Harvey Stein
Unforgettable digital stories

Why We Really Need Captain Sunshine Right Now

The whole world is falling apart. In early November, almost 100 people burned to death in the Camp Wildfire (California’s largest to date), many of them seniors. And the President of the United States responded (at the time in Finland), explaining why Finland doesn’t often have such forest fires, “They spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning here.” A couple weeks later, when asked about a sobering Climate Change Assessment Report written by 13 U.S. federal agencies, he answered, “I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it – and it’s fine.” Fine?!

The world is falling apart. Israel, where I live, which is billed in its most holy text as “a Light unto the Nations,” is more often these days, “a Divider unto the Nations”. Nations, and people everywhere, either defend everything our Israeli government does, or crucify every Israeli for personally being responsible for all the suffering in the galaxy.

I’m working on a feature documentary, “Green Rebel” on the work of American-Israeli solar energy visionary, Yosef Abramowitz, a.k.a. Kaptain Sunshine (who also happens to be my Jerusalem neighbor). Read more about Green Rebel here. I often see him at the local sidewalk cafe on Friday morning, participating in the intense shmoozing that happens before shabbat comes in.

Abramowitz tries to put things back together. If I had to sum up his outlook in two word, it would be, “unremittingly positive”. When I asked him about his knack for avoiding the common practice (by almost every human being these days – from debating on Facebook to driving on insanely busy streets) of “I win – you lose”, he thought for a sec. Then he offered how one of his rabbis redefined the phrase said every Saturday after the Torah portion is read, “Hazak hazak v’nithazek” (“Be Strong! Be Strong!  And may we all be strengthened!”). Abramowitz told me, “It’s about giving strength to your opponent – then if you’re both strong, if you both win – then we all win.”

To get to win-win, he’ll sometimes play politics. He tells my camera one day, sitting on his Jerusalem balcony, “I’d be willing to shake Trump’s hand, if it means helping some of the poorest people in the world.” To which his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), responds, “You can shake Trump’s hand for the greater good – but you’re not fuckin’ touching me with that hand!”

Energiya’s 8.5MW Rwanda field, at the Agohozo Shalom Youth Village

Abramowitz’s Jerusalem company, EnergiyaGlobal, built the first commercial scale solar field in East Africa. It’s in Rwanda, intentionally built (providing 100s of jobs), on the land of a youth village for orphans of the genocidal Hutu/Tutsi civil war – the youth village now profits from the sale of green electricity generated by the field (which now provides 6% of Rwanda’s energy needs). Win-win.

With a grin, Abramowitz adds a word to that famous biblical injunction, commanding Jews and Israel to be a “renewable Light unto the Nations.” There it is: trying to bring a win-win to that upstart little nation too: bringing Israeli chutzpah and technology to Africa (where 600 million don’t have any electricity at all), putting the shine back on Israel’s name as a nation that cares for those “others” in need.

And Abramowitz himself, while not as outwardly “leftie” as his wife, finds ways (often behind the scenes, to try to avoid the fractiousness around the subject of Israel), to work towards other progressive causes in Israel. For example, fighting against the deportation of Israel’s African refugees, and even, shh! – finding quiet ways to bring solar energy to Gazans (in a private initiative, that avoids both Hamas and the Israeli government), who currently only have electricity a handful of hours a day.

In Africa, EnergiyaGlobal often faces the ever present corruption of politicians who recently finished dealing with a bloody war, whose countries may have become democratic just yesterday. And often Energiya’s competition for power generation, the coal industry, is more than happy to play the greased palms game too. So Energiya works with allies like African Christian leaders, building on their natural connection to Israel, and to the shared affinity with longer term religious values. Win-win definitely involves finding common ground.

Abramowitz with Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank

Our movie “Green Rebel” will be an “impact film” – designed from the start to not only have theatrical and VOD release – but to have “impact screenings” in synagogues, schools, NGOs, environmental conferences, and elsewhere. Movies can be win-win too – they can satisfy entertainment needs, satisfy investors too – and  be a force for positive change, in a world that is falling apart at an increasing, and frightening speed.

Sure, I would shake Trump’s insecure little paw if we happened to be in the same room. But then I would kick him somewhere in the lower regions, and tell him that his fuckin’ denial about climate change is not only because he likes to go against the ‘liberal media,’ but because of his friends in the fossil fuel industry – which boils down to – short term greed.

I understand (and I’m happy to criticize Israel’s government in this regard too), that when life gets a bit uncertain, the survival instinct of many goes into overdrive, and leaders often appeal to their people’s baser instincts, going for immediate satisfaction. Win-win usually involves longer term thinking – it takes a lot more creativity, patience, and less testosterone than the old school methods (which means less meat needs to be eaten! – another huge contributor to climate change).

About the Author
Harvey Stein is a video journalist and filmmaker, originally from New York City, now living most of the year in Jerusalem. He 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
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