We’ve all been there. Hiking through the Golan Heights or the Maktesh, admiring the amazing natural beauty Israel has to offer, when suddenly you trip over a Coke can or notice a Bamba bag stuck in a bush. The slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle”, that was ingrained in many of us as children in North America has not permeated Israeli culture in the same way. Even though Israel recycles more plastic bottles than the UK and US, it seems like personal littering is still rampant. This is what brought together four participants of Masa’s Israel Government Fellows (IGF) to initiate Clean the Land.
The idea was born out of a PresenTense networking and entrepreneurship workshop at the 2012 Building Future Leadership conference. “You walk around and watch cab drivers throw garbage out of their windows. You find trash throughout hiking trails, and trying to enjoy the beach during the summer, there seem to be more cigarette butts than sand,” explains Dan Barnett, a 26-year-old South African. Dan explains to me that things like this were the catalysts behind the concept of Clean the Land.
Clean the Land is a fantastic grassroots organization aimed at cleaning up Israel, one piece of trash at a time. The initiative is the brainchild of Dan Barnett, Max Friedenberg, Sam Silverlieb, and Joel Wanger. Inspired by nation-wide initiatives like Clean Up Australia Day, and localised events like Boston Shines 365, their organization will select a day in mid-May to Clean the Land. The aim is simple; have people take to the streets of their communities, their local parks and favorite beaches, and pick up the litter they find around them. While the initiatives founders explained to me the idea behind Clean the Land, one line stood out; “We want people to take responsibility and bring the ownership home.”
“We see this as a lead by example kind of project”, says Max Friedenberg, a 23-year-old from Chicago. “We live here, we want to change Israel and make a difference.” The founders want to instill a respect and honor for the land, a leave no trace attitude. “We grew-up with this moral consciousness telling us not to litter, we just want to instill that same consciousness here in Israel,” says Sam Silverlieb, a 26-year-old from Montville, NJ.
The founders are humble with their expectation, but passionately aware of the potential impact the initiative has for inspiring positive change. Their plan for this year is to engage the Masa Israel Community, Diaspora Jews who are in Israel for 2-12 month programs, and then expand on this foundation. “If we start with the Masa network this year, next year you can integrate Masa participants’ co-workers; growth is exponential and word of mouth and social media are huge networks just waiting to be used,” explains Joel Wanger a 24-year-old from Crofton, Maryland. Using a trickle-up approach, the growth of Clean the Land has no boundaries and could even be implemented into an educational curriculum for Israeli schools, Year Course, Birthright, and other educational programs within Israel. “It’s like Burning Man, it started as a small group of people in the desert and now it’s a festival that gathers thousands of people together every year. If you’re committed to a good cause, you can get people attracted to the idea, and then it just grows,” Max says.
Each one of these young men came to Israel for different reasons. Dan was too old to volunteer for the IDF but knew he wanted to spend time here giving back to the country. While working 80-hour weeks in the US for global management consultancy Oliver Wyman, Sam recognized that he didn’t want to be an outsider, experiencing Israel only through the news and his involvement in AIPAC. When he started waking up and reading Haaretz first thing in the morning, he questioned why he wasn’t in Israel. Joel was heavily involved in AEPi and AIPAC during college and wanted to take the skills he learned in college to help Israeli society. Max believed in a “lead by example” kind of lifestyle; if he was going to advocate for Israel later on then, he was going to make sure he had first hand knowledge and experience of living in Israel.
Even with these diverse roots and backgrounds, these young men found their love and passion for Israel and are trying to do something to give back to the country they hold so dear. “The reason we’re here is because we care about this place, we’re invested in Israel. It is the homeland of the Jewish people. Even though none of us are Israeli, we care about Israel and want to invest in Israel and its future. We want to tell Israelis that you’re not alone, that when Diaspora Jews come to Israel, we come here to invest our love and support for the Jewish homeland,” Sam eloquently details.
As we finish-up the interview, the boys explain their slogan: Love It. Live It. Clean It. All of them love Israel, they came to live Israel to the fullest, and now they want to reflect that affection by helping clean it. This is a slogan that works for everyone in Israel, no matter what reason you are here. Sabra, Oleh, Masa participant, Birthright participant, or even religious pilgrim – all of us can say we love Israel and want to help protect it so that future generations can enjoy the same beauty and wonder we do every day being here.
Dan Barnett (26), originally from Johannesburg, South Africa has spent the past seven years living in Australia and now calls Sydney home. A Chartered Accountant and graduate of the University of Sydney, Dan also spent time at Harvard and Cornell. Dan’s post college years have been with Deloitte, and he currently serves as the Israel Government Fellow for the Securities Authority.
Max Friedenberg (23), from Vernon Hills, a northern suburb of Chicago, Illinois, graduated from the University of Illinois. Max serves as the Israel Government Fellow at the Ministry of Finance in the Global Debt Capital Markets and Foreign Currency Transactions Department.
Sam Silverlieb (26), is from Montville, New Jersey. A graduate of Harvard University, Sam spent his post-college years first working for AIPAC’s national office as a Leadership Development Fellow followed by two years working for global management consultancy, Oliver Wyman. He currently serves as the Israel Government Fellow for the Department of Special International Affairs at the Ministry of Justice.
Joel Wanger (24), is from Crofton, Maryland and is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. He is a former Young Judea Amirim participant and currently serves as the Israel Government Fellow at the Israeli Presidential Conference, working for the Content and VIP’s committee.