Posted by: planetisrael | December 18, 2007

Be The Environment

Speaking with Amiad Lapidot, the founder of the Eretz Carmel organic refuse recycling NGO ( gave me the same serene feeling as when I sat under the 400 year old Alon tree at the heart of his outdoor retreat center, SHEFA, located in the fields behind retreat groupKerem Maharal about 15min. south of Haifa.tree

I asked Amiad what motivated him to create this beautiful venue for people to congregate, contemplate and study. He said that his interest is to convey the joy and pleasure in living in a way that enhances our natural environment – the way people used to live, once upon a time. Amiad explained, “until about 10,000 years ago, we lived in complete symbiosis with nature, which was the sum total of the environment then. This was about the time when a significant event took place, perhaps a climate change, which caused man to evolve from living with nature to trying to control it. This pretty much marked the beginning of the end of that perfect or near perfect state of interaction with nature where man’s existence did no harm to the environment. After this, nature became an enemy to be tamed to serve man’s will. But what happened was man became dependent upon the whims of the weather – rain, drought etc.”

As Amiad explains it, “the message Moses brought to the people of Israel contained important insights in how to live in peace not only with one another, but also with nature. The problem was that the message began to be lost almost as soon as it was received. Even so, if you look at the laws of Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) you see that one day in every week we are to act as we did before the agricultural revolution, as if all is provided for – no work, no food preparations, focusing on contemplation –a model for being in total synch with nature.”amiad

After receiving his BA in Geography at the University of Haifa, Amiad became interested in the environment. He earned his master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology. Amiad is a graduate of the “Environmental Fellows” program of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership and in 2003 was accepted as the first fellow of the Israel Venture Network (IVN) 2 year program for social entrepreneurship. Amiad went on to work with a number of environmental organizations in Israel. However, it was only through participating in the ancient American Indian ceremony, Vision Quest, that Amiad saw specifically how he should express his interest in environmental preservation.

The ceremony required building a circle of stones 3 meters in diameter and then spending four days and nights within it with only water. “This intense experience allowed me to see, in a very focused way, how I needed to make my contribution to solving the problems of the environment.” Amiad continued, “I understood that I have to live it – this  symbiosis with nature and the environment. I must also create things that will allow others to experience this kind of living first hand – conveying the message by example.”

That’s where the ‘house’ idea came in. Amiad explained, “While doing research for my master’s degree, I learned that quarrying rock for construction cement has disastrous effects on the environment. So when it came time to build a house for my family, I saw this as my first opportunity to exemplify a way to live in

front entrance  

peace with the environment. I aimed to use materials that were ecologically sound while creating a home that was affordable and pleasant to live in. If I could succeed, I knew it would encourage others to build in a similar way. So we made the frame of the house with four used marine shipping containers. The exterior walls are from blocks of bailed straw that I grew in our family fields. And let me tell you, it’s a wonderful feeling to grow the materials for your own house in your own fields generating no pollution at rom

“The interior bricks come from local soil – much of it dredged from a nearby river during its annual cleaning by the local authority. We made clay for the bricks by straining the soil through a filter I made. What’s really interesting is how the house knows how to warm itself in winter and cool itself in summer. All the windows in the bedrooms face south and have sunshields. The sun enters the rooms in winter and living rmmakes them warm. In the summer, the sun hits the sunshields so the heat is reflected. On a day with temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees outside, the house is cool inside – without air-conditioning or even a single ceiling fan.“ Amiad added a small hole at the  base of one of the bedroom walls that connects to a pipe running a meter underground. This allows the 16 degree Celcius air to contribute toward cooling the 120 meter house. Energy is conserved and the bimonthly electric bill is miniscule.

The house is a major attraction at Kerem Maharal and the pride of Eretz Carmel. However, the NGO’s main effort is focused on recycling organic refuse which won them this year’s Ford Foundation first prize for environmental preservation.

“We bring eight tons of garbage here a month to our three dunam farm. There are no flies or stink here, although hundreds of composting tons of garbage have passed this site,” Amiad says. ”This is because the natural decomposition process turns the garbage into compost. We put the organic garbage with grass clippings, hay, compost processingleaves, newspapers, sawdust and weeds. Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi as well as earthworms and insects work in the compost pile breaking down the materials into compost. The bacteria that could cause disease are sterilized by the natural rise in temperature to 60-70 degrees Celsius caused by the process. Six weeks into this process we add special worms of the Eisenia Fetida species into the pile. The worms eat the organic materials and leftovers, break them down in their bodies and their secretions are the best fertilizer,” Amiad continues.

“After the pile has decomposed for six months, the parts that have not broken down are taken out, leaving plant compost. This could be done anywhere in the country or city. It doesn’t stink, and doesn’t bother anyone. By compost process shovelcontrast, when organic garbage is not separated from plastic bags and other garbage, it decomposes without oxygen causing it to emit methane gas and contribute to global warming and climate imbalance. Recycling minimizes the greenhouse מתחם הערסלים effect. Think about it – almost 40 percent of our garbage consists of organic materials that can be recycled into fertilizer. The leftovers of what we eat go to produce what we eat in an organic circle that builds instead of depletes.  My house, the retreat center, our orgainic recycling were all established based on a careful study of the local environmental conditions.  We can and aim to replicate this anywhere after studying each area.”

This seems to be the crux of Amiad Lapidot’s message – not just environmental damage control, but actually contributing to the earth’s sustenance.  Sustainability is at the heart of his retreat center SHEFA, the Hebrew word for abundance which is also the acronym for “Preservation of the World’s Wonders”. One senses that both are true when visiting this unique site. I don’t know if it’s that amazing, ancient Alon tree that casts wide, tranquil shade over the soft mossy ground or the gentle freshness of the natural wood structures. Perhaps it’s the organic, vegetarian menu shefa succahor the cool and refreshing natural stone swimming pool.shefa pool Maybe it’s because only materials from nature are used and everything is recycled from vegetable peelings to the waste in the clean and well kept out-houses. Or perhaps it’s simply the sum of the parts. Whatever it is, being at SHEFA gives one a total sense of peace and serenity, of being able to really breathe, of a natural connectedness to the land and the space.

Amiad lectures throughout the country and can be reached at

      מרפסת סוכת השלום    shefa toilet







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