Monday, April 23, 2018

On JNF Makor Mission, the thrill of seeing Israel's desert come alive

By Rachel Sofaer

There's no better way to start the day than overlooking the beautiful cliffs of the Negev desert, and that's how the day began for a group of dedicated American Jews visiting Israel. The group was in southern Israel on Jewish National Fund's Makor Mission, spending five-days exploring JNF sites and Israel's peripheral communities. As the desert breeze danced through the air, the group of lay leaders from across America learned about the community of Arad. Makor members generously donate to JNF and inspire their communities at events and conferences to open up their wallets, and more importantly their hearts, to help Jewish National Fund continue to develop Israel.  

Throughout the day, participants heard about the projects under development in Arad and how JNF is directly aiding their success. They met with Michal Shrem, an Arad local who explained how her city has faced a stagnated population. Once children grow up, they typically migrate to the center of the country where there are increased economic and social opportunities. Shir Perlmuter from Green Horizons, a JNF partner organization that offers educational outdoor activities for youth, explained that to keep people in their hometowns, they need to see the beauty in their own backyard. However, development doesn't stem solely from appreciating and discovering local treasures. 

An overlook in Arad.
To attract new residents to retrain the south’s existing population, job opportunities are needed. In partnership with Cisco Israel, Jewish National Fund launched the NetGev Hi-Tech Hub initiative, a network providing affordable workspaces for local entrepreneurs, as well as practical, technical, and educational training in various fields that enable local residents to work in hi-tech sectors without having to relocate to the country's center.  

The vision of NetGev pairs neatly with that of Nisan Ben-Hamo, Arad's young and dynamic mayor, as he looks at local municipal development. Makor participants were inspired by the way Ben-Hamo described Arad's potential, which includes plans for an 8-acre park, 700 new apartments, a hotel, and clean energy. 

"A day like today is wonderful because back in the States we talk about Israel, its growth, and the importance of it, but here we are seeing the future," JNF Brooklyn President Sheryl Buchholtz said. "I've heard about Arad, and to now see it come alive with genuine plans and fundraising, it's wonderful."

Makor participants discussed various ideas about facilities to build or donate to throughout the visit, while also taking into consideration the needs of the local population and how they would be directly impacted. Their concern for Israelis was prevalent, in addition to their consideration for the future generations of Jews all over the world. "Everything we do really touches me; it really matters because with Jewish National Fund you can see the difference that you can make in your lifetime today," remarked Alyse Golden Berkeley, JNF's Los Angeles board president.  

For residents throughout the Negev, especially olim (new immigrants), the level of enthusiasm and purpose emanating from Arad is infectious. For the community of Arad, this came from a group of American visionaries, whose dedication and generosity continues to renew their sense of Zionism. 

As the members of Makor return home, they continue to feel full of energy and enthusiasm for what the future holds. "I'm looking forward to getting back to the United States to help with the process of developing communities," said Ad Schuster of Palm Beach, Florida. "Learning about all of the wonderful things they're doing in Arad is very helpful."


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