In the very heart of hyper urban Tel Aviv, with its grit, its grime and its non-stop rush, a small movement is in bloom. It's called CityTree (Etz Ba'ir), and at its core are eight Tel Avivians committed to communal, sustainable life.
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CityTree's residents, who live together near Bialik Square in a fully-green, organic household, shun both capitalism and commercialism and eat only the most natural of foods.
“We believe that what’s good for the world is good for quality of life,” says Tami Avihail, 27, one of the residents. Avihail works as an occupational therapist and interior decorator, and is also – like her roommates – a vegan. "We eat the freshest food possible and abstain from animal products," she says. "Meat destroys the world. We don't eat bread either because it isn't nutritious in its current form."
For visitors entering the commune for the first time, the scene can be a bit jarring.
The kitchen is filled with jars where lentils, beans and various grains are sprouted. The soup dish at the side of the sink is made from lemon peels. In the center of the apartment sits a bin where worms compost, while in the living room there is furniture crafted from tree branches.
To maintain their super strict diets, the CityTree residents avoid all supermarkets. They grow a lot of their own food right here in the home, and the rest is purchased directly from organic farmers they know and trust.
Sustainability, they say, incorporates all areas of life. The commune has no television (“I prefer to get information from social media sites,” Avihail says), cellular telephones are frowned upon, and the clothing comes from the street or from second-hand shops.
The community takes its values from the permaculture method, which was founded in Australia in the 1970s and developed ideas about sustainable agriculture, which does not drain the earth’s resources or break the ecological balance. Barak Ben Hanan, a member of the executive board of Permaculture Israel, says that thousands of permaculture communities exist all over the world, and believes that it has 1,000 practitioners in Israel.
CityTree was founded by Tami Zori, 45, who discovered permaculture 20 years ago while seeking an intense change in her life. At the time, she seemed to have it all: She was a successful businesswoman with a partnership in an Internet job-placement firm and had spent eight years living large in New York City. But her health, and her spirits, were both lagging.
“I suffered from allergies and shortness of breath, and a friend of mine recommended that I stop eating dairy," Zori says. "My allergies went away in a few days. I threw away my inhaler. I realized that I was able to help myself, to see what worked. Later on, I stopped eating processed food entirely.”
Zori came back to Tel Aviv and founded CityTree, where she now lives. And when it comes to stocking the commune's kitchen, not even organic supermarkets are local or natural enough.
“It’s better to buy organic than non-organic food, but as I see it, if you don’t know who grew the food and how it’s grown, and if the money keeps on maintaining a sick economy, what have you accomplished?” she asks.
Q. What you mean by “a sick economy”?
“Money that a person pays to the supermarket reaches the owner of the corporation, who gets richer while continuing to employ cashiers under tough working conditions. The corporation owner doesn’t care about me or my health, but the farmer I work with cares about me.”
She says that the lifestyle is very frugal and that her dream is to establish a world “without money.” As far as her own money is concerned, she says, “I have no money. I have no pension. It’s all gone. But I’m not worried. I’m healthier and happier than ever and I’m supported by my community. I’m in favor of the abolition of money.”
Q. It’s impossible to live today without money. How do you support yourselves?
“We charge money for workshops and training that we give to individuals and organizations, such as municipalities, that want to learn about sustainability and urban ecology. The profits go to support the community. The capitalist system offers a single way of living. It says to us: ‘When you get the apartment, the refrigerator, then everything will be wonderful.’ I’m against that.”