March 20, 2010 in Features

Healing the Earth is his higher calling

Mary Stamp The Fig Tree
 
Courtesy of The Fig Tree photo

Robb Lowy enjoys the traditional shofar, a trumpetlike instrument used in Jewish religious services. Courtesy of The Fig Tree
(Full-size photo)

About the shofar

Traditionally, the shofar is blown publicly only three times a year: to welcome day one and day two of Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year in September or October – and one blast to announce the end of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement in September or October.

In ancient days at the Temple in Jerusalem, the shofar was used more frequently. It announced festivals, holidays and the new moon.

“Our sages say there is no commandment to blow the shofar, only to hear it,” Robb Lowy said. “One of our wise men, known as the Rambam, explained that blowing the shofar is a call to action – for sleepers to awaken and arise. It is a call to examine our behavior and become the best we can be.”

Lowy blows the shofar to help lead services at Congregation Beth Sholom in Richland. When in Spokane, Lowy attends Temple Beth Shalom, where he shares the Ba’al Tekiah – shofar blower – duties with Ron Grossman.

“Our shofars blend beautifully in harmony,” he said, noting that “when I am spiritually healthy, the blasts come out cleaner.”

In his career from identifying Superfund sites to working on Hanford nuclear waste cleanup, Robb Lowy knows the complexities of fulfilling his religious obligation to do his part to heal the world.

From that, as well as from blowing a shofar, (a Jewish instrument that makes a trumpetlike sound), he knows the obligations can be difficult to do, so he appreciated the opportunity to help build a well to supply water to a village in Rwanda.

“I’m in the heal-the-earth business – from developing clean water supplies for Native American pueblos with the U.S. Geological Survey, to cleaning contaminated soils for private industry, to identifying solutions for waste management to protect the Columbia River at Hanford,” he said.

With religious obligations integral to a life of faith, Lowy said that from the Jewish call to heal the earth and people comes Tzedaka – charity in Hebrew.

Through his life, he said that his understanding of Judaism has grown as he has participated in Reform and Conservative synagogue functions – while growing up on Long Island, during a two-year journey around the United States, and in his professional career in New Mexico and Washington.

Lowy, who divides his time between Spokane and Richland, started his own small business, TDP Roberts Corp., in 2000 to work as an environmental consultant throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Over his career, he has seen many kinds of hazardous, toxic, chemical and radioactive contamination – PCPs, PCBs, dioxin, gasoline spills, radioactive mining sites and uranium tailings.

“It is hard to reconcile that to clean one site, we may make a previously clean site dirty,” he observed.

Living outdoors or under field conditions for much of his career as a geologist and environmental engineer and living on a houseboat three days a week when he is in Richland, he appreciates nature. There he has the Columbia River is his “backyard” and the Bateman Island Wildlife Refuge is his “front yard.”

In 2008, he joined the Healing Hearts Northwest Project of UJAMAA-Medical Connections, a medical and public-health organization that organized Spokane doctors to travel to Rwanda six times to help rebuild the medical infrastructure destroyed in the 1994 genocide. He is UJAMAA’s only engineer.

In November, Lowy went to Rwanda with funds he raised to help build a well and distribution system to provide clean water for the village of Bwiza.

It took little money. He hired local villagers to dig a well downstream of an existing spring. Villagers no longer have to spend hours walking down a steep trail to slowly fill four-gallon containers with a cup from a trickling surface spring that is contaminated with fecal bacteria, worms and parasites from the soil. They no longer have to carry the water back up to their homes.

Lowy designed the project and paid $50 – $1 a day each for 10 village men for five days – to dig the well, glean well construction materials from nearby hills and install a rock-lined distribution pipe-in-channel to provide water on demand. The water flows at a rate so villagers can fill a four-gallon container in 10 minutes.

“That gives people more time to tend their fields, improve their agricultural plots, care for goat herds, and sustain their culture,” he said. “I have given them the gift of time. It’s up to them how they spend it.”

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