Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ecologically minded study abroad in Israel

For the 27 students in the junior class of North Carolina's American Hebrew Academy (AHA), spending time in even their Hod Hasharon dormitory bathrooms provided them with inspiration for environmental action at home.

Unaccustomed to turning off the water tap on and off during showers or tooth-brushing sessions, cartoons taped to their bathroom walls served as a helpful reminder.
"The issue of really saving water is really more felt here," said Miriam Roochvarg, of Charlotte, North Carolina, one of six 16-year-old students who sat down with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "It's by being here and learning about these things that we can try to spread back home the importance of saving water."

The students are finishing up their 10-week junior year study abroad period in Israel, a program that their home school in Greensboro, North Carolina, mandates. A pluralistic campus with an environmental focus, AHA is the only Jewish day school in the United States to have received governmental Green Ribbon certification for its environmental conscientiousness. The school's founder, Maurice "Chico" Sabbah, was an agronomist and environmentalist who formerly lived on a kibbutz in Israel and practiced environmental activism there, according to the school. Students come from all over the world to attend AHA, and Mesfin Hodes said that his parents sent him all the way from Ethiopia to receive a Jewish education there.

At home on the 11-year-old southern US campus, the students have organized their own Green Team, which is dedicated to community service and environmentalism, while the school's kitchen buys as much locally sourced food as possible to save on carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, the students have access to composting facilities and waste separation at source in the dining hall, as well as recycling facilities campus-wide, school information materials the school said. Students have the option to take an Advanced Placement Environmental Science course, and they plant trees on the school's grounds every Tu Bishvat.

"We have recycling bins all over the place, including right where we put our trays up in the cafeteria," Roochvarg said.

In addition to the environmental opportunities that the school provides to its students, AHA is also home to one of the largest geothermal energy systems in the world - a water-sourced system that is used to heat and cool 440,000 square feet (about 40,900 square meters) in 29 buildings, but has the capacity for 700,000 square feet (some 65,000 square meters), the school said. The system, which was installed at the school's opening in 2001, is expected to pay for itself by Spring 2013.

"We built an environmentally sensitive campus because that is what Jews should do," said AHA principal Dr. Gary Grandon. "We use geothermal heat exchange because it is the lowest impact form of energy exchange available. We use electric vehicles and support a pedestrian campus for the same reasons. As it turns out these approaches also save large amounts of money over the long run.
During their time in Israel, the students live and study at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, which is on a larger educational campus shared with a Hebrew boarding school called the Mossensohn Youth Village. In the past, students have visited ORMAT, an Israeli company focusing on geothermal energy, and this year, the students were able to spend a weekend seeing environmental innovation in the Arava desert. Most years - including this one - the AHA group participates in the Yam L'Yam hike from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to the Mediterranean Sea.

"We are really lucky to experience the ideas that are started here - that's what AHA is trying to do," said Julia Sagerdahl of Greensboro.

"It's really helpful for us if we bring back some of the things we learn here back to our school."

On the grounds of the youth village, experimental biological filtration ponds are being used to purify gray water, water from sinks and showers that can be cleaned for reuse. After seeing and learning about gray water, Roochvarg said she is determined to implement a similar system at AHA and will be speaking to their administrators about it.

"If you can collect water and use it for free, then why not use that instead of city water," added Matthew Menghert of Greensboro.

Another initiative on the Mossensohn campus that the students found impressive was the vegetation being grown on the sides of many buildings, which slashes the need for air conditioning and heat by providing natural insulation, according to Ross Abramson, originally from Princeton, New Jersey.

"I want to try to bring back some of these things to AHA," Abramson said. "The cool thing about AHA is that it's not just a select group of students who want to change things - everybody want to join."

Not only did their time in Israel expand their environmental horizons, but it also has caused several of the students to reconsider their future plans. Sagerdahl said that she could definitely see herself living in the country, and is looking into gapyear study options before attending university. Meanwhile, Yuval Ely, who was actually born in Israel but whose family now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is no longer reluctant about army service: "I decided I'm going to the army."

On Thursday, the students will finish their 10-week session in Israel, but not without first planting trees near Jerusalem, according to Sagerdahl. This end to their trip is particularly special to the students, as each year they plant trees at their own school, they said.

"Now we have the opportunity to use our hands and put the trees down," Roochvarg added.

As far as water-saving in Israel goes, the students noticed that "it's a lot of small things" that everyone must do to contribute to the overall conservation effort, according to Menghert.

"We literally changed our faucets so that you could easily get the water heated," said David Mitchell, dean of education at Alexander Muss, who called the students "a lovely group."

"Even the toilets [in Israel] have different options," Menghert said.

"After millions of uses of a toilet, that really amounts to something. If you were to do that in America I can only imagine how much we'd save."

This article is taken from the 11/21/12 edition of the Jerusalem Post

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Israel at 65!

Now is our chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Israel following this difficult period.  

Please join JNF this spring for the Israel at 65 mission!  

Take part as Jewish communities from around the world honor Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day

Celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s national Independence Day, in the heart of Jerusalem with Israelis - a one-of-a-kind experience

Attend the famous opening ceremony at Mt. Herzl that marks the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut

Experience JNF’s important work first-hand and meet the Israelis whose lives are being impacted

Visit an AFB base for an exclusive tour with soldiers and learn about daily life

Witness the transformation of the Negev and Galilee and learn what the future holds for these regions

Spend Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel and experience the spirit of Jerusalem

Explore the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv

Visit major historic and cultural sites throughout Israel such as Independence Hall, the Ayalon Institute and Ammunition Hill

Meet high-ranking officials, experts and leaders and get a behind-the-scenes look at Israel’s history and future

Proud to be part of the JNF family

Dear friends,

Now that all the kids are safely back home, I can sit and write you how amazing your gift was and say a huge THANK YOU!!!!

When Alon asked us to do what ever we can to help the kids in the south, we didn't know how complicated it would be.
Many people were scared that their kids will go on a bus and drive throw the fire zone. More then that, after the rockets over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv -no were looked safe to send the kids.  Even when we found families that are willing to let the kid come to the fun camp,the collecting regulations and getting out of the fire zone were very harsh and difficult.  At the end, we succeeded in less than two days to collect 200 kids and families in needs from Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Beer Sheva, Gan Yavne and Ashkol for 3 days in Jerusalem.

Every group had its own special needs and the feedback was amazing! The social worker from Kryat Malachi told me that those 3 days made a change she couldn't have made in a year of processing with those families. Even when my husband came to shoot the activity for a short film, dozens of girls from Sderot religious school jumped on him and asked him to film them saying thank you to JNF.

It was incredible to see how thankful and happy everybody were !!!!!  It was even surprising to see how people, that have nothing to do with activities like Green Horizons, were enthusiastic and connected to the activities that Jerusalem's Green Horizons  organized for them and enjoyed sitting next to the bonfire and having outdoor activities. 

I must admit that this was a very special mission for me as a fund raiser because I knew where the money comes from and JNF's donors had faces in my head. I felt the need to choose how to spend the money in a way it will do the most to those people in minimal price.  It may sound silly, but I even preferred to buy products in the super market and cut vegetables in one of the days so I could save hundreds of shakels on expensive sandwiches for lunch :)  I was happy to know that JNF trusts us to spend the money wisely so we can do the most with it.

I want to say BIG thank you to Michal and Shorashim staff-they were wonderful and really helped me in all the logistical aspects and made this crazy operation work smoothly as possible!  Neot Kedumim and Ayalon Institute were willing in a day notice to host us for free and make the trip fun and educational.  I was very thankful when the City Of David and Israel Museum also offered to host all of our kids for free .

Personally I am extremely proud of being part of the JNF family and thank you for allowing us to make things really happen!!!

Karmit Arbel Rumbak
JNF- Green Horizons Liason
Green Horizons

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Tuesday - today a matching gift!


After Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving
And Two Days of Deals - Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Comes a Day to Give Back - #GivingTuesday

Your gift to Jewish National Fund on #GivingTuesday will be matched by the generous contribution of The Gene and Marlene Epstein Humanitarian Fund, so make your gifts today and let your voice be heard in Israel!

JNF enhances the quality of life to all of Israel's residents, including:
• Providing emergency relief during times of crisis
• Greening the desert with millions of trees
• Bolstering Israel's water supply
• Creating new communities in the Negev for generations of Israelis to call home
• Building thousands of parks
• Educating both young and old about the importance of Zionism and Israel today

DONATE NOW and double your impact, TODAY ONLY:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Things you can only see from there....

Things you can only see from there…

I saw reserve soldiers, family men who just finished two weeks of exhausting reserve duty, receive a “change of mission” and go south.

I saw a large and impressive military unit quietly, confidently and in record time get efficiently organized and change directions from north to south.

I saw the Nachal Brigade’s excellent field commanders learn the missions and stand at the head of their units, willing and able to receive any and every command; I saw the time being utilized for another training session, another exercise, deeper learning of the maps and intelligence.

I saw how confidence was implanted in the soldiers.

I saw the military might advance southward on tank transporters and armored personnel carriers, being confidently driven by reservists, some of whom have long since passed the age of 50. Fearless, in an area constantly bombarded by rockets, these vehicles spread out ready and equipped with their barrels pointing south – threatening the hornet’s nest. 

I saw the munitions experts move from weapon to weapon and efficiently check that each one is ready for action; I saw the logistics soldiers readying the equipment and making sure nothing was missing.

I saw the communications people making sure every piece was working – again and again, the intelligence personnel studying the territory.

I met residents of the South - welcoming, smiling, supporting us and caring for anything we were missing. One of my fellow officers went to a small coffee shop in Netivot and ordered 5 cups of coffee, the owner made them and quietly said – I’m only charging you for the milk.

I saw a Regiment Commander and a Deputy Brigade Commander whose children were born during the Operation (Mazal Tov), and except for a quick visit at home didn’t stop fulfilling their duties for a minute.

I saw the soldiers of the Nachal Brigade – Ashkenazy and Sephardic, new immigrants, city-born and country-born, from the moshav and from the kibbutz – stand equipped and ready for any command. These are our soldiers – my brothers!

I saw them roar and cheer with appreciation for the “Iron Dome” system with every successful interception over our heads!!

I heard my wife, children and family on the phone, worried but filling me with a sense of security – these are my real heroes!

I saw my team, excellent officers and soldiers attacking every mission and fulfilling it quickly and efficiently – I’m proud of you!!

So until next time, I want to say to everyone – we have an excellent brigade, commanders of the best I’ve ever seen and readiness for whatever may come their way.

I’ve returned home – the rain is washing everything, wonderful! Maybe the rain will purify the air, cleanse the rivalry and settle the disputes. 

If not, we are here – ready for any command!

Major (Reserve service)
Lavi Zamir 

Be part of the miracle!

Welcome to the Jewish National Fund blog.  We are glad you found your way here.  Maybe you are thinking, "Jewish National Fund - isn't that the tree organization?  I remember getting a bunch of 'tree certificates' when I had my bar mitzvah.  Maybe some day I should go to Israel and visit 'my tree'." 

Here is the truth - Jewish National Fund is not the tree organization, though planting trees is one of the many, many things that JNF does.  And, I am sorry that we actually won't be able to locate your exact tree!  Your "tree" was indeed planted -  but it was one of millions of trees planted in the year of your bar or bat mitzvah alone.  It is growing alongside all of the other generously donated trees from all over the world - planted for births, wedding, bar mitzvahs, bris and baby namings, and in memory of loved ones from all walks of life.  Even if you can't find "your tree", you should feel proud about it and come visit Israel's forests.  They are beautiful.  While you are at it, you should visit Israel's deserts, cities, oceans, parks, and communities and see just how much JNF touches all of those things!

While we have a very dynamic website, emails updates, Facebook pages, and a quarterly publication called "B'Yachad", we decided it was time to start a blog - so you can check in with us and know what's happening in real time.

So, if we aren't the tree organization, who are we?

JNF is the community building organization - we are building communities from the ground up all over Israel.  We are using the ample space still undeveloped to make sure that there is more room for Israelis to settle in, that there is affordable housing for them to live in, that there are jobs, and schools, and daycare facilities, and roads, and medical clinics and everything else you can think of to ensure a safe and secure lifestyle for those who cannot or do not want to live in the center of Israel.  Our focus is on building the periphery of Israel - from the far north to the very southern tip.

JNF is the environmental organization - We are funding cutting edge sustainable agriculture methods, and promoting cross border clean air, land and water efforts - JNF is the premier Israeli environmental organization.

We are supporting places like the Arava Institute - where Israelis study alongside Palestinians and Jordanians to find solutions to regional environmental challenges that affect all three peoples.

JNF is the water organization - Drought is a very serious matter in the Middle East.  JNF has pioneered innovative solutions to stretch Israel’s water supply, leading to a 12% increase in the water economy - from investing in new water saving techniques and solutions, to river rehabilitation, to building reservoirs,

JNF is the security organization - We are engaged in the building secure roads through hostile areas so that commuters and schoolchildren can get safely to work and the classrooms each day.  We built a 21,000 square foot, state of the art indoor playground in the Gaza border town of Sderot to keep children safe and out of harms way while they play.  We are also raising money for the Friends of Israel Firefighters - purchasing necessary firetrucks and other emergency response vehicles and equipment for firestations throughout Israel.

JNF is the research and development organization -  working with other academic and scientific institutions both in Israel and abroad, JNF funds research that turns salt water into sweet fruit, grows tomatoes and peppers without soil, and makes the desert bloom.

And, JNF is also the Israel travel organization - with missions and trips to Israel leaving throughout the year and catering to all types of people, interests, tastes and ages, Jewish National Fund is the organization ensuring a fabulous trip to all of our participants.  While we won't be able to help you find "your tree" exactly, we encourage you to come with us to Israel to visit the forests that are made up of all of our trees.

Keep checking back here and learn more about the people, communities, regions and lives that are being changed every day by JNF.  Be part of the miracle!


I work for the firefighters!

My three boys think I have the coolest job.  No, I'm not a firefighter but I work for the Israeli fire fighters - a JNF partner here in Israel. We work to make sure that the firefighters have the best equipment, the best most modern trucks, the finest programs that could be offered, and I love every single second of it. 

Last year JNF-FIF started an amazing program - a special program targeted especially for the young fire scouts. The Fire Scouts Program was established in 1959 by Israel's Fire and Rescue Services. The program gives high school students the opportunity to fulfill their community service requirements by volunteering at their local fire stations. The new JNF-FIF transformative program instills in its participants the value of helping others, shaping them into better citizens and better people. Volunteers learn that they are responsible not just for themselves but for their entire crew, their family at the fire station, and the residents of their community. They experience success and failure and understand what it means to be part of a team. Personal pride and motivation are stressed and every scout feels important. Working on this program, developing it and shaping it into something that truly makes a difference in these kids lives has been something that will stay with me for a long time. The most amazing moment last year was seeing all 350 kids from the program dressed in uniform that we bought them all with their new logo as well as the JNF logo - standing together at Neot Kedumim, planting trees. The sense of pride that these kids had and to see just how incredible they all look together was something wonderful. 

I always hoped I would work at something that would make me happy. This program did just that. So when I walk around with the sweatshirt that we bought the kids and people look at me and ask are you a fire fighter? I say no...  but I work for them.

Yael Levontin lives and works in Israel and is the JNF liason to the Friends of Israel Firefighters

Thursday, November 22, 2012

LOTEM - Special activities for those with special needs

 Dear all,

I wanted to update you on the amazing activities enjoyed today by residents of southern Israel and guided by LOTEM, thanks to our help from the JNF. 

Four groups of children, adolescents and adults from special-education backgrounds, residing in the South, went on outings guided by LOTEM staff, finally getting a chance to get away from the battle zone. 

Kedma Youth Village for boys and girls at risk, situated in the Yoav Regional Council, is home to adolescents aged 14-18, defined as ‘juvenile delinquents’. The youth village is the last stop before a penal institution, and provides the possibility of rehabilitation and return to the community. The youth village was closed a week ago, at the start of the battles. While the youth who have a home to return to went home, those whose families are defined by the administrative authority as “unable to contain or sustain the adolescents” were transferred to temporary residence at Neve Amiel Youth Village in the north of Israel.

Today, thanks to the JNF, we were able to take this group out on a day of repose at Nachal HaShofet and Emek HaShalom. The group hiked around the river, let off energy, enjoyed the open spaces, prepared pita bread over the bonfire at Emek HaShalom, and experienced a calm, fun day out at nature.

Beit Omer Hostel from Ashdod and Beit Gaya Hostel from Ashkelon also went out on a daytrip with LOTEM’s professional guides, in Jerusalem. These groups consisted of adolescent men and women, aged 12-18, who suffer mental disabilities and reside at the hostels due to their families’ inability to take proper care of them. The groups toured Nachla’ot neighborhood and Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, and enjoyed a relaxed day, accompanied by guiding well adapted to their needs.

Finally, a group of women and children from the Be’er Sheva battered women shelter go on an outing. This group consisted of twenty women, along with their children, aged 3-12, who took refuge at the shelter from personal experiences of violent homes – only to encounter statewide violence and tension. These women craved to get away from the cramped shelters for a day of repose, and today toured Canada Park and Ein Hemed Park, enjoying every minute of tranquility at nature. 

Next week three more groups will participate in repose activities. I’ll be sure to send more pictures and updates as the week progresses. 

In addition, it’s important for me to share that following JNF’s engagement in the program, other organizations, in Israel and abroad, also joined in assisting and funding our project. These include private donors, lending their time and volunteering to accompany the tours as escorts, bus companies that donated transport days, a catering company that donated refreshments, and the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, that donated four more days of activity for “the day after the war ends”.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Alon Badihi who helped us to get the funding to this project and each and every one of you for your help and support to LOTEM, in these difficult days. We are proud to help the special populations of southern Israel however much we can. 

Hoping for continued peace and quiet, throughout the country,

Rotem and the entire LOTEM team.

A Day on the Front Lines

Today I had the tremendous privilege of standing literally on the front lines with our brothers and sisters in Israel. I arrived in Israel last evening to participate as a delegate from the National Council of Young Israel on an emergency mission to Israel sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America.

I just returned to Jerusalem after a fourteen hour suspense-filled day that included briefings on the Gaza border and a visit to the bomb shelters of Sderot.

Today's itinerary was spearheaded by Rabbi Heshy Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, who was praised by the IDF, JNF and political leadership for his tremendous dedication to the effected Israeli communities.

Our day began at 8am with a government briefing in Jerusalem from Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, Minister Neeman thanked the delegation of rabbinic and lay leadership from the United States for its steadfast support for Israel and the Jewish people.

At this critical juncture in Israel's history, Minister Neeman praised the unity and morale of the Jewish people in its support of the residents of southern Israel. Looking at the miracles of our time, he said that the Jewish people should be reciting the Al Hanissim everyday, not just on Purim and Chanukah, and he closed his remarks by stating that the life insurance policy for our people is our faith in Hashem and in Torah study.

We next received a military briefing from a senior officer of the IDF, explaining to us the nature of the conflict with Hamas and the landscape of the Gaza Strip as it pertains to Israeli cities and towns. He emphasized the "extreme shock" of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership regarding the success of the IDF. There was discussion of the need to control and prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from the Sinai and how the Iron Dome system has been a "game changer" in the conflict.

Next, the delegation boarded buses and traveled to the Gaza border. On the way, there was a Code Red alert of incoming rocket fire, prompting us to leave the buses and seek cover on the side of the road.

We arrived at the Gaza border, surrounded by thousands of IDF reserve and active duty units, with tanks and infantry soldiers ready to enter Gaza. We were briefed by a General Officer, who told us that the IDF was ready to fulfill its mission and only awaited a political decision regarding initiating a ground operation.

The environment was intense, with the possibility of the ground invasion commencing at a moment's notice. Tanks could be seen firing shells in the direction of Gaza.

An Iron Dome battery sat a short distance away from us, ready to respond to incoming rockets. Three Kassam rockets were then fired from Gaza, visible to us and heading in the direction of Ashkelon.

We then drove to Sderot, where the mayor greeted us and spoke of the achdus of our people. He spoke of the bravery of the residents of Sderot and the other southern communities, who have persevered for years from intermittent rocket attacks.

We met with the children of Sderot at their indoor playground, the largest in Israel. We learned that every facet of the playground, constructed by the JNF, had to accommodate the need to get to the bomb shelter portion of the building within 15 seconds of an alert. Thus, the rock climbing wall could only be of a modified height and a planned merry- go-round had to be scratched because it takes too long to stop it in the event of an attack.

While the town streets of Sderot were silent and eerily empty, the hundreds of residents we met and spoke with demonstrated to us the incredible resolve of our people.

We then traveled to Soroka University Medical Center in Beer Sheva, where ambulances were literally pulling up to the emergency room with wounded soldiers from incoming Kassam attacks in the area. The deputy mayor of Beer Sheva greeted us at the hospital and explained the tremendous danger to the residents of southern Israel.

We visited wounded soldiers, civilians and their families in the hospital intensive care unit, offering words of chizuk and misheberach prayers for the injured.

Two of the soldiers, blinded by an anti-tank rocket attack on their jeep, intoned "Amen" upon our prayer for their full refuah. Tears flowed from their family members and from the delegates.

We boarded the buses at 8:00pm, to then see on our television monitor an announced cease fire, effective at 9:00pm Israel time.

As I sit quietly back in Jerusalem and take stock of the day I've just witnessed first hand, the only thought that comes to my mind is Mi K'Amcha Yisrael.

What an honor to be a part of the Jewish people, in Eretz HaKedosha, as we go from strength to strength.

Charles Miller

Final Update from Ariel

Dear friends,

I hope this email finds you well. 

We are all filled with very mixed feeling and emotions. So many question marks..... 

The last couple of days were anything but normal. I mean that we "got so used to" the crazy situation that we live in, that it felt normal to hear the sirens. How crazy is that? We pretended everything was ok and just had to cope with 4-5 sirens a day. 

Yesterday I went down south with a group of American rabbis from all across the USA. Rabbis from NJ, Atlanta, Chicago, LA etc. as we were driving the sirens went off. Immediately we all ran as far away as we could from the minibus and laid on the ground. Our first stop was the IDF staging area. We met with a Brigadier General who is in charge of the lives of 20,000 soldiers and another 20,000 reserve soldiers. He told us about their readiness to go in and "fix" the situation. About the high morale of our brave soldiers and about the fact that the IDF is an army inside a state and not a state inside the army. He conveyed by saying this that we are a democracy, and the army gets its orders from the goverment and only then will it fulfill the mission. It amazed us to see how the army was thanking us, the American community, for our support, for standing with Israel and they asked us to continue to make our voices heard. 

We then went to see an iron dome installation near Sderot and while there witnessed 3 rockets fired from Gaza at the city of Ashkelon. 

Then we went to the JNF Sderot indoor playground and met with mayor of Sderot David Booskila. The place was packed. Children, mothers, babies and some unusual guests- IDF soldiers who were helping, and some who just came to rest for a couple of hours. We served dinner to more then 300 of them. The most astounding fact was that we learned that in only three years of operation, the JNF Sderot indoor playground has given 184,000 children the opportunity to smile and just be children. 

We then drove to the capital of the Negev, Beer Sheva, to the Soroka hospital. As we pulled in, we were greeted by the deputy mayor and right then 2 ambulances pulled in with 5 wounded soldiers. We entered the hospital and went to visit the injured. We visited the 2 soldiers from the jeep attack last week. One of the soldiers had lost his eye sight andt he second one may regain sight in one eye. The most emotional part for me was visiting our fire fighter Shimon Zagury (picture attached), who is thank G-d out of danger, and who can't wait to get back to his unit. I promised him that his JNF family in Israel and the US is here for him if there's anything he needs. Instead of encouraging him- he started to thank us, to tell us to continue. He said that it doesn't matter how far away we may be, we are out there fighting the battles with him and he appreciates it. 

As we were leaving Beer Sheva 50 minutes before the cease fire took effect the sirens went off and again we ran off the bus and laid down on the ground. I guess that was the only ground operation Israel took during this battle...

The only good part of this war, is that it brought us all together. It reminded us that even though Israel is almost 65 years old, we still face major challenges. It reminded me that even though I was born in to the fact that Israel was always there, and Jerualem was united before I was born, that there are no guarantees that will always stay the same. 

Most improbably it showed that we are a country of 15 million citizens, half which live in Israel and half that live half way around the world. 

There is a lesson of freedom for us to all to take from the "pillar of cloud". A message that "am Yisrael" must stay united and strong and remember our past and present in order to secure a strong future for Israel. 

Thank you for everything and keep up the good work. I'm afraid this is not the final episode of the battles of the state of Israel.

Ranit & Ariel
Chaim, Ayelet and Eitan 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Soldiers relax in Sderot

300 IDF soldiers were treated to rest, games, relaxation and a great dinner at our Sderot Indoor Recreation Center tonight. Russell Robinson, JNF CEO, was asked to call in and say a few words to the group. As he started to speak the clapping became so loud, that he had to move the phone away from his ear. Russell thanked them for all that they do to protect the land and people of Israel, but they drowned him out again, thankful for all that JNF does and for making them feel they are not alone. 

Reflections: Coming home

The final post from Bob Witkow upon his arrival back in Denver last night.

 Update from Englewood, CO:

I arrived home this afternoon; greeted at DIA by Sara Witkow and one of her "squeeze the goop out of me hugs".

While it feels great to be home a big piece of my heart is with friends, colleagues and the entire State of Israel.

This morning, the taxi driver taking me to Ben Gurion Airport was lamenting on the loss of business many Israeli's working in the tourism and service industries are facing. My hotel was only 1/3 full the past few days so it was easy to see his point.

So, in addition to making contributions to JNF and AFMDA as I've suggested in prior posts, think hard about planning a trip to Israel, and sooner rather than later.

Central Arava Pillar of solidarity

Dear Friends,

It is in difficult times that we remember that the strength of our people comes from the unbreakable bond and brotherhood amongst all Israelis and between the people of Israel and the Jewish communities in in the Diaspora.

It is in times like these that we acknowledge the true meaning of partnership and friendship and witness the realization of " All Jews are responsible for one another".

Sadly, in the present days, living in the most peripheral area in Israel has some advantages.. Being relatively far from the fire zone, it is our community's duty to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the fire zone all around the south and offer our help.

The Central Arava community has began, with the generous help of JNF and the Jewish Agency to reach out and call upon families to come and stay in the Arava.
As of last week many families from the fire zone have arrived at the Arava and were adopted by the local families from the entire Central Arava community and many more families are arriving at the Arava every day.

This week we will be hosting more than 180 children for several days, offering them some time out from the stressful routine of their lives in the past 10 days.

The Central Arava children, led by the the council, the Arava community center and all the youth groups and educational movements like Central Arava R&D, Lotan's way and the cadets of the Arava pre army program, have  partnered together in order to host the children and entertain them. in addition we will have the privilege of offering some 70 students from "Haogen" community boarding school for youth at risk, a day of educational and fun activities.

We want to thank you all for your support and for enabling us to help others, this is the meaning of a true partnership. when good will meets good people, good things happened.

Our thought and prayers are with the brave people in the fire zone. we pray that peace will soon descend upon us.


Noa Zer
on behalf of the Central Arava Community

Update from Aleh Negev

An Update from Yossi Kahana, Aleh Negev's Director of Development

"I spoke with Masada the director of Aleh Negev; the situation is very hard for the residents here, since they don't understand what is going on.  It is impossible to explain to them why they must enter these shelters, why they are not following their usual routines that are so vital to their tranquility... All we can do is just take care of them and offer as much love as possible, and do everything to ensure that they will feel safe and calm."

The photos attached will tell you the story.

Thank you JNF donors

To the dear and generous donors of JNF-America,

Just as I began writing this letter, a siren went off, once again throwing routine out the window... 
So after grabbing my baby and running to the bomb shelter, sitting there and praying that the rest of my children are safe in their school and kindergartens, I am finally back to write this letter of thanks.
Your generous donations have allowed myself and my familyas well as hundreds of other familiesto have a few hours of peace, a few hours without wondering when the next siren will pull us out of our routine, a few hours of feeling calm and serene in an otherwise anxious time. 
We try to be strong for our children, but of course even us grown-ups fear the unknown and even more so with our children's precious lives at stake.  No words can really express our gratitude, for no words can express the constant anxiety that you have alleviated usfrom through your generous donations. 
May you always be blessed and be able to give to others. 
Thank you from all of us, 
Gadi and Efrat Last and the children of course

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Commit 2013

When Israel is in the midst of unrest, her people suffer in many ways.  One way is in the drastic drop in tourism.  To galvanize the Jewish community and keep up travel to Israel, JNF is launching Commit 2013, an initiative that encourages people to commit to travel to Israel over the next 12 months, when Israel needs us most.

Please visit us on the web and register your commitment to travel to Israel in the upcoming year.  It is a statement of your personal commitment to stand by Israel and help her economy!

Moving to Israel

The following is from Natalie Solomon, who grew up in Birmingham and whose parents are members of our Jewish community:

On December 6th, 2012, a few weeks from now, I am going home.

Not to Birmingham, Alabama, where I was born and raised, graduating from Mountain Brook High School in 2000.

Not to Montreal, Canada, where my parents are from and where my extended family lives.
Not to Washington, DC, Paris or Barcelona, where I studied and lived during my undergraduate years.

Not to New York City, where I have lived for the past six years.

No, I am going to the home of my past, to embrace thousands of years of my ancestors; to the home of my present, the place in the world where I feel the most fulfilled; and to the home of my future, the place where I hope to build a home and a family. I am moving to Israel.

I am sure many of you are thinking, "Her poor parents; this nice young woman is moving to a war zone half way across the world. Her mother must be flipping out."

Well, I am proud to tell you, that my parents, Barbara and Eric Solomon, stand behind me 100%. And I stand with Israel -- in good times and in tough times like now. I want to be there and live alongside my fellow Jews in my ancestral homeland.

My parents know that I am the most authentically me in Israel. My parents know that Israel today is only a phone call or a skype session away. My parents know that we have the most incredible army in the world, and they know my friends who have been called up this week for reserve duty, to protect the Jewish state.

My parents have seen the way my face lights up when I am arguing in Hebrew with someone on the street; when I am telling them the story of a beautiful Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv; when I am walking with them through the ancient streets of the Old City of Jerusalem; when I am sitting by the Mediterranean Sea as the sun dances on the water.
My parents are concerned about what's happening in Israel -- as every person with any concept of right and wrong surely is. But they are not concerned about my decision to live there.

They are proud that I am a young woman following my passion -- a passion for my people, for my community, for my tradition, for my land and for my country. And I am proud of them, for understanding me, and for giving me their blessing.

My journey home to Israel began when The Birmingham Jewish Federation helped send me to the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program when I was 15. Now, at the age of 30, I am ready to go build my home -- and life -- in Israel.

Upon moving to Israel, I will continue in my current role with the Alumni Community of Birthright Israel, in addition to assuming expanded responsibilities that come along with my new position as Manager of Israel Programs. I will no longer be New York-based. I will be based in Israel.

I invite "y'all" to contact me the next time you are in Israel. You will be amazed at how "Israeli" this Bama girl is! Feel free to be in touch before your next trip to Israel. You can reach me at

And if you see my mom or dad, tell them I say thanks.

Alexander Muss High School in Israel and Birthright are both Partners of Jewish National Fund.

Photo is of Natalie Solomon in front of Tel Aviv City Hall.