Friday, June 23, 2017

Gratitude for lone soldier daughter's 'mom away from mom' in Israel

Adina, with her parents and NBN co-founder Tony Gelbart (second from left). 
By Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz

It was on August 17, 2015 that Adina, our youngest daughter, wearing a T-shirt that read Olim L'Tzahal (moving to Israel to join the army), boarded an El Al plane. Our hearts burst with pride as parents who raised her in a deeply Zionist environment. 

The words of Arik Einstein’s song "Uf Gozal Chatoch et Hashamayim" sounded like a bombastic awakening: 

“Fly away my little bird, cut the sky
Fly where ever you want
Just don’t forget there is an eagle in the sky
Be aware, fly away.”

And then it dawned on me. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book preview: 'Becoming Israeli,' 40 personal tales of making aliyah

Akiva Gersh, center, a teacher at JNF partner Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Photo cred: Joey Rushfield

Beloved AMHSI teacher Akiva Gersh has just released a new book, "Becoming Israeli: The Hysterical, Inspiring and Challenging Sides of Making Aliyah." Here, he shares his story and an excerpt from the book, which is now available on Amazon.

By Akiva Gersh

As a kid growing up in New York, Israel was really far away. As in off the map. Not only because Israel was in the Middle East and I was in America; it was far away in heart and mind as well. I paid no attention to Israel and the people around me never spoke about it. I can only recall obscure memories of Israel from my childhood, like images of Israeli soldiers flashing across the screen during the 6 o'clock news or my Hebrew school’s honorable, but unsuccessful, attempt to get us students to like falafel. 

Fast forward many years. I'm fresh out of college and come to Israel with a backpack on my back after having traveled through West Africa for two months. My arrival in Israel was the climax of a three-year journey searching for more spirituality and deeper meaning. I had already begun to discover new and inspiring sides of Judaism that were previously unknown to me but I knew Israel held important answers to many of my still-lingering questions. My plan was to find those answers and then return to America to continue the rest of my life.

But something happened. Immediately I felt something in Israel that I never felt anywhere in the world at any point in my life. 

I felt a deep sense of being home.

Monday, June 12, 2017

How to entice employees to Israel's Negev? A brainstorm in the desert

By Tamar Gil, director of resource and development at Tor HaMidbar

Think of high-quality HR, and maybe a large high-tech company or fancy corporate business come to mind. It’s unlikely you'll think of a midsize chemical company in Southern Israel. But Hugo Speyer, HR director at Chemada on the Gaza border, along with dozens of other human-resource professionals, is working to change that. 

That desire for change took the spotlight recently, as history was made in the Negev. More than 150 senior HR personnel and representatives from more than two dozen employment agencies came together for the Negev’s first ever conference for human-resource professionals May 22. Organized by The Lauder Employment Center-Tor HaMidbar and the Southern Manufacturers Union, the conference offered a unique opportunity to connect the main players in Negev employment, and fostered a discussion on how to best show job seekers the desirability of jobs in the Negev.   

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: From Israeli ice cream shop Buza, fresh fruit sorbet

Buza ice cream Israel

Ice cream shop Buza in Israel's Western Galilee has graced us with this delightful recipe for prickly pear or strawberry sorbet -- the flavor is up to you! 

Buza, the Arabic word for ice cream, is co-owned and operated by Alaa Sweetat, a local Muslim, and Adam Ziv, a Jew from Kibbutz Sasa. Their ice cream is Italian-inspired and produced from the finest ingredients, 100 percent natural. Their main store is located in the center of Maalot-Tarshicha, a Jewish-Arab town in the culturally diverse Western Galilee. Friends Sweetat and Ziv are models for co-existence. What brings people together if not ice cream?!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

JNF Women: 'JNF more than the tzedakah box,' says Lila Chertman

The author, center, on the JNFuture Volunteer Vacation trip. 
By Lila Chertman

I have a deep sense of gratitude to my parents for inculcating my brothers and I with a love for Judaism and Israel. They worked very hard to afford sending us to Jewish day school, camps, trips, you name it, to make sure we not only knew about the history of our people but felt it tug at our heartstrings in all aspects of our lives. By college I was getting involved with political advocacy on behalf of the US-Israel relationship, and throughout medical school and residency I carved out time to stay involved, whether by working as a cantorial soloist leading religious services, learning from inspirational Jewish leaders by reading their books, attending conferences, or bringing my favorites to teach my friends and colleagues at lunch-and-learns I organized. But traveling to Israel on different programs was always the highlight because it made everything tangible, and left me with a taste of wanting more.

JNF Women: For Maia Aron, a 'beshert' connection to JNF

By Maia Aron

JNF, like many things in my life, was beshert. Before I tell you about why JNF is so important to me, let me tell you a bit about myself. I was born in Paraguay. Half my family is in Israel, and the other half in Paraguay. Both sides escaped Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s and found refuge in South America. I am a commercial litigator at a firm called Kozyak Tropin in Miami, Florida. I am married to Alex, the love of my life.

Two years ago, JNF Miami board president Ron Kriss invited me to a JNF event. I went and loved what I saw, but didn’t see young professionals there. So I decided to get involved and do my part to help JNF and Israel. I wanted to add my voice, with JNF’s help and Ron’s leadership. I told Ron I would get JNFuture Miami restarted. So exactly two years ago, I got a small board together and became president of my JNFuture chapter, and we haven’t stopped since. Our JNFuture chapter is strong and we are continuing to grow. We are a pioneer chapter!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Watermelon margaritas inspired by Israel's Arava

It's Friday, the temperatures are climbing and it's time to celebrate the watermelon season in the Arava -- with a twist! The Arava desert is a region characterized by sharp climate changes, extreme topographical conditions, scarce water, and dramatic natural beauty. It's a key focus of JNF's Blueprint Negev initiative

Monday, May 15, 2017

Evangelical Christian student reflects on powerful JNF mission to Israel

The author in Israel, overlooking the Galilee. 
By Tremayne Smith

As a Southern African-American evangelical Christian who spent his formative years in church, my devotion to Judeo-Christian values is unbending. 

I hail from Salisbury, North Carolina. My identical twin brother and I were raised by a single mother. There was always an emphasis on and appreciation for the value of hard work. 

I attended East Carolina University for my undergraduate degrees in music education and political science. In my role as student body president of 28,000 students, my eyes were opened to the convoluted yet rewarding world politic. It was in the role of student body president that I began participating in the annual AIPAC conference as a delegate. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Super easy tahini from Israel, with a twist

Tahini with goat yogurt

Meshek Hefer
Edna and one of her beloved goats.
This week's recipe is as simple, yet as delicious, as can be. 

It comes from Edna Hefer of Meshek Hefer (Hefer Farm), a ranch located in Abirim in Israel's Western Galilee. The family-owned and family-run farm operates based on principles of self sufficiency, with very few hired employees, and guests pitching in by feeding and milking the farm animals. 

The farm has a dairy that makes goat milk products under the name Edna’s Cheeses. The cheese, along with other local goods such as olive oil, olives, and unique wines from nearby boutique wineries, can be purchased by taking it straight out of the refrigerator and putting money right into the register. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hear what KKL-JNF's forestry rep Johannes Guagnin told the UN

Johannes Guagnin at the United Nations
Guagnin with KKL-JNF's chief Israel emissary at the United Nations this week. 

Johannes Guagnin, coordinator of research and foreign relations in the forestry department of KKL-JNF, delivered the following remarks at the United Nation's Forum on Forests this week.  

At the outset, I would like to thank the chair and the members of the bureau for their leadership and for convening this session, as well as the secretariat for their invaluable work in preparation for and during this session of UNFF. 

This week, the State of Israel celebrates its 69th Independence Day. It is therefore truly fitting that as we celebrate the birth of our country, we are also here to discuss the future of forests, which give life to our planet and livelihood to so many of its inhabitants.

Friday, April 28, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Kubbeh soup, a dumpling delicacy

Our recipe this week is the creation of Shaul Levy, president of the Israeli Art Association. For the past few years, Shaul has collaborated with JNF to promote Israeli artists, primarily young adults and artists with special needs. A former CEO of a marketing consulting firm, Shaul stepped down five years ago to devote his time to keeping the Israeli art market alive, a move inspired in part as a reaction to the BDS movement. Shaul is devoted to help keep the Israeli art market alive. On the side, he loves to cook traditional food for Shabbat.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bike ride for Negev town of Yerucham blazes trail of desert delight

Riders Joel Reinstein, Geri Shatz and Vivian Wong in Yerucham Lake Park

By Bob Weiss, Yerucham Task Force member

We just completed the first ever Ride for Yerucham and we can’t wait to get started on next year’s event.

The ride from April 2-6, four days of off-road Negev spectacle and a blessed day of spa relaxation, was centered in Yerucham, which I would argue is the most interesting town in the Negev. Each night we stayed in the lovely Desert Iris Hotel, and biked out each day to a different place in the Negev. We were furnished with new mountain bikes and helmets, and had professional guides and support every mile of the way.

Friday, April 21, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Traditional shakshuka eggs with special spices

Photo: Christian Leue
This recipe of the week comes to us from La Boite, a biscuits and spice shop in New York City owned by Israeli chef and spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz. Lior and La Boite have gained international fame for mixing spices in a unique way and selling some of the world's rarest blends. Lior opened his culinary superstore after traveling and studying around the globe, and he dreams of establishing a cooking school in Israel's north along with JNF. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

As Passover ends, reflecting on a holiday for befriending others

The author, far right, immediately felt welcomed by JNFuture.

By Cheryl Becker, JNFuture New Jersey member  

In the beginning of the maggid section of the Haggadah, we invite anyone who's hungry to join our Passover seder. One might think this is referring just to poor people who can't afford to purchase food for Passover. But another interpretation is to invite anyone you know who needs companionship. So during Passover it's a mitzvah to give money to the poor and go out of your way to befriend others. Passover is a time to unite, because we are all part of the Jewish people. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

On Passover, the importance of including the invisible fifth son

The author and his son, who's teaching the family that every child has unique abilities.

By Yossi Kahana, director of JNF's Task Force on Disabilities

We open the Seder with an open door, "Ha Lachma Anya": inviting in the hungry, the needy, and the enslaved, offering up the matzah as part of our welcome, a beautiful message offered freely, and inclusively to all. Then we read about the four sons, each representing a different type, a cross section of the Jewish nation. What links the four together, despite their very different personalities and levels of observance, is the fact that they are all an intrinsic part of the Jewish people. At Pesach, we celebrate together with them, as they all join us at the Seder table.

But there is also a fifth son -- one not mentioned in the Haggadah, and not discussed at the Seder, because he is usually not sitting with everyone else.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

JNF Staff Spotlight on Roland Roth: 'My JNF moment happened 80 years ago'

What is my “JNF moment”? Is it possible it was planted 80 years ago?

I think so.

My name is Roland Roth and I am the director for Jewish National Fund in the Pacific Northwest, a territory that covers my home state of Washington, plus Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii. I have been in this position for almost two years and to say I love what I do, what we do, what JNF does… is an understatement.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A love letter to my JNF mission

Members of JNF's board of directors, including the author, on their recent mission to Israel. 

By Geri Shatz

A love letter to my JNF mission. Really? Yes, really.

I love to travel with you, even though you drive me crazy. You plan visits to the sites I want to see, but you act as if we'll never return and cram them in. You take me to the loveliest hotels and don't remind me of that when I complain about the shabbier ones. You begin my days so early I'm unprepared for the weather and end them taking me to communities in the dark. You're patient when I don't hear your instructions and intemperate when the bus driver doesn't.

You always give me too much to eat, but you never point out that no one forces me to eat all the chocolate. You talk too much and I tell you so. You remind me that I do the same. Luckily, you provide liquor when called for.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: King oyster mushroom pasta

Meet Esti and Uri Yaakobi of mushroom company פטריות פארן (Mushrooms of Paran). They are farmers from the Paran moshav in the Arava desert who decided to grow mushrooms, of all things! 

Their mushrooms are pure Israeli and a result of their entrepreneurial spirit, desire to produce something unique, and passion for farm-to-table dining. Among their mushrooms you'll find oyster, shiitake, king oyster, and lion mains, and you can also find dishes with their products at אורסולה בית קפה בערבה (Ursala Coffee and Pub in the Arava).

Enjoy this #RecipeOfTheWeek for king oyster mushroom pasta inspired by the Yaakobis and their interesting crops. If you make any of these recipes, be sure to send a photo of your creation to or tweet it to @JNFUSA with the hashtag #JNFfoodie. We might share it! 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

In the JNF kitchen: Beautiful strawberry-jam challah

This #RecipeOfTheWeek is brought to you by Anna Richlin, a wonderful member of the JNF family. Anna is a campaign executive for the Central New Jersey region, an area you can learn more about here. She's an expert challah baker sharing a sweet version for this week's Shabbat. See below for braiding tips as well! Recipe yields six medium challahs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Gefilte fish with citrus carrot and horseradish creams

Not your grandmother's gefilte fish! A creative specialty courtesy of Chef Meir Adoni.
Enjoy the last in our #RecipeOfTheWeek series featuring fantastic Israeli chefs on the itinerary of June's amazing JNF Culinary, Wine and Music Tour. Learn more about the cultural experience here

Chef Meir Adoni has been dubbed the leader of elite epicurism in Tel Aviv. The top-notch chef is driven by passion and innovation, owning three Tel Aviv restaurants: Catit, Mizlaia, and Blue Sky. He also directs and creates catered events, appears on television, lectures, writes books, and mentors others in the culinary world.

Chef Adoni was born in Eilat, the most southern town in Israel. He was raised with a Moroccan upbringing, and fuses his Moroccan grandmother's inspirations with modern Jewish cooking.

"As a chef, the first thing I bring to the table is tradition," he says. "I respect the original flavors and ingredients. Only then do I add my crazy interpretation, launching the dish off to new and uncharted territory." 

Friday, February 24, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: Stuffed grape leaves and zucchinis

This recipe for stuffed grape leaves and zucchinis, a classic Galilean dish, is brought to us by Paul Nirens of Galileat, which organizes unique cooking and hospitality experiences. Four or five variations of this recipe, reflecting differences between regions and home cooks in the Galilee, will appear in Nirens' new recipe book, the Galilean Kitchen. He is currently raising funds on Indiegogo for the project, which will showcase local, authentic dishes as well as the stories behind the women who create them, those who offer home-cooking classes as part of Galileat. Learn more about the book here.

How one home cooking business empowers Galilee women

Home cooking lessons from local women, thanks to Galileat. 

By Paul Nirens

Many people get up in the morning and sigh to themselves, not particularly enthusiastically, "Another day of work ahead of me." I get up and say, "Wow, I can’t wait for another day at work." That’s because over these past four years I’ve been lucky enough to run Galileat, which organizes unique cooking workshops, hospitality, and culinary experiences in the homes of my Druze, Muslim, Christian, and Bedouin neighbors here in the Galilee. I simply love what I do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Seeing proud IDF soldiers with disabilities give it everything they've got

Alan Wolk and wife Roni, left, along with Special in Uniform Director Tiran Attia and soldiers. 

Through services for those with special needsJNF works to ensure no member of Israeli society is left behind. During February, we join the Jewish community at large to mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Here,
some thoughts from the co-president of JNF Atlanta and chair of Special in Uniform's U.S. board of governors. 

By Alan Wolk 

We just returned from our third trip to Israel, and as usual, the experience was terrific. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the spirituality of Jerusalem, the breathtaking hilltop views in Haifa, and the artistic communities in the Golan. And we loved the food wherever we went. You can’t beat the chocolate babka from Israel! The rest of our trip was spent deep-diving into several Jewish National Fund programs near and dear to our hearts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Teacher takes lessons from LOTEM, which makes nature accessible

 Photo: Jack Roldan
Noah Arber, in the tie-dyed shirt. 
JNF works all year to ensure no member of Israeli society is left behind through services for those with disabilities and special needs. During February, we join with the Jewish community at-large to mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Join us in learning about this important and vital work for all Israelis.

By Noah Arber

Last year, I took vacation time from work to travel to Israel and volunteer for Jewish National Fund. While you may have donated money to JNF to help plant trees in Israel, you may not know JNF does so much more to help Israel develop. During my time there, I spent every day doing volunteer work with a group of peers from around the country, as well as visiting various JNF sites and seeing the impact JNF has had on the development of Israel.

Although each day of our trip was unique, the day that stuck out most to me was the first, when we were privileged enough to work with an organization called LOTEM: Making Nature Accessible. LOTEM is the only organization in Israel that provides nature activities to both adults and children with special needs. I have a background in special education and it's something I'm extremely passionate about, so naturally I was moved by working with this organization -- and by working with them in a country that means so much to me.