JNF Montreal Launches $1M Prize to Make Israel a Climate Change Leader

Nov. 16, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Montreal is aiming high in its Negev campaign this year. The goal is nothing less than to solve the global climate crisis.

A planned $1 million (U.S.) prize to encourage Israel to take the lead in combating climate change was announced at JNF Montreal’s virtual Negev gala on Nov. 11.

The campaign, chaired by Jonathan Goodman, founder and CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc., aims to enable the prize to be awarded annually.

The Climate Solutions Prize will go to the Israeli researcher or not-for-profit organization which proposes an innovation that promises to have the greatest impact in the world, as judged by an expert panel.

Israel, it is believed, is well placed to make such a breakthrough given its strength in technological development and entrepreneurial spirit. However, most investment has been going into the information, medical and financial fields, Goodman points out, and less into green technology.

“Climate change was not a primary concern for me until my (teenaged) son Noah told me it is his priority,” Goodman said. A JNF youth group is playing a strong role in this project.

JNF Montreal Negev 2020-2021 honoree Jeff Hart, president of Victoria Park Medispa, said the prize “will leverage Israel’s special ability to solve seemingly impossible challenges in order to bring literal tikun olam – healing of the world.”

Given its 119-year history of making the desert bloom and more recent environmental leadership, JNF is considered to be in a position to oversee this initiative. Israel is experiencing the harmful effects of climate change, evidenced by record-breaking temperatures and, in Tel Aviv, unprecedented flooding, for example, Hart said.

The campaign will continue through to late spring, and it is hoped the first prize can be awarded next fall, in a live ceremony to be broadcast worldwide, said Hart.

A related $100,000 prize to recognize a Quebec organization making an outstanding contribution to mitigate climate change, which might lead to a partnership with Israel, is also planned.

Despite the gravity of the subject, the Zoom gala was filled with humour. The emcee was Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who alternately could be seen in a parka and tuque against a frozen background and in a tank top in a room on fire.

Hart got into the lightheartedness by wearing a T-shirt with the logo, “There is No Planet B.”

The biggest laughs were generated by the guest speaker Yossi Abramowitz, aka “Captain Sunshine,” who was live from Israel even though it was the wee hours of the morning there.

That didn’t dampen his exuberance for his mission to power Israel – and the rest of the world – by renewable energy, in particular the power coming from the sun.

A Boston native, the activist and entrepreneur made aliyah in 2006 with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and immediately co-founded the Arava Power Company in the Negev Desert, which set up Israel’s first grid-connected solar field, proving many doubters wrong.

His aim is 100 percent daytime reliance on solar energy from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2013, Abramowitz has been president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which supports affordable solar power projects outside Israel, especially in developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

He would like to see Israel become “the energy superpower of goodness in the world…the renewable light unto the nations.”

Abramowitz thinks the JNF prize will leverage more investment from the government and private sector in sustainability, as was the case in Arava.

Abramowitz recalled how the then California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff privately visited Arava in 2017 and were highly impressed with the development of solar energy.

He likes to think the “seeds were planted” for the Joe Biden-Harris platform, which emphasizes renewable energy, “or at least was nurtured around our Shabbat table.”

“It’s time the Jewish people steps up, not just for ourselves, but everyone,” Abramowitz said. “We’re a global people that has always strived to be ethical. And this [the climate crisis] is the big one.”

More information is available at climatesolutionsprize.com.