Waltzing with the watersheds | TheUnion.com

Waltzing with the watersheds

Eileen JoyceJoy Strauss sits in the office of the Yuba Watershed Council on Main Street in Nevada City Friday.
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In the newspaper business, you’re not supposed to tell readers that someone is interesting.

You’re supposed to use examples to show it.

So here goes: As a teen-ager, Joy Z. Strauss was a semi-professional ballet dancer in New York City, until a hip injury sidelined her.

At age 25, she was packing melons into crates on a kibbutz, one of the jobs Strauss held during a yearlong visit to Israel inspired partly by her father, an Auschwitz survivor who died when she was 5.

Fast-forward a few years and Strauss could be found happily hiking through the woods near Yellowstone National Park, doing a master’s thesis about the effects prescribed burns had on birds (with a pistol strapped to her belt in case of grizzly bear attack).

So Strauss has had an interesting life.

Now, her job is to get people interested in the Yuba Watershed Council, a little-known group born of grant money and prone to long daytime meetings.

Since October, Strauss has been coordinator of the nonprofit council, which has an upstairs office on Main Street above the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s pretty much a forum for all these different organizations that work to protect and restore the Yuba and Bear River watersheds,” she explained.

For example, the council holds a monthly meeting for volunteers and government officials who monitor water quality in Deer Creek, the Yuba River and the Bear River.

Strauss and her husband of six months, Evan Yisrael Strauss, moved to the San Juan Ridge because they had both visited the area before and decided it was the place they most wanted to live in California.

He’s a psychotherapist who works at Milhous Children’s Services, Inc.

“He’s wonderful, I love him tons,” Strauss said of her husband. The couple dated for six years after meeting through friends from Israel.

The Strausses are observant Jews who keep a kosher household and devoutly observe the Shabbat from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday for rest and worship, including not driving their vehicles or turning on electric lights.

Instead, the couple read the Torah and hike near their home.

“Oh my gosh, now that we’re both working, Shabbat is the best thing in the world,” Strauss said.

Neither Strauss nor her husband were brought up in devoutly religious households.

Strauss’ mother, a molecular biology professor at San Diego State University, converted to Judaism when she married Strauss’ father. But then he died early in Strauss’ life, and her mother wasn’t very familiar with Jewish traditions, not having grown up with them.

“I think part of my wanting to go to Israel … was to explore those Jewish roots,” said Strauss, who took intensive study courses in Judaism in Israel.

Strauss and the Yuba Watershed Council may soon take on a higher public profile.

She will coordinate public meetings about a South Yuba River management plan that could affect recreational use. The plan is under development by government agencies that have land along the river.

The council is funded almost entirely by a $142,000 grant from Calfed, the Bay Delta restoration effort.

Each week, The Union profiles one of your friends or neighbors. It might be the supermarket checker, the beer truck driver, or the fellow down the street with the green thumb. If you have ideas on someone you would like to read about, just give the newsroom a call at 273-9561.

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