The winter of 2018/2019 brought the largest rainfall Israel had seen in five years. Waterfalls in the Golan began to flow again, Mt Hermon was covered in snow, and the Sea of Galilee (Israel’s primary source of fresh water) rose over 2 meters covering the existing beaches. While the drought had leveled its toll on The Sea of Galilee, it had allowed for another event to take place; the removal of 70 tons of trash from its beaches.
The Beautiful Land Initiative is a Galilee based non-profit with a mission to lead by example when it comes to the issue of litter in Israel. Founded by American-Israeli Jordan Marcellino, the BLI takes groups of volunteers to various locations around the country to pick up trash. Anyone who has visited Israel will have noticed the problem of litter on beaches, city streets, in parks, and even in the woods on some hiking trails. In fact, seeing trash on a hike was the final push for Jordan to start the organization.
When asked about why such a problem exists in a modern country, Jordan attributes it partly to culture and partly to the rapid pace of immigration. “On one hand you have people coming out of the wilderness…literally third-world countries and you’re blending that with Israel [a] first world Middle East country…and what you have is certain people not believing what other people are doing naturally. So I think it’s because of cultural differences within Aliyah, within…Israel that there are many many cultural backgrounds and many different cultural expectations. So then you have to balance that with what is our expectation of what the beautiful land of Israel should look like.”
The expectation BLI has is tied in with the same vision David Ben Gurion had; a vision which he took from Ezekiel 36: 33 – 36
I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate;
Marcellino sees his mission as one of environmental stewardship. “I look at it as the first commandment [given in the Bible]. The first responsibility given to man was to steward the earth…we hear about dominion and we think about controlling it and taking from it and making it do what we want it to do, but actually we are to steward it and bring out the best of it… I think by cleaning up trash we are just echoing something from a long time ago that we have got to take care of what we have for our generation and for the next generation.”
When the Beautiful Land Initiative started almost 4 years ago it was mostly Christian tour groups who came and volunteered. However, slowly but surely Israeli groups (including yeshiva students and Druze youth) have begun to book cleanups in their communities. To date, over 5000 volunteers have participated, collecting an estimated 204,654 lbs of litter.
Most people would say the next step for an organization like the Beautiful Land Initiative would be to participate in educating the younger generation, but Jordan says it’s not the next generation he’s worried about. “There is a lot of environmental education with kids, but what do you do with the generation that stands?… We want to educate the youth, obviously. Next is we want to shock the generation that stands if we’re going to get a change in our generation.” From his perspective, a positive “shock treatment” is needed. “My approach is to bring thousands of people from all over the world to show up in the streets and show up on beaches and show up where people live. For the purpose of awareness and creating awareness in person and on the ground.”
With the success of preventing 70 tons of litter from polluting the Sea of Galilee and the recent uptick in Israeli groups; the BIL team is hopeful to see their vision become a reality. When asked if he had been contacted by Messianic/Christian communities here in Israel to do clean-ups, Jordan says, “amazingly, we’ve had very little”. If your kehila or church would like to change that, you can schedule a clean up in your area or donate by visiting the BIL website.