 years time, at this pace, global warming becomes irreversible. Irreversible. So here’s some small questions and challenges: How do we- we being the world, and we being the little Jewish people – how do we stop the melting of the polar ice caps? How do we – we being the world, and the Jewish people – how do we stop the rising water of the sea? How do we – we being the world and the Jewish people – stop the extinction of thousands of species of animals? You hear the echoes of Noah, don’t you? How do we – we being the world and the Jewish people – stop the increase which we’re all experiencing in extreme weather storms? And how do we – we being the world, and we being the little Jewish people – stop the long – term droughts that are threatening, today, the lives of millions and millions of people? The answer, you will be disappointed to know, is Gematria: mystical numerology of the Jewish people. So back to our Gematria, you ready? 350 – That’s our goal. So for those of you who are kabbalah buffs, or mathematicians, 350 translates into ‘ye vi sof haolam,’ meaning ‘it will bring the end to the world’. Spell it out; check it out. It also is the word keren, a ray of light. Interesting. Two completely different interpretations. So, whichever way it’s going to go, it’s actually up to us. But if only Israel, if only the Jewish people do this, the end is near, the waters will rise and we come to…So, next week in Tel Aviv, we’re going to announce the creation of a global solar energy company based in Jerusalem. ‘ Ki mi tzion te ze orah’ From Jerusalem Will Shine Forth a New Light,’ that’s only going to work in developing countries. Now, 85% of Africa doesn’t even have power, right? Hence the generator, right? And the 15% that do have, a lot of it is burning diesel power, which is expensive and really dirty and will bring the end of the world, essentially. So, I think our collective goal should be to end the addiction to burning fossil fuels by providing green energy to under-served populations as a fundamental human right. Why is it a human right? Because isn’t education a human right? Isn’t healthcare a human right? Isn’t a secure job a human right? Isn’t the promise of development supposed to enhance human life? And you can’t do it without power. In addition to my ‘Give More’, I also have an ‘Agahoso Shalom Youth Village,’ which is in Rwanda. In Rwanda, 18 years after their genocide, they look to the Jewish people and to Israel as a model of coming out of darkness and into light. And we’re building for a youth orphan village there a solar field that will be the first solar field in East Africa. And it will provide 10% of Rwanda’s energy. We work in a West African country and hopefully will announce a 100 megawatt field and I said to my partner who we love and trust and he loves us too much, I said, you know, Dr. Joe, what’s going on here? And he goes: Well Golda Meir sent to the Industry Minister a long time ago to our house Mayor Dizengoff from Tel Aviv to help us. And my father was a minister and I remember that and I want to work with Israel. And last is the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos which is really going back to Noah, right? It’s a unique nature reserve. It’s a UNESCO sight and they have all kinds of species of animal that don’t exist anywhere. But it’s all powered on diesel and here you have a diesel spill. So we’re going to turn this old garbage dump into a solar field and get the Galapagos off of diesel. And I think that way we are going to change the world. Isaiah is the haftarah for Noah and he’s really our prophet par excellence. And he wants us to feed the hungry and take in the orphans. So, I think we are commanded that there should be food for all. We are commanded that there should be water for all. We are commanded to make sure there are families for all. Which means that you need green energy for all. So for me the mission statement has evolved, and hopefully together we can be a renewable light unto the nations.

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