At the Intersection of Religion and Sustainability

Rachel Winner at the Baha'i Gardens in Israel

Rachel Winner '09 enjoys the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, Israel.

A project associate for the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem, Israel, Rachel Winner ’09 coordinates community-centered projects through seminars, tours and other activities. But her underlying drive is facilitating a learning environment that brings people of the region’s different faiths together to learn about shared ecological values.

How did you get interested in your job?

Dickinson played an important role in my interest in my job in three major ways: First, I got interested in interfaith work via my first class my freshman year—I was in a group for an ethnographic research project in one of Professor [Shalom] Staub’s religion classes, and we focused our research on interfaith. This experience affected me profoundly. Second, the Dickinson Farm was just as powerful in my education as any one class on campus. I became passionate about sustainability through my job there and my subsequent residence in the Treehouse. Finally, I knew I was interested in living in Israel and exploring the profession of service-learning exchange programs. My good friend Ross Weissman ’08 was living here and working in my field of interest, and he encouraged me to make the leap. And here I am.

What does your current job entail, and what about it interests you most?

Beyond my other duties, I also write grants and coordinate projects for the organization, my favorite of which is also the most challenging—creating an interfaith women’s group for local ecological activism. It’s a fascinating challenge to figure out how to facilitate action, but in a way that empowers the local community.

What do you love most about what you do?

I appreciate that we are working through really creative means to achieve both microcosmic and large-scale impact. In contrast to the local projects, we’re also creating an international forum to unite renowned faith and science leaders to speak out on behalf of ecological conservation.

Also, I have the coolest commute ever: I walk through the Old City’s different quarters, past falafel carts and stands piled with spices and candies, past the Holy Sepulcher and up to my building near the Tomb of the Last Supper. I can see the West Bank and the Jordanian mountains from my window and can listen to the call to prayer from my rooftop with church bells ringing in the background.

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s “useful education” might apply to your career?

Dickinson made me acknowledge and process how a variety of factors impact one another. I think that’s a true testament to its quality as a liberal-arts institution and to the Department of International Studies. From religion to political science to economics and my senior seminar, this job and living environment demand elements from nearly every class I took. Dickinson empowered me to think of my work and the world around me like a giant puzzle—how economics connects with history connects with culture. Dickinson gave me the tools to understand how to put the pieces together.

What was your favorite activity at Dickinson?

I became a Jive Turkey [a member of Dickinson's Ultimate Frisbee team] my freshman year and am hooked for life. I had other communities—the farm, the Treehouse—but the Ultimate field at Mooreland Park was like a second home.

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?

The year that the Dickinson Garden became the Dickinson Farm was my first year on the job. We spent afternoons building greenhouses and envisioning dozens of green fields. In the early days, we had to figure out how to carry the compost across the snowy plain without a tractor—or a road—and wound up schlepping it in the “compost canoe.” That job brought laughter, creativity, fabulous conversations, new friends and a deeply impactful lifestyle change in learning about sustainable agriculture.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?

Saturday is Shabbat, and all is quiet and closed down until the sun goes down in Jerusalem. I’ve had some fabulous Shabbat meals with friends or gone traveling to other cities. Lately I’ve been coaching Frisbee to a group of Palestinian kids through an organization called Ultimate Peace, which teaches Frisbee to Arabs and Jews. I think it’s the activity that brings me the most joy while living here.

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Published March 14, 2014