Being a Tanner—Discovering One of Biggest Secrets of Life

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Gera Tsalihin, proud ROIer since 2009, has worked for many years for the "Good Energy Initiative" and for "Tevel Btzedek," practicing, teaching and projecting practical sustainability. He lives in the Ella Valey in Israel.

The Micro Grant enabled me to go through three days of a traditional, natural (and long) process of creating a piece of material from an animal skin. I guess that's sounds primitive—and so it is, but it's also amazing to go hands-on in a process that has been in use for thousands of decades by humans, but is rapidly disappearing in favor of fast, unnatural methods that are also very toxic and polluting.

I feel much more connected to the cycle of life now, and I hope that that knowledge and understanding will help me practically with Tevel B’Tzedek work in Burundi, where many people are still engaged with tanning.
 
Living in a Moshav in rural Israel, dealing with organic waste management and renewable energy projects, sometimes going abroad for development projects, making great fertilizer from human manure. Nothing had prepared me for three days of hard work that ended with me barely being able to stand on my feet or move my muscles. But I had the goal in my hands: a piece of processed goat skin, ready to become a small bag, or any other useful material. 
 
For me, I like to turn garbage into something useful, give it another life. So, why not animals? In a country like Israel, skins, together with the dead animal, are considered garbage and taken to be dumped. 
 
Skins are the best source for making materials that will later turn out to be useful items for us. Nimrod Ayali from Yavniel (a Moshava next to the Kineret Lake) is one of 2-3 Isreali experts on that. He is a real "Halutz" (pioneer), making it all possible with his strong arms. 
 
All the products we used were natural—even the emulsifier oil, for softening the skin, was produced from the goat brain. I guess that kind of practice or ability isn't for everyone, but it makes one think about the cycle of life, to look at animals (and humans) a bit in a different way, and to discover one of the greatest and ancient human arts.
 
You would be surprised to know that the process isn't as stinky as it used to be characterized in Jewish folklore.
 
Now, as I mentioned, I am also hoping to use my understanding and small knowledge for Tevel’s new projects in Burundi, and some of my friends have already been told to give a quick call in case they come across a fresh dead animal. I need to challenge my knowledge.