Jerusalem, Israel - Jan. 20, 2019 - On Tu Bishvat - ט''ו בשבט, the 15th day of the month of Shvat, the moon is full as we celebrate the “New Year of Trees" and anticipate the first growth of spring.
In anticipation of Tu Bishvat, BJL spoke with Jerusalem's former Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur. Born in Bristol, England, in 1948, Tsur came to Israel after high school, and attended the Hebrew University, where she obtained a degree in archaeology.
"How many times a day do you look at your watch?" was the question which propelled Tsur from cataloging ancient coins of Herod and Agrippas in the basement of the Rockefeller Museum to a glass-ceiling breakthrough position and the "greening" of Jerusalem.
She was married to Haim Tsur z"l, musician and director of music and folklore at IBA Voice of Israel radio. While raising four children as a stay-at-home mother, she worked with Arie Comey and produced a Hebrew-English, English-Hebrew dictionary.
In 1996, SPNI - Jerusalem Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel was looking for new leadership in Jerusalem. A believer in public transportation, Naomi Tsur had taken public buses each day to her job at the museum, even during the Intifada. But deciding it was time for a change; Tsur applied and got the SPNI position, becoming a leader in environmental issues, sustainability, and green in Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem needs hills around it" was part of her philosophy. Tsur eventually became the head of SPNI National. By counting housing units and using municipal data, she was able to defeat a plan for major building in the still green western area of Jerusalem in 2007, and was voted one of the ten people who most impacted the economy during the year the “Safdie Plan" was cancelled.
Tsur was able to join with community activists against the building establishment and developers, and after ten years of negotiation, the Gazelle Valley Urban Nature Park was dedicated and opened Erev Pesach 2015. The urban green space of 250 acres was the first of its kind in Israel, and raised the property values in the surrounding area.
Serving as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Mayor Nir Barkat, from 2008-2013, Tsur called a community meeting in the municipality headquarters, which was held on November 24, 2011, to ask for the public’s participation in getting citizens involved in making Jerusalem a cleaner, greener, and healthier place to live.
Today Jerusalem has 70 community gardens, and small patches of land used as dumping grounds have been turned into valuable educational and productive areas.
When asked what her inspiration was, Tsur responded perhaps it was reading to her children. One of their favorite books was "Harold and the Purple Crayon." In the 1955 children's book by Crockett Johnson, the protagonist, Harold, is a curious four-year-old boy who uses his purple crayon to create what he wants by drawing it. Harold wants to go for a walk, but there is no moon, so he simply draws one to light his way.
Tsur is proud to have been integral in developing the popular Railway Park, which provides a bike and pedestrian trail on what was the abandoned railway line.
Now out of politics, Tsur is still involved in environment and sustainable Jerusalem projects. She is the head of the Jerusalem Green Fund, a non-profit organization which has a "triple bottom line." It works for the development of community gardens, getting people to work together, and for the environment In Jerusalem. Food growing was important back to times of the Beis Hamikdash and Tsur would like to see vegetable patches and more trees in future.
In celebration of Tu Bishvat, the Jerusalem Green Fund - JGF, is organizing an outdoor nature experience led by Ephraim Shlain and Naomi Tsur. It will be a unique morning with a bilingual tour of the Jerusalem Forest, and an opportunity to give back by helping clean up litter along the way.
Urbanism is just beginning. Encouraging volunteering, improving the environment, and being respectful of others in the public domain are the keys to the future of urban living. Naomi Tsur wants a concern for nature to be integrated into major project plans for a greener Jerusalem. Jerusalem Stakeholders, the core membership of the JGF, allocate their contributions collectively in order to maximize their impact, with the belief that they can influence local and national policy for environmental, social and economic sustainability. .
It is said that there are 70 names for Jerusalem, including "Jerusalem of Gold." If Naomi Tsur has her way, soon there will be one more name- "Jerusalem of Green."
Included in photo essay are more photos from the Gazelle Park dedication and the Railway Park and Baka new community garden.