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And while I’m at it….
Not long after we returned from our study trip, the folks at the Vassar’s magazine for alums asked to interview some students who particpated in the study trip. We spent quite some time talking about the study trip and sent photos when we were asked to do so. Sadly, VQ never published the article. Why?
Dear Professor Pessin, I Know How You Feel May 28, 2015Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: Academic Freedom, Israel, Palestine, Study Trip, Water
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Dear Professor Pessin,
It occurred to me a few months back to write you a letter expressing solidarity with you. I’d read about the fact that you are on medical leave from your faculty position at Connecticut College owing to the stressful situation at your campus. I understand the strain that arises as a result of unfounded vitriolic attacks by students and weak support from college administrators because it happened to me too. (I’ve blogged about it here and in subsequent posts on my personal website). When I read that students, faculty and staff had gathered for “a forum” on “free speech, equity and inclusion” hosted by the administration, I shuddered. You see, my trip co-leader and I also endured such a ‘forum’ which Philiip Weiss, founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss.net, described as “truly unsettling.”
I wanted to write to you but I kept putting it off. Over time I realized that I was afraid to wade into these fraught waters because the events of last year surrounding my study trip to Israel and the West Bank territory caused me much trauma. But then it occurred to me that my reluctance to reach out to you equated to being silenced by SJP students and faculty who support the BDS movement. Today I read the New York Times piece about water issues in israel and the West Bank and saw a photograph of the water channel in the West Bank town of Auja where my students learned directly from Palestinians the implications of having no control over groundwater flowing through the aquifer beneath their land.
The article reminded me once again of the value of traveling with my Vassar students in Israel and the West Bank to wrap our minds around issues of water justice in that parched region.
In writing to The Miscellany News, the Vassar’s student-run newspaper, my colleague and I attempted to communicate to our academic community the virtues of traveling the length of the Jordan River meeting with young Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians who work collaboratively on water resource issues. Since writing that letter, I’ve been silent about these issues on my campus for fear of being attacked once again. However, having learned as a “gay rights activist” during the AIDS epidemic that “silence=death,” as anti-semitism on college campuses rises I feel it is a matter of integrity to say that I stand with you.
May we work to preserve freedom of speech, at the very least, on college campuses.
Losing Ground: A Sad Earth Day Post April 22, 2015Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: Dead Sea, E.O.Wilson, Ecozoic, Eremozoic, Israel, Palestine, Sinkholes, Study Trip, Thomas Berry, Vassar, Water
This piece is also reprinted at Truthout.
As I’ve indicated here, here, here, here, and here, I’m not a big fan of Earth Day because I believe that every day should be Earth Day. But a recent article in Haaretz moves me to offer these thoughts on this inauspicious day.
Have you read the story in the April 19, 2015 issue of Haaretz “Geologists: Road along Dead Sea coast must be diverted toward nature reserve“? It’s worth paying attention to if we aspire to work towards what theologian and historian of religion Thomas Berry referred to as the Ecozoic Era, a period in which humans and the Earth interact in a “mutually enhancing manner.” That is, a period in which all beings (human beings, non-human beings and the Earth itself) live together peacefully and in good health.
Or, we could disregard lessons such as those taught by the encroachment of sinkholes from the Dead Sea coast toward the Judean Hills and move towards what the renowned entomologist, E.O. Wilson, at first called the Eremozoic Era and now speaks of as the Eremocene, the “Age of Loneliness.” “Eremocene”– the term moves me to feel bereft.
Though I wish I felt otherwise, I believe we are on a path to the future of which Wilson warns. Expansion of sinkholes along the Dead Sea coast and proposed solutions are emblematic of the wrong approach to living with the planet and each other. Israel, a tiny country the size of New Jersey, clings aggresisvely to land that ultimately must be shared with Palestinians. And the country, apparently, is trying mightily to avoid losing ground literally in the form of sinkholes along its western edge of the Dead Sea.
Sinkholes form sometimes where rock below the land surface is easily dissolved by groundwater. The dissolution causes cavities to form beneath the land surface. The cavities grow into caverns and become so big eventually that the land surface collapses into them. In Israel, adjacent to the Dead Sea the sinkhole problem is severe. Why?
Ample freshwater flowing south from the headwaters of the Jordan River has been reduced substantially so that the Dead Sea receives only five percent of its historic water flow. As a result, this once massive water body is evaporating at a rapid rate of nearly three feet per year. But Israelis and Jordanians can only blame themselves. Excessive withdrawals for unwise agricultural practices in the watershed as well as political conflict with Syria at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers, (not by Palestinians in the West Bank whose access to water is severely limited by Israel’s Water Authority) together with diversion of water from the Dead Sea for resorts and the extraction of minerals from the briny sea to produce cosmetics and fertilizers has caused the surface of the sea to shrink by nearly 45% since the 1930s. Because the Dead Sea is drying up, decreasing levels of salt water allow fresh groundwater to well up and eat away at subsurface salt layers. Hence the sinkholes.
Last month, a substantial portion of the major north-south roadway connecting Eilat to northern Israel, collapsed between the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, an oasis with abundant waterfalls in the desert.
The proposed solution? Build a road closer to the oasis to facilitate movement of residents and tourists in the area. Such action would displace bugs and birds, invertebrate species, not to mention the “charismatic megafauna”– ibex, hyrax, wild boars, desert cats, hyenas, jackals, and wolves–that drink from the fresh water pools in the oasis.
Why not attempt to curtail the water mismanagement? Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli Director at EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East says that restoring water flow to the Dead Sea to at least 30% of its historic amount would be a step in the right direction.
Though we may lose ground along the way, may we step off the road that leads to the Eremozoic Era and on to an awakened path that leads to the Ecozoic one.
The Elachistocene Epoch of the Chthulugene Period of the Ecozoic Era November 26, 2014Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Chthulugene, Ecozoic, Elachistocene, Eremozoic, geologic time.
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Era: Eremozoic or
(after E.O. Wilson
or Thomas Berry)
(after Donna Haraway)
If one accepts the idea that there is indeed convincing geological evidence for a new geological epoch (and I place myself in that camp) then there is obviously a need to name that epoch. However, geoscientists are not the only people who are entitled to challenge the proposed name and suggest alternatives. The history of science has shown that it is healthy for science to endure questioning about nomenclature from within and outside of the scientific community. I agree with those who critique the proposed term “Anthropocene” for using the species category in the Anthropocene narrative. Inequalities within the species are part of the fabric of the planetary environmental crisis and must be acknowledged in efforts to understand it.
Perhaps we should propose a name that is consistent with previous schemes of naming segments of the geologic time scale. Understanding the consistent semantics (as opposed to the inconsistent rationale for names of Periods of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic) is an important tool for settling on a name that achieves the purpose of acknowledging a new epoch while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of the homogenization all of humanity.
As many people know, the suffix –zoic means “life” thus, Paleozoic is ancient life, Mesozoic equates to middle life, and Cenozoic refers to new life. The epochs of the Periods of the Cenozoic Era are named to indicate the proportion of present-day (Holocene) organisms in the fossil record since the beginning of the Cenozoic era roughly 65 million years ago. Paleocene is derived from the Greek word palaios, meaning “ancient” or “old,” and kainos, meaning “new”; Eocene from eos meaning “dawn” of the new; Oligocene from oligos meaning “few” or “scanty” new; Miocene from meion meaning “less” new; Pliocene from pleion meaning “more” new; Pleistocene from pleistos meaning “most” new, and; Holocene from holos meaning “whole” or “entirely” new. Therefore, why not label the new epoch with a name that acknowledges the much less contested sixth extinction and increased diminishment of species on Earth in this epoch? What could we name such an epoch?
When I asked my colleague Rachel Friedman, a classicist, what would be the Greek for diminished amount of new life she explained that the antonym of pleistos (as in Pleistocene) would be elachistos and would be the prefix that might help me come up with a name that would acknowledge the diminished amount of species compared to the Holocene epoch. Though it isn’t the most elegant English, Elachistocene would mean “least amount of new” and I propose that name instead of Anthropocene for it adheres to the geological schema yet avoids the homogenization of humanity so problematic in the term Anthropocene.
Though I would make a friendly amendment to feminist scholar Donna Haraway’s suggestion to name the new epoch the Chthulucene (“subterranean born”) and propose Chthulugene as the name for the Period to which the Elachistocene belongs, might we take the opportunity of naming our new geological epoch to consider the designation of the Era as well? Theologian and scholar Thomas Berry wrote prolifically, pushing what he called “The Great Work” — the effort to carry out the transition from a period of devastation of the Earth to a period when living beings and the planet would coexist in a mutually beneficial manner; the result would be the erosion of the radical discontinuity between the human and the nonhuman. This vision of the Ecozoic stands in stark contrast to the notion of the Eremozoic Era imagined by renowned entomologist E. O. Wilson – the Age of Loneliness when other creatures are brushed aside or driven off the planet.
More Than Old Bones November 18, 2014Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, earth community, Ecozoic, geologian.
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A recent Scientific American article published the remarkable image of a fossil of the early horse species Eurohippus messelensis unearthed from strata at a one-time site of oil-shale mining in Messel, Germany. Though well-known for the remarkable array of Eocene epoch (roughly 48 million years ago) organisms entombed in those strata, the early horse fossil standouts among the others; the fossil preserves the bones of a mare and her unborn foal (circled in the image above) in their correct pre-birth anatomical positions.
The find reminds me that fossils of extinct organisms are the remains of entires species, not just the bones of individuals. Each organism traversed an arc from birth to death and in the process reproduced members of its own species. Darwin helped human beings see this and evolutionary biologists and paleontologists that succeeded him have theorized the mechanisms that allow the reproduction of species. But this fossil makes visible reproductive capabilities of our more distant vertebrate ancestors. What’s more, the fossilization of a pregnant foal calls to mind the reality that, in the Anthropocene epoch marked by the sixth major mass extinction of life on this planet, human beings must admit the questionable ability of organisms living today to reproduce and survive extinction.
Jewish Farmers July 24, 2014Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Ecozoic, Eden Village Camp, environmentalism, Jewish spirituality, meditation, Rabbi Jeff Roth, Vegetarianism/veganism.
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A recent article in the New York Times “New Gleanings from a Jewish Farm” spotlights some of my favoriate organizations in the Jewish social justice, environmentalism and spirituality movement. Pluralistic and conscious of differences of all sorts, it gives hope to me as a Jew during this difficult time. In particular I am proud to say that I’ve volunteered for three years at Eden Village Camp (mentioned in the article)
(Teaching Science at Eden Village, July 2011, photo by Meg Stewart)
and taken my Vassar students to Kibbutz Ketura on our March 2014 study trip. Note that althought Kibbutz Ketura is up to some interesting work, we also visited Kibbutz Lotan where there is some very interesting work going on in earth building and permaculture.
(Making bricks at Kibbutz Lotan)
I’ve also visited the Israel School of Herbal Medicine and spoken to rabbinical students on retreat at the Isabella Freedman retreat center. But i’d also like to add that the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, though not connected explicitly with Jewish agriculature and sustainability has been a thought leader in encouraging pluralism and spirituality among Jews. It’s an organization not to be missed. And I’ll also add the fact that I hope that in the future, students will come to Vassar as students to learn about Jewish environmentalism through our Jewish Studies and Earth Science programs with field work opportunities on the Vassar farm it’s CSA, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, as well as nearby Eden Village Camp! Finally, a salute to Rabbi Jeff Roth who has been ahead of the curve on all of this. Check out his Awakened Heart Project!
Vassar study trip to the Jordan River watershed: a stop at the proposed Jordan River Peace Park June 12, 2014Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Ecozoic, Israel, Palestine, Study Trip, Water.
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Among the many enlightening stops along our travel trip itinerary in March was a tour of the Jordan River Peace Park led by Friends of the Earth Middle East. The proposed park would cross the border between Israel and Jordan on the lower Jordan River. The area sits six miles south of the Sea of Galilee. An area of immense historic significance, the proposed park also sits amid a major migration corridor along the Great Rift Valley, and some 500 million birds fly over the area twice every year. One proposed idea is to flood a now-dry lakebed and create a bird sanctuary.
Here’s a link to my alma mater’s story on the recent collaboration of a team of architects from the Yale School of Architecture’s Urban Design Workshop (YUDW) and Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design to move forward on part of the proposed Israeli-Jordanian Jordan River Peace Park (JRPP), to be the first peace park in the Middle East.
Tags: Israel, Palestine, Study Trip, Vassar
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Google doodle celebrates fossil collector and paleontologist’s 215th birthday as reported in The Independent.
And since Google is celebrating Anning, whom I’ve always associated with ammonites, an extinct group of marine invertebrate animals (phylum: mollusca; class: cephelopoda), I’ve posted below a photograph of two of my students from our March 2014 study trip in which we visited the famous “Ammonite Wall” in the Negev Desert.
Pliny the Elder referred to these fossils as the “horns of Ammon” because their coiled shape was reminiscent of the ram’s horns worn by the Egyptian god Ammon. The photo below shows the remarkable exposure of a laterally extensive sedimentary layer chock full of ammonite fossils. That’s yours truly standing on the steeply dipping bedding plane.
Jordan River trip itinerary addresses complexities of region April 10, 2014Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Academic Freedom, Israel, Palestine, Study Trip, Water.
Reproduced below is the letter Rachel Friedman and I wrote to the Miscellany News regarding our 2014 study trip:
On March 23, we returned from a two-week study trip to Israel/Palestine called “The Jordan River Watershed.” We feel confident that as a result of traveling to the region and talking with Arab and Jewish Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, our students can now speak knowledgeably about the complex realities of this conflict-ridden place. Our trip epitomizes the methodology of the field sciences, as well as the “go to the source” approach that has long been a defining feature of a Vassar education.
On our first day, we visited the holy sites of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in Jerusalem. Next, visits to the Arab village of Battir and a nearly century-old Palestinian hilltop farm, Tent of Nations, as well as the Dheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem, provided bird’s-eye views of resource quality and quantity issues in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. After our introduction to the complicated mixture of communities in this tiny area, we traveled north towards the Lebanese border to the contested volcanic heights of Israel/Syria and familiarized ourselves with the water sources that feed the Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater body in the region, and the upper reaches of the Jordan River. While in the Galilee, we also visited Nazareth and the ancient Roman city of Sepphoris, remarkable for the archaeological record it provides of Romans, Jews and Christians coexisting peacefully.
Over the next days, we headed south, traversing the length of the lower Jordan to its terminus in the closed basin of the Dead Sea. Throughout the Jordan valley, we encountered the stark reality of dammed tributaries, water in/sensitive agricultural practices, inadequate sewage treatment facilities, wetland reclamation efforts, land subsidence, mineral extraction industries and, especially notable, unequal access to surface water conduits and groundwater aquifers. At the same time, we were humbled by the awesome spectacle of deep geologic time revealed in the limestone layers of the canyons that we hiked to an oasis of Ein Gedi and the storied copper-bearing sandstone mountains of Timna. We concluded our trip in the southern Negev, learning about communities trying to live sustainably in the harsh desert terrain by employing solar power, dry composting, permaculture farming and mud-plaster building.
Throughout our trip we met with Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Christians, Muslims and Jews working together towards justice through nonviolent solutions. Most impressive about these individuals, non-governmental organizations (such as Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the occupied Plaestinian territory) and educational institutions (Arava Institute for Environmental Studies) was their demonstrated ability to inhabit the gray area between radical extremes. Despite the charges leveled against them, brave people on both sides consistently asserted the need to sustain conflicting narratives simultaneously. As Sulaiman Khatib—a representative from the binational NGO Combatants for Peace who served 10 years in Israeli prison for armed resistance—put it, “Every stone has at least two stories.” Khatib’s line became our mantra as we repeatedly strove to occupy the murky but potentially productive middle space between binary extremes.
We have, of course, followed the maelstrom of reactions to the trip. We, as the instructors of the trip, have personally been attacked from both left and right. In one account, we are “white settler colonialists” oppressing the Palestinians; in the other, we are “self-hating Jews” pursuing an “anti-Israel agenda.” In fact, people who made little, if any effort to examine the details of our course subject and itinerary have reduced us to stereotypical caricatures. If their narrative is that the two of us are bent on destroying Israel, it is because our support for many of the goals of Students for Justice In Palestine (SJP) and the Open Hillel movement seems irreconcilable with our involvement in our Jewish communities and support (albeit critical) of Israel. If their narrative is that we support a white colonialist regime in Israel, then perhaps they refuse to look at the ways in which we are committed to fighting injustice against Palestinians. Though unsurprised by these reactions, they sadden us, particularly as educators.
One especially vexing aspect of the criticism leveled at us is that it has been racialized. In early February, SJP students picketed our course causing some of our students to express feelings of harassment and intimidation upon entering the space of the classroom. We objected to the picket because of its negative effect on those who already felt beleaguered by ill-informed criticisms across campus for enrolling in the course. Discussing the picket during class, our students asked us to relay to administrators in the Dean of the College office and the International Studies program the request for a facilitated discussion between them and SJP members. Despite our repeated requests for such an intervention, none transpired.
Since then, our objection to the picket has been characterized by some members of the Vassar community as our use of white privilege to target students of color. If we and our students had been consulted before this conclusion was drawn, listeners would have learned that our students—many of whom belong to racial and ethnic minority groups—were as surprised as we were that the group of SJP protesters were characterized as being “of color.” Furthermore, it would have become clear that we supported the right of SJP students to protest in any number of ways, including ongoing tabling in the College Center, but not inside an academic building at our classroom door. If anyone had thought to speak with us before stereotypically labeling us, multiple competing narratives would have emerged. For example, while the two of us have indeed benefited from the privilege of being seen as within the white majority in our society, we are at the same time in sympathy with the concerns of SJP.
Many Vassar students and faculty have expressed their concern that over the last several years, a climate of fear has descended on campus. This fear was confirmed for them during the spectacle at the Open Forum that was held on March 3.
In our opinion, the rage unleashed disrespectfully at us at the forum has a gendered as well as a racial dimension. Perhaps one way to begin countering the climate of fear is to work harder campus-wide to engage one another with intellectual openness, listening to the multiple narratives that emanate from the Vassar community. A jumping-off point for this endeavor might be to engage with any one of the 28 breathtakingly thoughtful students who devoted their spring break to the study trip. Though some might caricature these students as having been greenwashed by the two of us or by our itinerary, such spurious depictions underestimate the intelligence of the diverse group of students whom we have been privileged to teach.
—Jill Schneiderman is a professor of earth science & geography at Vassar. Rachel Friedman is an associate professor of Greek & Roman studies at Vassar and Jewish Studies.
Tags: Academic Freedom, Israel, Palestine, Study Trip, Vassar, Water
One generation comes and another generation goes but the Earth remains forever. So goes the Ecclesiastical statement that motivated me to wade metaphorically and literally into the sullied and diminishing waters of the Jordan.
I’m about to embark on a two-week journey with 28 Vassar students to the Jordan River valley and its surroundings. I was motivated to propose and teach such a course because from my perspective as an earth scientist, I understand how daily and future access to clean water in ample supply is one of the key issues about which people in the region fight. It is also a problem on which Arabs, Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have worked together with integrity and compassion.
And yet, as solid as I was in my commitment to this endeavor before my College’s “Open Forum on the Ethics of Student Activism and Protest at Vassar,” last night I was knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel. Our trip will take us from the headwaters of the Jordan River near the border with Lebanon down to the shrinking Dead Sea and through the bone dry Arava valley. With assistance from Friends of the Earth Middle East and EWASH (Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the occupied Palestinian territory), along the way, we’ll meet with Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians to learn about their perspectives and efforts with regard to the basic human right of ready access to clean water.
I hope to have the time and energy to use my blog to process and articulate through mind and heart what I learn on this journey.