Blogs >> My Schumacher Month by David Dunetz.

My Schumacher Month by David Dunetz.

When asked to write a blog by Elizabeth and Andrea on arrival, it then sounded like a good idea. Little did I know that the pace and the experiences gleaned at Schumacher would prove so intensive that it would take some time till I could find time and voice (or keyboard). Here I am, mid-way through my month as a volunteer.

A renowned Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman is quoted as saying: “All my life wherever I am going, I am going to the Land of Israel.” I suspect it would not be overly exaggerating, to claim that for most of my adult life I have been on a journey to Schumacher College.

This may sound strange coming from a Jewish guy born in the US and living in Israel since I was 22. Truth is, I have this British patch in my cv, when I spent three years in the UK, did a Masters’ degree and interned at the Centre for Global Education at York University. Those were formative and meaningful years for me. Even back then I was reading Resurgence and hearing about Dartington, and have followed Schumacher ever since.

In retrospect, that period ultimately got me rolling on the path to environmental and sustainability education. It was just at the start of the airing of those terms, back in the merry ‘80s. On return to Israel, few had any inkling and many looked at me askance when I spoke of what I would like to do. It would take many years of digging-in ‘til a niche could grow into what today preoccupies the life of thousands, including my own, in practice of forging a way for a sustainable Israel.

To make a long story short (it’s only a blog after all) today there exists a vibrant environmental movement and a dogged civil society which makes an incredible multi-cultural ruckus in Israel. A whole lot of creative, community experiments and ground-breaking stuff the likes of sustainable neighbourhood, urban farms, clean tech innovations, water efficiency, stopping desertification, energy breakthroughs and much more. And at the same time, it's a tough neighbourhood. Racism on the rise, an ultra-right government, discrimination against Arab citizens, refugees and migrants feeding a growing economic gap. The unending injustices of the Gaza and the West Bank conquered territories continue to seep away hopes for any peaceful agreement in sight. It’s an interesting place to live…

I work at a Centre which seeks to address these challenges and promote social and ecological justice in Israel, The Heschel Centre for Sustainability in Tel Aviv. Heschel was founded about 20 years ago to develop transformative learning, train leaders and develop models for change in Israel. Here I hope the connection to Schumacher becomes clearer. As a part of my project developed in the first cohort of Heschel’s Environmental Leadership Fellowship I founded the Green School Network (GSN) in Israel, a collaborative venture that has reached out to develop sustainability education in over 700 schools and kindergartens and dozens of communities across the country. GSN has become a national program approved by the Ministry.

Today, I have my finger in a lot of different pies at the Centre: coordinating a National Climate Project and developing Education for Climate Change and Social Justice. We do trainings and courses, long and short, and have spawned a Network of Sustainability Centers across the country.

But I don’t want this to sound like a hollow litany of only successes. It has been hard work, with its share of struggles and failures along the way.

Through the years, Schumacher College has been both icon and model for a reflective environmentalism and local community based pedagogy that we looked to create in Israel.  Inspired by Schumacher colleagues and friends many ideas found their way into our discourse and learnings: Gaia Theory, ecological economics, systems, localism and the Commons, for example, all core components of the wide spectrum of sustainability we try to nurture our trainings and courses.

And there are notable differences, of course. For one, the cultural and political context is exceedingly different. The Heschel Centre resides in Tel Aviv, the most urban of settings imaginable, and we devote lot of thinking and effort towards developing models of local sustainability and urban regeneration. Shahar, who heads the Center of Sustainability Studies at Heschel once proposed we create “Schumacher in the city”. Our team eagerly awaits insights from my excursion here.

I am so very grateful for this time to finally get to know Schumacher College.  Not just as an idea or beacon, but as real place. There is much to be said for the privilege granted to volunteer for a month. A chance to see how things work from the kitchen sink on up (or down), and learn from so many delightful conversations with fascinating people.

Question and ideas are bubbling up. The delicious Devon autumn time is the best of times for walking and exploring this wonderful place. A chance to close a circle on my personal journey. And, perhaps, reopen a new one. We walk together, Heschel and Schumacher folk, wobbly and uncertain at times, rarely aware of each other. It is good to find friends on the path towards transforming the world. I marvel constantly at how vastly different and surprisingly similar we are.

I will be giving a talk about my work at the Heschel on Thursday evening at 20:00 at the Postern-- all welcome!!

David Dunetz is the former executive director of the Heschel Centre for Sustainability in Tel Aviv, Israel and is now Head of their Education Division and Climate Change project.