Harvey Stein
Unforgettable digital stories

Hard Work and Magic in Tough Times

Five days till the pivotal U.S. election day. Two days till another hopefully huge demonstration on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, in front of the house of Israel’s own autocrat. Blood, sweat and tears – living daily with promising hopes and terrifying fears: how, in a crisis time, do we try to create change towards a better, more whole world? (And if you’re reading this in the weeks after the election, you know that the hopes and fears have not become any less extreme.) 

My filmmaking team recently re-edited our trailer for our upcoming feature documentary project, “Green Rebel”, about the amazing solar energy work of my Jerusalem neighbor, social entrepreneur Yossi Abramowitz. One thing that came up in the editing is, how to show all the aspects of his work – from the incredible persistence; to the building bridges with all kinds of allies in many countries; to the unabashed use of – pure magic.

Long-term commitment is definitely one key – it took Abramowitz five long years to wind his way thru the bureaucratic jungles to finally build his first – and Israel’s first – commercial scale solar field – at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev. And four more years from that point to build its first African solar field, in Rwanda, on land of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, where orphans of Rwanda’s own genocide have lived and studied, and where some of the profits from solar electricity sold to the Rwandan national grid go back to support the Youth Village.

Courtesy Harvey Stein

But without magic, the daily commitment can get kind of dry. Abramowitz wears a ring with an ancient coin embedded in it – the so-called “widow’s mite”. A mite (or Greek lepton, meaning “small”) was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea of the first century BCE – and one side of it has an image of the rayed sun. When Abramowitz was courting Uzi Landau (then Israel’s Minister of Energy) to help with the Ketura field, he reminded Landau – as he gave Landau one of the same coins – that King Yochanan, the Kohen Gadol, minted it around 100 BCE, in the thriving times of the Second Temple. This coin is a link through time and space to the ancient Jewish state.

Courtesy Harvey Stein

Abramowitz has pulled this ring out in more than one very public Knesset meeting, to defeat obstacles or overcome enemies (you’ll see a clip or two of him doing it in the trailer at the top). Of course, a magic ring was also wielded by Green Lantern (I paid some of my Bar Mitzvah loot to subscribe to his comic as a young teen) – another larger than life activist for good.

courtesy Harvey Stein

And like Green Lantern, Abramowitz sometimes wears a cape (sun-colored, and notice the Israeli superhero on his t-shirt also) – and yes, his Twitter handle is @kaptainsunshine.

The sun – the source and sustenance of literally all life in our solar system. And whose heat is perversely captured by our increasingly thick global envelope of pollution – to directly cause all the havoc associated with global warming. And the same sun whose energy can be transformed by photovoltaic cells into clean, green energy.

What magic do you use in these tough and crazy times? Come on, share something in the comments below 😎 . Faced by the ghastly specter of another four years of the infantile tyrant who perversely denies global warming, overturning regulation after regulation meant to dissipate the ozone layer that traps the sun – what magic can we tap into to make sure that tyrant has to finally pay his bills?

Yes, we can ask for blessings from an ancient Middle Eastern coin with an image of the sun. Or blessings from the sun itself. Judaism has a rare blessing, the Birkat Hachama (ברכת החמה, Blessing of the Sun) – which thanks the One Above for creating the sun. The blessing is traditionally recited at the end of a 28-year solar cycle – when it is believed it returns to exactly where it was when the world was created.

I’m a little looser though, often reciting the blessing the first time I see the sun in the morning, or as it disappears under the horizon in the evening:
ברוך אתה ה’ אלהינו מלך העולם עושה מעשה בראשית
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe, maker of the works of Creation.

Abramowitz and Zambian bishop Scott Mwanza (courtesy Harvey Stein)

Another complement to commitment is finding partners to share our commitment with. Of course, prayers traditionally need a minyan to be effective – a group of ten humans to pool our energies with. As Abramowitz struggles to grow the seeds of his next African solar fields, he often finds partners in African spiritual leaders – who frequently have a connection to the magic of Jerusalem, and to the images of our shared biblical traditions.

What partners can we harness to send those tyrants home? It does seem to me that often the “right” has natural success in quashing differences in its legions, where all come together to push through their undemocratic, demagogic programs. And on the other hand, contingents on the “left” are sometimes unsuccessful with partnerships, blocked by all the independent beliefs pulling in too many directions.

While I certainly view the tyrants above as bad news, because of the tremendous power they abuse – I try not to view the regular people who vote for these tyrants as hopeless losers themselves.

I try to view these misguided citizens as future partners in fighting against climate change and for more equitable economic systems. But, it might take some strong magic to get them to pivot to less base inclinations 🙂 . Maybe if they spent more time humbling themselves under the sun??

Back in Israel, Abramowitz asks (along with other activists), what should we do if the Balfour resident’s cronies continue to make shameless deals with maybe the most corrupt multinational petro company on the planet?

And – what should we do if next week results in the evil inclinations of powerful American politicians triumphing over the primal good of the sun, and of democracy? What should we do in the face of more horrifying signs of the human world shoving the natural world towards more disasters like the ones we have been living through recently?

Both commitment and magic are necessary, because whatever happens in an election, our era is one of intense conflict. Both action and prayer are needed. Using action alone can often result in a burnt out activist. And magic or prayer alone can result in a cult, or a very lonely mystic, stuck in her/his basement, yes?

Abramowitz and yours truly (Courtesy Harvey Stein)

Through several years of hard work by an incredible team (including some welcome magic contributed by you and others), we will finally finish “Green Rebel” sometime in Spring, 2021. We hope it will be a story that inspires and motivates individuals and communities to never give up in our struggles towards bringing more light into all our lives. Look for “Green Rebel” in theaters and on streaming sites, or help us bring it to your synagogue, church, green conference, school or elsewhere. And remember – together, we will harness miracles in these challenging times.

About the Author
Harvey Stein is a filmmaker and video journalist, originally from New York City, now living most of the year in Jerusalem. His current feature documentary project is "Green Rebel", about the Israeli-American solar energy visionary, Yossi Abramowitz, who is bringing commercial solar fields to African nations . His last feature film was "A Third Way - Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors", about the unique Rabbi Menachem Froman and his protégés, both Israelis and Palestinians. Harvey believes that digital media can be a crucial force for positive change in these tough times. You're welcome to follow his work and contact him for any reason.