Beacon for world’s vulnerable

Yosef Abramowitz addresses Caulfield Shule’s Yom Ha’atzmaut breakfast event. Photo: Peter Haskin

ISRAELI solar energy pioneer Yosef Abramowitz electrified his audience with his keynote address to Caulfield Shule’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut breakfast at the Palladium at Crown on Sunday.

In an inspiring speech, the US native – a former educator and student activist, whose Arava Power Company revolutionised solar electricity in Israel – observed that Israel at 70 is shaping up to become a beacon to the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Abramowitz and his team have developed a solar field in Rwanda that provides six per cent of the country’s power needs, and with US help, Israel’s electrification projects are spreading across Africa. But there is much work ahead, he said. In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 600 million people have no electricity and at least 200 million source their electricity from diesel.

He noted the Prophet Isaiah “set a really high bar for the Jewish people to be a light unto the nations … to take care of the most vulnerable”.

Israel has always had a special relationship with Africa, he said, quoting Theodor Herzl, who saw the plight of African slavery as the most urgent wrong to be righted after the restoration of a Jewish nation state, and Golda Meir, who said that unlike colonial settlers who exploited Africa, “all we want from Africa is friendship”.

Add to that David Ben-Gurion’s lament that the sun is the greatest but most under-utilised energy source, and a direction for Israel’s future world role begins to emerge, argued Abramowitz.

The poorest regions of the world need food, water and energy, he said, and the advanced agricultural and science technologies of the Arava have solutions. “This is the answer to BDS,” he stated.

“We’re a strong people, we’re a strong country. The first 70 years was ‘if we’re not for ourselves, who will be?’ To take care and build something magnificent and enduring representing our values. But going forward, if we’re only for ourselves, who are we? Especially when we have the keys to the kingdom. We have the values, we have the heritage, we have the technology. We can do this.”

The gala breakfast event included a report from Professor Andrew Markus, co-author of the Gen17 Jewish community survey. Caulfield Shule’s Rodney Horin paid tribute to the late benefactor Ron Tatarka, who died suddenly this year. Rabbi Ralph Genende spoke about “second chances”, reflecting that Israel’s rebirth 70 years ago was a historic “second chance” for the Jewish people.

PETER KOHN