Once You Know, You Can’t Say “No”—the Work That Reconnects in Israel

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By Hila Lernau and Ellen Serfaty

In the fall of 2021, Jo del Amor of the WTR Network contacted me (Ellen) about co-facilitating post-screening events for the documentary Once You Know, using the Spiral practices of the work, with an Israeli teacher, Hila Lernau, who had reached out about this profound documentary. And so began our collaboration. 

Once You Know, you can’t say no!

I was not yet an accredited facilitator in the Network, although I had completed the Spiral Journey facilitator six month training that year and was caught up in my local volunteer work. Viewing Once You Know is an experience like no other—as I considered the offer to work  on events, I, like many others who are engaged in activist work, said to myself, “I don’t have time to do anything else…” Yet, once I sat with Once You Know, a mantra bubbled up, and has stayed with me since—Once You Know, you can’t say no!

Hila and I coordinated two Once You Know on-line screenings, one in Hebrew, and one for an international group in English. And I subsequently did another with the Deep Adaptation Network online. I became a facilitator for the Work That Reconnects and much more involved in giving back to the WTR Network.

These are our stories. We imagine that there is more going on in Israel connected to the teachings of the Work That Reconnects. And we hope to connect our efforts on behalf of our diverse country that is calling for deeper engagement with the practices.

From Hila Lernau:

Hebrew version:

English version:


I have been a teacher for almost 20 years. As a teen-ager, I was very much connected to nature, to long hikes in the countryside, guiding and teaching younger children about the environment, as well as teaching about friction between man and nature: protected  nature reserves, species diversity, the hole in the ozone layer (as old as me!) and more. As a teacher I used to ‘use’ the outdoor environment in many lessons – to envelop my young students in nature, to work with them on concrete subjects, the fauna and flora near our house – and only afterwards, move to the abstract and intangible. 

Understanding the tremendous danger that my life, my children’s, and my student’s will be confronted with in the very near future prevented me from continuing my life as usual.

It was only six years ago that I first had a profound teacher’s course about the climate crisis (and the crises of the suffering world). That course changed my life. Understanding the tremendous danger that my life, my children’s, and my student’s will be confronted with in the very near future prevented me from continuing my life as usual.

Lucky for me, the man I learned from, Liad Neem, was a perceptive one. He knew and was naturally able to talk about the strong feelings that accompany the understanding of the collapse of all we take for granted. He created a group of teachers that became a small support community for me as I began teaching high-school students.

In the last two years I have created a teacher’s movement with friends – Teachers for Climate, Israel – and I also teach youth from the Israeli Strike For Future movement, as well as teacher’s training courses. In my search for more support and assistance, for me as well as on behalf of my students, I discovered Joanna Macy and the Work That Reconnects, and began taking part in seminars and workshops offered by WTR facilitators.

The Israeli education system

Hebrew version:

English version:

…the Israeli education system does not understand or realize the great times we live in

To my regret, the Israeli education system does not understand or realize the great times we live in. The financial resources for what is called ‘environmental education’ (which deals mainly in the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and didn’t expand from that for all 12 grades) are provided by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

In the last year there are signs that the authorities are waking up- the Minister of Education along with the Minister of Environmental Protection have revealed a program for Climate Education that will start in September 2022.

We are thrilled with the recognition of the importance of the issue, but we sadly recognize that there was no teacher’s training on the subject at all – the only ones that slightly understand the issue are science and geography teachers for upper-grades students, and even those teachers were only prepared to teach about facts, e.g. cause and effects, responsibility for enforcement. They did not acquire any knowledge about the impact on citizens and society and their struggles for the past few decades, the climate and social injustice around the world, the understanding of the capitalist-political connection or the role of capitalism in climate change, not to mention dealing with their own feelings toward the new reality they have gradually come to understand, and trying to create methods to honor their students’ feelings while they are learning.  

We, in Teacher’s for Climate, Israel – are beginning  to advertise a new teacher’s training we created,  “From teachers, To teachers” called Navigating the Storm:

(Note—the translation from Hebrew of the introduction on the home page is, “Let’s learn how to teach about the climate crisis: The training program, Navigating the Storm, was created by teachers for teachers. In the program, you receive practical tools, access to an updated database and workshop experience at each meeting.) 

From Ellen Serfaty:

As I write this, Joanna Macy is 93 years old. Each time I hear her, I learn something new and connect with a profound sense of her mission for our home, planet Earth. She started out like many of us, not knowing where to turn or what to do during a significant period of despair. I don’t remember when I first encountered the Work That Reconnects, but spent  many years reading and exploring on my own. Then COVID came along, and so many WTR retreats and trainings were suddenly accessible to those who can’t travel, being offered online. I took course after course, eventually being part of the online Spiral Journal Facilitator Training. This journey was transforming. 

…my environmental activism was theoretical, from an “armchair”…

I was a social, criminal and educational justice advocate, a leader, a good one! Yet my environmental activism was theoretical, from an “armchair,” mostly reading and online work. My spouse and I retired to the incredibly beautiful beaches near the northern Mediterranean border of Israel, Achziv, full of lagoons and precious creatures. I thought I had moved to paradise.

Then I found my first dead sea turtle. And another. And I started noticing the garbage on the beach, especially after tourists visited on holidays. I’m an incredible optimist, a born problem-solver, but this one was hard. Then, I began learning the Work That Reconnects practices in community: 

  • I learned what gratitude is really about, even when facing the realities of our suffering world. 
  • I began to express my pain over the suffering and collapse of our climate–to myself, honestly, and to others, beginning to connect with a community. 
  • It taught me how to see the world as it really is, without the “rose-colored” glasses, and still love it. 
  • Most importantly, I found a way to move forward. In fact, many ways and paths, including the new loves of my life, sea turtles.

What can I do?

…getting up at 4:30 am … and experiencing the beach at sunrise was an experience I will never forget.

I began to learn about our local environmental issues—in Hebrew (I am a native English speaker, and my Hebrew was so-so), with a group of 100 other citizens. I met local and regional advocates. I just jumped in! Then someone told me that the Israeli Nature Authority was training volunteers, for the first time, to find turtle nests, and she thought of me. I will always be grateful to this community leader. However, I was filled with doubt.  At 67 years old, and not in the best of health, I was suffering from chronic back pain and was overweight. My husband was concerned, to say the least.  Could I walk several kilometers at dawn in wet sand? Could I even get up before dawn? Could I communicate in Hebrew with the rangers and the volunteers in spoken and written Hebrew?

During my first training with our Ranger, I missed half of what he said, even after 30 years in Israel. The night before my first shift was nerve-racking; I kept checking my clothes, my supplies. Yet, getting up at 4:30 am, putting on that volunteer Nature Authority shirt the first time, and experiencing the beach at sunrise was an experience I will never forget. 

Then, I found my first turtle nest! Having my find confirmed, watching the ranger lift the eggs and carefully transfer them to a box lined in sand—and going with him to the “farm,” was not only unforgettable, it created new tracks in my brain: a welling of hope and joy that I didn’t know I would experience in this third Third” of my life.
I faced the garbage on our beaches, garbage that has the potential of killing countless sea beings, and indeed did kill those two turtles that I encountered at the beginning of my new journey—turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish—food!—and it fills their bellies so they think they are not hungry. And they starve. Instead of this knowledge leading to crippling despair, I talked to folks in my community and did something: I started a beach cleanup group.

The spiral practices became daily practices

Then came an oil spill of formidable proportions that washed tons of tar onto our beautiful beaches, all over Israel.  Our community, our volunteers, and most of the country were in shock. The authorities looked to beach groups like ours and to volunteers to take the lead to clean it up. I remember the first day after the tar began to hit our beaches here, and the regional group that I joined, along with the authorities, asked for reports on how serious the situation was. I popped down to the beach, of course, without thinking or asking how to handle this, and immediately, I got tar all over my clothes, and on my brand new winter sneakers: minimal damage, compared to the feelings of despair and fear that this engendered. I wondered, “Did people really expect me to lead volunteers to clean this up?”

Through many tears, many hours of seeking advice and lying awake, I managed to overcome my personal shortcomings, fear, language issues, and age. I was so relieved the first day I arrived to meet my volunteers–and found a large group of young female soldiers, who had learned of our cleanup, waiting for me to hand out supplies and explain what needed to be done. Over a series of weeks, I led volunteers who came from our community and around the country to join us and help, just like events that were occurring all over the country. 

Working the Work that Reconnects

If I expect to share the work of cleaning up our world with others, then I have to tell the truth about my own pain and suffering.

It is incredibly challenging–physically and emotionally– to clean up tar. I worried about the safety of everyone. But the greatest challenge?  Being authentic, telling the truth. That this was hard, too: acknowledging that it wouldn’t “go away,” that we wouldn’t “finish.” Yet, that is what I learned from the Work That Reconnects: If I expect to share the work of cleaning up our world with others, then I have to tell the truth about my own pain and suffering.

This paints a grim story, but there is  another side,  namely the first stage of the Spiral: coming from a place of gratitude. As the volunteers expressed how hard this work was, how tired and frustrated they were, I would just take them aside individually, or in groups, and do the “Work” with them. The first step was to ask them to walk toward the sea, face it, and breathe…and tell me what arose for them. And of course, it was gratitude: To be in this beautiful place, to have the opportunity to help heal the damage that was done, and to turn a tragedy into a story of heroes.

The Work never ends

I thought that  my activism with turtles would have a “quiet time,” at the end of the season in October, and I would have winter to rest and reflect. Not so! Our volunteer group grew and grew, and many of them started volunteering to scan the beaches for turtles during our season, to sleep at the farm to guard the nests, and to escort the baby hatchlings for their first taste of their new home, the sea. Volunteer members of our oil spill rag-tag teams became part of two northern emergency teams led by Ecocean. And our volunteers began participating in citizen research, gaining more and more training, reporting more and more turtles-in-crisis, as well as beach and sea violations that endanger so many beings. 

I grew from a volunteer, to coordinating these efforts, managing at higher and higher levels of Hebrew, even training in Hebrew in Zoom sessions.I found my “people,” working together, side-by-side on the beaches. I also became a facilitator for the Work That Reconnects, so I can share my story and help others share theirs, through the courses I teach and the groups I lead online. 

We just need practices to sustain us, and a community to share with.

Through all of these moments of transforming suffering into action, I was hearing Joanna Macy’s story,  and was struck by that fact that most of us have these compelling times in our lives. We just need practices to sustain us, and a community to share with. And that is the Work That Reconnects in a nutshell!

הילה לרנאו, מורה למדעים.
אני מלמדת על משבר האקלים לתלמידי כיתה י’, לבני נוער ממחאת האקלים בישראל ובהשתלמויות מורים (תכנית לימודים על משבר האקלים שיצר ליעד נים).
תכנית הלימודים אותה אני מלמדת כוללת עובדות מדעיות כמו גם מידע על התנועה האזרחית בעולם ועל וההשלכות הפסיכולוגיות שאנחנו חווים.
אני גם פעילה בתנועה שנקראת ‘מורים למען האקלים’ בישראל שקיימת כבר כשלוש שנים.

Hila Lernau, a science teacher. I teach about the climate crises to my students (10th graders), to teachers in Israel (climate crises curriculum by Liad Neem) and to youth in the climate protests (Strike For Future Israel). The climate change curriculum I teach includes scientific facts as well as the social movement and psychological impacts on ourselves. I am also one of the initiators of Teachers for Climate Israel which was started three years ago.


Ellen Hoffenberg-Serfaty is a retired American-Israeli, living in the northern Mediterranean; her main role is “Nana.”

For 45 years, she was a public service lawyer, leading human service/rights organizations, teaching special needs students and teachers. She is a volunteer coordinator for Israel Nature Authority, protecting sea turtles, providing citizen research and  beach cleanups. For many decades, she has been a meditation practitioner and teacher, and is now part of Upaya Socially Engaged Buddhists. She is a facilitator for the Work That Reconnects, for committees supporting facilitators, working on De-escalating Patterns of Harm revision, Anti-Oppression and book groups. She is a Volunteer  for the Charter for Compassion Education Institute and offers WTR online courses through https://charterforcompassion.org/how-to-become-an-activist 

                 See also #seaturtlediary  https://www.facebook.com/ellenserfaty

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