By Ben Sales
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Yosef Abramowitz is running out of time.
With only minutes to go until he has to speak to a group of investors at the Jewish National Fund, Abramowitz looks like he just finished a workout. He’s wearing sneakers, shorts and a white T-shirt featuring an outline of David Ben-Gurion’s head superimposed on the picture of a sun.
He excuses himself from the table at a Tel Aviv cafe and jogs to the bathroom to change into his “costume,” which includes slacks and a clean, ironed shirt. Immediately after the meeting, he flies to the United States for a few weeks to court more investors.
Abramowitz, 48, is fundraising for the Arava Power Company, which aims ultimately to provide 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs through solar power. The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running in the Negev Desert, and is building a 40-megawatt field nearby.
It’s an unlikely mission for the Boston-raised Abramowitz: His background is in human rights activism and journalism, not science and technology.
“Isn’t that crazy? It’s the craziest thing,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to move to Israel and do solar.’”
But as he tells it, that’s more or less what happened.
After success as a college student in the 1980s fighting for imprisoned Soviet Jewry activists in Russia and against apartheid in South Africa, Abramowitz served in the Israeli Defense Forces and earned a graduate degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. Abramowitz, whose activism has rankled the organized Jewish world for years, then spent the 1990s and early 2000s writing for a handful of Jewish publications. His journalism career included writing a 1996 series of articles that called into question JNF’s finances.
In 2006, looking for a quiet lifestyle, he and his wife moved with their children – they have five, including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura, near Israel’s southern tip, where Abramowitz had volunteered following high school. The plan was to spend the year writing, but Abramowitz scrapped that almost immediately upon arriving at the kibbutz.
“We got there on Aug. 24 at end of the day, and this hot rush of air just hits you, and you go ‘Oh my God,’ and the sun is setting and it’s burning my skin,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.’ ”
It didn’t because no commercial solar power existed in Israel. Hoping to change that, Abramowitz partnered with businessmen Ed Hofland, who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, based in New Jersey, to found the Arava company.
Since then, Abramowitz laments the “100 regulatory battles” he says he’s had to fight against the Israeli government to build the 4.9-megawatt field, which began running last year, and to launch several other solar energy projects.
Officials from the Public Utilities Authority, which administers Israel’s energy infrastructure, did not respond to several calls for comment.