Friday, January 23, 2015

Caravan for Democracy: Affecting change -- in hearts and minds

As you may have read on our blog, the JNF-sponsored Caravan for Democracy trip enables college students of all faiths to see, taste, and explore Israel firsthand. Here, a couple more participants of the recent 10-day mission recount their feelings upon seeing the Gaza border town of Sderot and encountering the magic of the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time. These students are an inspiration!

Witnessing 'defiant perseverance' 
By Sara David, Flagler College

We heard how civilians drive with their radios off and seat belts unbuckled to make every second count, and how parents must choose which of their children to grab during the 15 seconds they have to find shelter in case of an attack. Hearing these accounts poignantly humanized the strikes and casualties I had previously only known as numbers and statistics. 

Fortunately [the day we visited Sderot], there were no missile strikes and we did not hear any alarms. Instead, we heard the sound of construction as new commercial and residential buildings went up all around us in the distance. Despite the constant threat of an attack, the residents of Sderot are working to further develop and populate the area in defiant perseverance and Zionist spirit.

Photo: Will Baxley
In Sderot, Caravan for Democracy participants view drawings by kindergarten students that reflect rockets and the desire for peace so they can play with their Palestinian neighbors.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making nature accessible to all: Hear LOTEM on Voice of Israel radio!

Israel has the only ecological farm in the world that's fully accessible to the disabled, and it belongs to JNF partner LOTEM: Making Nature Accessible.

Alisa Bodner of LOTEM tells Voice of Israel's Judy Lash Balint how her organization is enabling tens of thousands of Israelis and visitors with special needs to enjoy the wonders of Israeli nature. Click HERE to listen!

A LOTEM group makes olive oil using an accessible olive press.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Building self-confidence on Israel's nature trails, one step at a time

Ben Freedman, Green Horizons
Ben Freedman. who's in the eleventh grade, is now a Green Horizons guide leading younger children on 
Israeli nature excursions. 

By Itai Freeman 

I'm a father to two teenage boys who are very active in Green Horizons, which teaches kids about Israel's history, geography, and culture through outdoor field trips -- Ron, who's in the the eighth grade, and Ben, who's in the eleventh grade. My wife Inbar and I have seen some remarkable changes in our boys, particularly Ben, and we attribute them to Green Horizons.

Ben participated in the training for young guides during the summer, a crazy time here in the western Negev due to the last Gaza war. It was truly amazing to see the Green Horizons team work together and not give up on the young guides training course, despite the fact that the organization's senior staff members were recruited for reserve duty in Gaza. Through these very challenging days, the course was successfully completed and kids and parents alike were very excited.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jewish veterans worldwide find a place of honor in Jerusalem

Paul Jeser is among the Jewish veterans honored at the Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill.  Most soldiers with names on
the wall come from the U.S., but some hail from from Poland, Bulgaria, Canada, and Israel.  

Paul Jeser served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1972, spending the last six months in Vietnam. "I am very proud of my time in the military, and even more so with the responsibilities I had in Vietnam -- working with the major drug detoxification center near Saigon. I was awarded the Bronze Star (awarded to soldiers who were in combat), although my wife believes that it wasn't the enemy shooting at my helicopter, but 'friendly fire.'" Having served as JNF's national campaign director and director of regional operations from 1990 to 1997, it was natural that Jeser hoped to be able to place a plaque on Jewish National Fund's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill, the site of one of bloodiest battles of the Six Day War and today a historical preservation, memorial, and tribute site

The Wall of Honor pays tribute to the heroism and courage of Jewish soldiers worldwide who, throughout history, have fought in defense of their countries in numbers far beyond their proportions to the general population. Donors can dedicate plaques for themselves or for loved ones through JNF, with proceeds going to develop and renovate the museum and battlegrounds and create a computerized datacenter, a library, an archive, an exhibition hall, and a center for assemblies and conferences.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Caravan for Democracy: 'So much meaning in almost every aspect of Israeli life'

Photo: Will Baxley 
Caravan for Democracy guide Leor turns Chase Baker, a junior at the University
of North Florida,  into a human map of Israel.
Thirty-two college students of all faiths who have never visited Israel before are currently there participating in the 10-day Caravan for Democracy. The educational experience for young leaders includes touring; meeting political, cultural, and community leaders; and exploring components of Israel's diverse society. Here are early reflections from Melanie Young, a senior in urban studies and urban education at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of a 2014 Women of Color at Penn award

By Melanie Young

Last night we arrived in Israel and were welcomed to the country by two Israelis, Leor and Iftah. Leor means "my light" and Iftah means "will open." I am learning very quickly that one can find so much meaning in almost every aspect of Israeli life. The names, the plants, the places all tell a story. The stories -- small, large, simple, and complex --- contribute to Israel's historical depth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: A disabled man's stunning breakthrough

Aleh Negev
Dvir's former home, Aleh Negev, where he found his voice.  
Rehabilitation facility Aleh Negev provides high-level medical and rehabilitative care to severely disabled adults and children, most of whom cannot speak. Dvir, a former resident, suffers from cerebral palsy and severe motor disabilities, and his weak control over the muscles in his mouth made it impossible to understand him when he talked. At Aleh Negev, a volunteer drama teacher worked with Dvir to teach him how to purse his lips and blow, working with candles and teaching him to play the harmonica. These continuous practices resulted in a major improvement in Dvir's ability to speak and communicate with those around him.

As soon as it became easier for people to understand what he was saying, Dvir -- who came to live at Aleh Negev at age 22 -- began to share his thoughts and feelings with the therapy staff. He revealed a rich inner world and an unimagined cognitive level. 

He told the staff that he wanted to move to another home where he could be with friends with others who can speak. He put his thoughts into a letter that he asked his therapist to type for him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: A new Napa Valley, tucked in the Galilee

gourmet dining in the Galilee
The Western Galilee, located in Israel's north, is becoming a destination for lovers of good food. Really good food.
Sometimes a miracle is about helping people experience the magic that already exists close to home. As part of the Jewish National Fund's Go North program, JNF is giving Israelis a reason to discover their own version of Napa Valley just a short drive from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

The Western Galilee, in the northern part of Israel, is nestled between Mount Meron and the Mediterranean Sea. Overflowing with history, culture, natural beauty, and stellar local produce, the region is a source of world-class wines, boutique cheeses, and gorgeous scenery. And it’s an easy day trip from just about anywhere in Israel.