World ORT supports holistic hothouses in Israel


A high school in northern Israel is melding Jewish tradition with modern technology to manufacture medicines and World ORT is set to help it to expand its operations.

The Hodayot Religious Youth Village, west of the Sea of Galilee, has built a reputation for the quality and efficacy of the remedies it produces for a range of ailments, from asthma to rheumatism, using organically grown plants identified in the writings of Maimonides.

Known as Rambam, the 12th century rabbi’s renown as a theologian and philosopher was matched by his reputation as a physician. He is buried in the nearby town of Tiberias.

“We grow the herbs in a greenhouse, extract the active ingredients, purify them and sell them,” said the school’s World ORT Innovation Leader, Avram Melesa, who is quick to add that the school has received all the necessary permits from the authorities. “The remedies are effective and people come back time and again to buy more. Any money we make is re-invested in the greenhouse but our profit margins are low and we need help if we are to maintain the educational and practical relevance of this facility.”
For over a decade the greenhouse has been a core component of the school’s Life Sciences and Agriculture track, giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn in biology and chemistry.
“Walking in the footsteps of Rambam demonstrates that science and Jewish tradition can sit comfortably together; one can be rational and religious,” added Mr Melesa.
NOVA digital data loggers supplied by World ORT have already provided a welcome boost for the greenhouse’s laboratory but further, extensive updating and refurbishment is necessary if the school’s 250 students, many of them of Ethiopian origin, are to have the chance to learn relevant skills.
The idea is to establish an agricultural research centre with an emphasis on medicinal plants. The centre will enhance opportunities for students to undertake computerized research in different scientific fields – and increase production of the natural remedies.
World ORT will help by providing essential components such as water purification ponds, computers for the digital science lab, and equipment to analyze the chemical composition of the essential oils extracted from the plants grown on site.
“The students not only enjoy what we do here they benefit educationally in so many ways, in science and technology, in their appreciation of the environment and the value of teamwork. And it all contributes to their matriculation. There’s nothing more important than bringing children to a topic where they can be up to date with technology and techniques – and it’s thanks to World ORT,” Mr Melesa said.
World ORT has also drawn up plans to introduce educational greenhouses similar to Hodayot’s at other schools.
A pilot project has been prepared to build a 100 square-metre greenhouse at Shikma Regional High School, near Ashkelon, whose campus is being transformed to improve safety from rockets fired from Gaza. And, if funding can be found, the inadequate 20-year-old facility at the Western Galilee High School, near Nahariya, will be renovated and re-equipped.
“Both Shikma and Western Galilee work hard to lead as normal a school life as possible under the specter of attack from Gaza and Lebanon respectively,” said Avi Ganon, Acting Head of the World ORT Office in Israel. “They need new, exciting initiatives to motivate students and reduce the drop-out rate.”
The greenhouses, Mr Ganon said, fit the bill by providing a stimulating environment in which students can apply the science they learn in class and tap into the zeitgeist by exploring ecologically sensitive ways of harnessing nature for the benefit of mankind.