Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once a soldier in Iraq, now a JNF staffer: One man's story

During a tour of Camp Victory in Iraq, Matthew Gabe sits in a throne in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. 

By Matthew Gabe 

I'm a senior campaign executive with the Jewish National Fund in San Francisco. But this isn't the first time I've worked in the Jewish community. After practicing law for several years, I made a career change in 2006 and accepted a position with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In May of 2007, while working at AIPAC, and with less than two weeks notice, I was recalled to active duty with the United States Navy. I am proud to have served my country in Iraq as a Jewish soldier. I still keep my dog tags, which list my religion as Jewish, next to my bed.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Shamir Drilling Project: Making water flow from an ancient aquifer

Shamir Drilling Project
Photo: KKL-JNF

By Leiba Chaya David

Israel, located in one of the driest regions in the world, is in a perpetual state of water crisis.  Historically, water has often been a cause of great dispute -- as in the biblical case of Isaac and the Philistine shepherds arguing over well ownership. In the thousands of years since that particular conflict, water scarcity in the region has been exacerbated by rapidly growing populations, ambitious development plans, and prolonged periods of drought. The current annual deficit in Israel's renewable water resources is almost 131 billion gallons.

Though the picture seems grim, Israelis have an international reputation for pioneering innovative solutions to the water challenge. On a quiet hillside in the northeastern Galilee, for example, a group of hydrologists and farmers are reaching back into the past to guarantee a viable source of water for future generations. The Shamir project, a partnership between the Israeli government, the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights Water Associations, and Jewish National Fund’s Parsons Water Fund (through the generous donation of Dr. Evelyn G. Lipper and the EGL Charitable Foundation), is drawing unprecedented amounts of water from a 5,000-year-old (according to carbon dating) artesian aquifer.

Watershed moment: Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouin team on Negev water quality

Photo: Arava Center for Transboundary Water Management

Clive Lipchin (top) and Bart Johnsen-Harris knee and arm deep in sludge near Be’er Sheva.

By Clive Lipchin

In a time of ever-decreasing global water supply, Israel is working to ensure that its future water needs are secure. Responding to this mandate, the JNF Parsons Water Fund has partnered with the Center for Transboundary Water Management (CTWM) at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies to restore the Besor-Hebron-Be'er Sheva watershed, whose untreated wastewater directly affects JNF's Be'er Sheva River Park project.

A little earth science lesson: Watersheds are the areas of land where all of the water that runs under it or drains off it collects at the same place. The Besor-Hebron-Be’er Sheva watershed includes areas of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza (Sde Boker in the south, Hebron in the northeast, and Gaza in the west), ultimately draining into the Mediterranean Sea. Because it includes both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it is considered a transboundary watershed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Alternative Spring Break: Election Day spurs musings on democracy

JNF Alternative Spring Break
Working on beautifying a community garden in Haifa.  

By Ali Cohen, Alternative Spring Break Young Professionals chair

The second day of Jewish National Fund's Alternative Spring Break for Young Professionals was particularly special, as Israelis went to the polls. As we embarked on another meaningful day of volunteering, I reflected on the vibrancy of Israel's democracy and the vast diversity of opportunities, challenges, and visions for the future of this tiny, but beautiful and important country.

We spent our morning in one of Haifa's oldest neighborhoods, Bat Galim, working with a local resident on the beautification of his small, self-made community garden. We jumped right in after a brief introduction from the two main gardeners, Omer and Tzur, and for several hours, we removed overgrown weeds, prepared plots for summer crops, developed artwork, and planted herbs and fruit trees. We definitely broke a sweat, and by the time our service hours were over, the garden looked completely different than it did when we arrived. Omer and Tzur, who have been working for seven years to bring members of the community together in their once neglected space, were very grateful for our assistance and enthusiasm.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dramatic story of top-secret pre-state bullet factory headed to big screen

Filming The Secret Beneath the Hill
A film crew recaptures the dramatic story of the secret factory where more than 2 million bullets were manufactured. 

By June Glazer

One of the most dramatic chapters in the struggle to establish the state of Israel will soon be portrayed in a documentary, thanks to an American news reporter turned movie producer who recently filmed at the site where the story of a clandestine bullet factory unfolded 70 years ago. 

Laurel Fairworth, an Emmy-Award-winning television journalist based in Philadelphia, was inspired to re-create for posterity this little-known story of secrecy and heroism after visiting Israel for the first time two years ago. 

"My parents loved Israel, and before my mother passed away she made me promise to visit. Frankly, I had no desire to do so, but to fulfill my promise I went on a mega-mission with our Jewish Federation. Very simply, I was smitten," Fairworth said at the Ayalon Institute on the day filming for the documentary "The Secret Beneath the Hill" began there in March. "Ayalon Institute" was the code name for the clandestine underground munitions plant that today is a national museum.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More Alternative Spring Break: Students become sudden farmers

Enhancing the kitchen at Earth's Promise with mud. 
Participants in our second Alternative Spring Break trip of the season are off and exploring Israel while physically working the land. And they're having a ball! Read on for an update from Michael Newfield, a student at UMass Amherst. 

We have had quite an exciting first day over here in the homeland!

We kicked off our adventure at the Earth's Promise sustainable farm in Be'er Sheva, where we split up and participated in multiple projects to improve the well-being and sustainability of the the local community. In the blink of an eye, 42 college students transformed into farmers as we began preparing the unused plots of land for planting food.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Then and now: See the Western Galilee Visitors Center's speedy progress

Last August, JNF's inaugural Social Media Executive Committee traveled up north and spent time exploring the coastal city of Akko, including the site of what will be the JNF Western Galilee Visitors Center. What a difference seven months makes! From a 150-year-old building with crumbling walls, exposed pipes and a debris-strewn floor to one lined with beautiful stones that recall the city's ancient history... Check out the before-and-after pictures below.

Last summer on the mission: