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Finding Common Ground:Crossing Borders for a Peaceful and Greener Future in the Middle East

Contact: Sarit Schonbrun • JNF Communications Manager • 212-879-9305 ext. 222 • /• Local Contact: Stephen Olson • JNF San Francisco Campaign Executive • 415-677-9600 •

February 1, 2006—San Francisco, CA— Given the current political situation in the Middle East, it may be hard to imagine a place in the heart of Israel’s Arava Desert where students of different religions and nationalities live and study together, united by a common commitment to environmental awareness and responsibility.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, situated on Kibbutz Ketura, is the Middle East’s premier center for environmental education and research. Founded in 1996 on the principles of international cooperation, partnership, and coexistence, the school attracts students from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, North America, and Europe, and encourages collaboration between Jews and Arabs to deal with the unique environmental challenges of the Middle East.

In support of the its work towards peace and sustainable development, Jewish National Fund has partnered with the Arava Institute as part of Blueprint Negev, the campaign to develop the Negev desert into an attractive place to live and work.  JNF will help construct a state-of-the-art campus on Kibbutz Ketura that will house 100 students and include classrooms, laboratories, a computer room, offices, and a wind turbine to provide clean energy to the Institute.

Three guest speakers from the Arava Institute will be in the Bay Area from February 9-14 for a series of speaking engagements culminating with Jewish National Fund’s Speaker Series, “Israel’s Environmental Challenges” on Tuesday, February 14. Maya Negev, a Jewish student from Israel and Osama Suliman, an Arab student from Jordan, will discuss their experiences at the Arava Institute and share the insights they have gained by looking at the Arab-Israeli relationship from an environmental perspective. They will be joined by Rabbi Michael Cohen, Director of the Arava Institute’s North America office.

"I think it is important that people in the United States hear that cooperation between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is possible," said Rabbi Cohen. "The Arava Institute is a working model with a proven track record. People will find hope in our story."

Originally from Jerusalem, Maya Negev was a guide and counselor at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel before getting her bachelor’s degree in literature, philosophy, and journalism at the University of London. She is a candidate for a master’s degree in Environmental Studies through the joint program of the Arava Institute and Ben Gurion University, researching the topic of environmental literacy in a multicultural society.

"As a student of the AIES," said Ms. Negev, "I know that this place creates coexistence and environmental excellency in the Middle East, and I want the world to know about it."

Osama Suliman left his native Kuwait for Jordan at the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He received abachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Jordan. At the Arava Institute, Mr. Suliman is working on an independent project that explores the impact of the Israeli-Jordanian relationship on the water scarcity in Jordan. He recently organized an evening of Jordanian culture and history for Kibbutz Ketura.

Rabbi Michael Cohen, a founding faculty member of the Arava Institute, graduated from the University of Vermont, where he received the History Award. He was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and served as the Rabbi of the Israel Congregation in Manchester Center, Vermont from 1990 to 2000. In 2001, he became the Executive Director of the Arava Institute North America, the school’s U.S. non-profit support organization. In 2002 he co-founded the Green Zionist Alliance, the first environmental Zionist party to run in the World Zionist Congress elections. He currently works on Palestinian student recruitment at the Arava Institute and teaches two classes: Genesis as a Key to Environmental Thought and Moses: A Study of Leadership and Environmental Wisdom.

Schedule and Details of Bay Area Events

Thursday, February 9, 2006- 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Presentation at UC Berkeley Campus- open to the public
For more information, contact Maya Paley at

Sunday, February 12, 2006- 6:30 pm
Tu B'Shevat Seder
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
3200 California Street, San Francisco
For more information contact Brian Garrick at 415-292-1200 or visit
Co-sponsored by the JCCSF, the Arava Institute North America, Jewish National Fund, the Israel Center, Sha'ar Zahav, and Congregation Sherith Israel.

Monday, February 13, 2006- 8:00 am - 9:00 am
Breakfast & Conversation
Koret Boardroom
121 Steuart Street, San Francisco
For more information contact Abby Porth at
Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Monday, February 13, 2006- 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
"Finding Common Ground" at the Sierra Club
Yosemite Room
85 2nd St. #2, San Francisco
For more information, contact Roni at 415-595-4243 or
Co-sponsored by the Israeli Consulate of San Francisco, the Jordanian Honorary Consul, and the Sierra Club.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006- 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
"Israel's Environmental Challenges" JNF Speaker Series
Jewish Vocational Service
225 Bush Street, suite 400, San Francisco
Registration fee is $35 for each session or $90 for the entire series.
For more information, contact Stephen Olson, JNF Campaign Executive, at 415-677-9600 or at

Captions: Top: Maya Negev
Middle: Osama Suliman
Bottom: Rabbi Michael Cohen talks with a group of students at the Arava Institute for Environmental Education.
(photos available as high-res jpegs upon request)

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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