Philanthropist Supports Critical Research Identifying COVID in Water

Long-time water expert, local philanthropist support efforts to identify virus spread in water

By Matt Robinson

While Israel continues to play a leading role in COVID-19 research, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) together with Arizona philanthropist Valerie Richter are supporting efforts in Israel to identify what impact the pandemic may be having on public water supplies, especially in off-grid communities.


Richter has supported Israel her whole life. “My interest in and connection to Judaism and Israel grows as I get older,” said Richter, who now splits her time between Phoenix, AZ, and Aspen, CO. “The growth of Israel follows my conscious life span. I was in 8th grade in 1948 and my parents were very supportive of Israel. So it is kind of in my DNA!”


Richter also remembers her ties to Israel (and JNF-USA) going back to the previous generation.


“My grandmother had a little blue box,” she recalls, citing the famous JNF-USA pushke that graces so many homes. “I knew it was for Israel.”


Valerie and Herschel Richter

Valerie and Herschel Richter


As the world remains in the grip of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Dr. Clive Lipchin, Director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management at JNF-USA affiliate, The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is playing a leading role in water related COVID-19 research.


As head of the Center, Dr. Lipchin oversees a team of top researchers and policy makers from throughout the Middle East and far beyond who collaborate on projects related to water conservation, desalination, treatment, and education. Through their collaborative programs, the Center and the Institute are able to increase the knowledge base in the region and encourage trust, peace, and shared prosperity.


“Here, the idea that nature knows no political borders is more than a belief. It is a fact, a curriculum, and a way of life,” Lipchin said of the Institute, which has been lauded by leaders throughout the region, including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal.


According to Lipchin’s research, detecting COVID-19 in wastewater can speed up the identification of outbreaks and hotspots and help prevent the disease’s further spread. It can also help the health departments and governments make vital decisions about regulations and resources.


“With this research, we aim to help these higher-risk [off-the-grid] populations and increase regional cooperation,” says Dr. Lipchin.


Due to everything the Institute does for Israel and its neighbors, it has become a symbol of Israeli innovation coupled with an outstretched arm in friendship to other countries in the region. That is, in part, why long-time Israel supporter Valerie Richter became so integrally involved. 

As someone who grew up in a family of developers and now lives in the desert (where she has planted hundreds of cacti in her yard to support the environment), Richter has also long understood the importance of natural resources, especially water.


“It was quite a process to get water in Arizona,” she recalls, “so I had that interest and that connection.”

According to JNF Israel Emissary Talia Tzour, the Richters have become vital contributors to the water initiatives in Israel.


“Behind each and every reservoir stands a big person and a big personality like Valerie and Herschel,” Tzour said. “Without these people, these projects would not have happened. They are leaders…who put in so much.”


Among the Richters’ many life-sustaining projects are agricultural reservoirs along Israel’s border with Egypt, many of which involved searching for water just as her family had in Arizona.


“It is amazing to see what JNF-USA has been doing and the changes they have been able to bring,” Richter says. “It’s really impressive!”

When asked why she is particularly interested in the research going on at the Institute, Richter shared how she sees opportunities for Lipchin’s research to be used by off-the-grid communities such as the Navajo Nation. She also said that she sees the Institutes work as another way to use water to save and sustain lives in Israel as well as a way to link her family to the land and people of Israel.


“It is so current,” she says. “My kids have not been to Israel in many years, but I think this will be a great way to reconnect!”


During February (8-11) and March (15-18), JNF-USA will be hosting Virtual H2O Missions to Israel. For more information, visit or contact Tali Tzour Avner at or 212.879.9305 x249.

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