Monday, December 30, 2013

Caravan for Democracy mission: Day 1

Caravan for Democracy mission to Israel (December 29, 2013 - January 9, 2014): 
Twenty-five college student leaders of all faiths who have never visited Israel before were selected for this important 10-day educational experience. The trip includes touring; meeting political, cultural, and community leaders;  and exploring Israel's diverse democracy. Students who have served in a significant leadership positions in political, religious, athletic, cultural, and/or educational groups on campus were encouraged to apply. Participants will be posting their impressions of Israel here over the course of the next 10 days!

Day 1
By Nick Mogensen, Texas A&M University '15

Monday morning saw the group visiting a variety of fascinating sites in northern Israel with the first half of the day spent around the Sea of Galilee and the latter half in the Golan Heights.  Our first full day in Israel, it certainly exceeded all expectations anyone on the trip had brought prior to arriving.

Going through life in America, it can be tempting to compartmentalize life into a series of convenient archetypes and assumptions.  Even on days when we find ourselves grow by leaps and bounds through new life experiences, typically such occasions merit a solitary theme to intake and reflect upon.  That said, Monday was unique in that it marked the first in my life that I was profoundly struck in two greatly different ways in the same day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Next up on Far East tour, bringing Israel to Vietnam

On Wednesday, the Arava International Trainee Center (AICAT) tour stopped in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where they signed a Memorandum of Understanding for student cooperation between AICAT and Nong Lam University, the largest university in South Vietnam. This will increase the student recruitment for 340 to over 500. This MOU is in step with the plans of Vietnam's Minister of Agriculture, who announced while the JNF/AICAT group was visiting, that the growth of agriculture is a priority.  He then detailed a plan for now through 2030, which includes technology advancements and economic farm growth. All of these priorities are directly in relationship to the goals AICAT.

In meetings with university president and the dean of the agricultural department, they expressed tremendous excitement about this M.O.U.

On Thursday, the team visited Hanoi, in North Vietnam. In their opinion, it was a world difference from South Vietnam. They met with president of Thai Nguyen University the largest university in Vietnam with almost 50,000 students. The most popular majors are agriculture and forestry.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

JNF brings Israel to Cambodia

Jewish National Fund CEO, Russell Robinson, and CFO, Mitchel Rosenzweig, are on a tour of Asia and the Far East this week on behalf of the Israeli government and the Arava International Trainee Center, or AICAT. Also on the tour are Channi Arnon, director of AICAT, and Eyal Blum, mayor of the Central Arava.  

AICAT is a 20-year-old agricultural training institute in the developing town of Sapir, Israel, where students throughout Asia and the Far East are sent by their home countries to study cutting-edge and often high-tech agricultural techniques.  

Robinson has been enthusiastically reporting from the road; after the jump are some of the exciting accounts of the the group's encounters and stories from Cambodia and of how they are changing the perception of Israel in the minds of the developing world.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Worst Storm in Decades

The snow, which started last week, reached 40-60 centimeters in Jerusalem and between 60 centimeters and one meter in the Golan. There were power outages in over twenty thousand households nationwide as of Saturday evening, including 8,000 in Jerusalem and its surroundings, and more than 1,000 in Safed. Some 80 villages around Jerusalem had been without power at the height of the storm, and some 30 were still disconnected on Saturday evening. At least three villages in the Golan Heights, which is better equipped to handle storms and snowfall, had been without electricity over the weekend, but were reconnected Saturday night. Haifa was hit with its first snowfall in 22 years, and Tel Aviv was battered by heavy rain and hail. Drivers stranded on Route 1 and Route 443 at the entrance to Jerusalem were being brought to emergency help centers established at the Jerusalem Convention Center, in Mevaseret Zion and at the Ofer military camp. Police said that by Friday morning they had assisted 1400 stranded motorists in the capital and in the highways leading to the city.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Saturday that his municipality was still working “in a state of emergency,” grappling with a “storm of extraordinary proportions.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “once-in-a-century” storm, and said efficient coordination had averted the kind of loss of life that other countries had suffered in similar circumstances. Route 1 into and out of Jerusalem was still closed late Saturday night, even to public transport, as the authorities struggled to clear lanes blocked by dozens of abandoned vehicles. 

The Jerusalem fire fighters – sent us these statistics – from Thursday morning when the storm began they had: 5,000 calls to the fire station. They went on 2 calls due to floods, 37 gas leaks, 24 elevator rescues, 10 fires in homes, 10 rescue operations, 18 calls to assist people and 3 calls due to collapsed walls. Haifa firefighters joined their brothers in Safed where all of the roads are closed to help with the rescue operations.
And now for a great story -  Chaviva and Yosef Rosenbaum live in Har Nof in Jerusalem. Right before Shabbat Yosef’s grandparents, Bubby and Grandpa, decided to go from Rehavia (were their power went out) to spend the shabbos with their grandchildren in Har Nof. They got in a cab and at a certain point the cab driver said he wouldn’t go any farther and told them to get out… Grandpa and Bubby left the cab and stood on the sidewalk wondering what they would do, when all of a sudden a LARGE fire truck pulled up and the fire fighter asked them if he can help them – they told them they were trying to get to Har Nof and he said he had room for one of them in the fire truck… Bubby told him to take Grandpa since he can’t walk and that she would start walking towards the building. Chaviva and Yosef looked out of the window waiting for them to arrive when they see a fire truck pull up and Grandpa come out… Grandpa was trying to pay the fire fighter for the lift with the fire fighter saying "no no" and just like in a movie two seconds later Bubby comes driving up with another wonderful person who stopped for her.  These men and woman are just incredible and the work they do saves lives…

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chanukkah Camp - Green Horizons

Over Chanukkah, Green Horizons scouts from across Israel participated in four-day hikes all over the Negev! This outdoor Chanukkah adventure enabled participants to connect to the land of Israel on a deep level while building their outdoor skills and cementing their friendships. Enjoy a taste of this adventure of a lifetime!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giving Tuesday - Your Dollars are Matched!!

Giving Tuesday is a movement that is meant to be a balance to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  After two days of splurging on the best deals shoppers can find, they are encouraged to reflect on what is truly meaningful and give back!  

Thousands of charities, families, businesses and individuals have joined together to transform the way people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season. Join the movement and find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to also participate in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. 

Why JNF?

JNF enhances the quality of life of all of Israel’s residents, by:
• 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

Today ONLY, your gift to Jewish National Fund 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!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Forging new bonds: The Queen of Sheba Mission

Queen of Sheba Mission 2013 Final from Giraffe Sheba on Vimeo.

How does one capture all the experiences they had on a Mission trip with KKL-JNF in just one page?

Let me begin by saying that this was my first Mission and really my first experience as an adult with KKL-JNF.

I came across the Queen of Sheba Mission accidently when I was searching the web for something to do in Israel out side of a normal tour or hanging with friends on the beach.

Sometimes, things are just meant to be. The Queen of Sheba Mission was exactly inside the dates I needed to take my vacation time. Weird right? LOL

I really had no idea what I was getting into, other than; I was going to spend nine days with a group of ladies I didn’t know. How bad could it be? It was Israel. We’re all Jewish. I’m sure there will be good food. I was sold!

I’m not exactly sure the exact hour that it happened, but all of a sudden, I turned around and I was travelling with my family. The connections I made with these women were beyond explanation. You have to trust me on this. I know what it is to have connections with people. I have spent the last 15 years serving in the Military, so I understand how strong bonds are formed, but this was so unique.

I have to be honest. I was so jealous of these women. For 15 years, I have dedicated my life to people and countries not my own and yet, here stood before me these amazing women. Selflessly, giving of themselves for the State of Israel. I was beyond inspired. I knew I had to be apart of it, but I was so frustrated in trying to figure out where or what project to be apart of.

It was in the Negev that so many pieces of “the puzzle of life” came together for me. It wasn’t my first time there. My Fathers side of the family came to Israel after the Shoah. I have a strong connection with Israel, despite being raised in the west, but it was like I was seeing Israel through different eyes.

Visiting the communities being developed throughout the south. Meeting the people dedicating their lives to populating that beautiful landscape. Feeling with all your senses the dream of David Ben Gurion and so many others come to life is something words cannot to justice to.

That’s when I knew that I had found a new piece to my puzzle, but I still couldn’t quite connect it yet to see the whole picture. I needed time to think, to reflex, and to put everything into perspective. I had to ask myself what about Israel changed for me this time? I’ve traveled all over Israel throughout the years, but something was different. Something was new and yet, for the moment it felt out of reach.

It took sometime, but I realized what had changed. It was the realization that there was so much left to do in Israel. All these years I had thought the work was done. The dreams and visions of those before me had accomplished their task and now Israel was there for me to enjoy, but I was so wrong.

I knew then and there that I had found what I was searching for. I had been searching for a way to use 15 years of military experience for the State of Israel. It was in the Negev that I realized that security is not only defined in military terms or through military means. This may seem like common sense to you, but it was like a revelation for me. This new revelation that I could help in the development and population of the south to secure Israel’s border was life changing. I felt empowered to do something, to dedicate my time and my life to the development of the Negev. I know this is a very general statement and I may not have all the answers right now, but that’s ok, because at least I know where it all begins.

Thank you KKL-JNF and my Queen’s of Sheba for your inspiration to dream big, take action and get stuff done.

Michal B.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Yad Kennedy, a magnificent monument honoring JFK, is located on an isolated mountaintop in the Mateh Yehuda Region near Jerusalem. The Kennedy Memorial symbolizes the enduring friendship between Israel and the United States of America.
by Rivkah Lambert Adler

JFK1.JPGWhat was it about President John F. Kennedy that touched the hearts of ordinary Israelis? It was already Shabbat in Israel when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The mood in Israel was somber. Just as Israelis remember where they were when they heard that Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin had been assassinated in 1995, those who lived in Israel 50 years ago recall a similar mood of shock and sadness. Children were sent home early from youth group activities, mothers cried in the streets and the country’s citizens walked around dazed, as news of the assassination in Dallas, Texas spread.
“I remember the day Kennedy was assassinated; it was if the world had stopped,” shared Dr. Irving Taylor of Baltimore, Maryland, staunch supporter of JNF whose donation recently funded the renovation of Yad Kennedy memorial. “Everybody was in shock for three days and stayed glued to their black and white television sets. No music or commercials played during this tragic time. JFK was a special human being who was so revered, not because he was the United States President, but he was truly a genuinely good man.”
The State of Israel, just 15 years old when Kennedy was gunned down, recognized a singular promise of friendship and support in the words and actions of America’s youngest president. In a speech to the Zionists of America Convention in 1960, Kennedy said, "Israel was not created in order to disappear—Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom." In 1962, Kennedy was the first American president to sell arms to the fledgling State, backing up his words with meaningful foreign policy actions.
In 1958, when JFK was still a junior Senator from Massachusetts, he spoke prophetically at a Jewish National Fund (JNF) meeting about the importance of planting trees in Israel. "What work could be more heartwarming or more enduring than the great forest at Jerusalem? Your children and grandchildren, when they visit Israel, will find your monument." Just weeks after the assassination, Menahem-Max Bressler, then-President of Jewish National Fund in the United States, introduced the idea of establishing a memorial dedicated to President Kennedy in the very forest Kennedy had spoken of so warmly. Today, thanks to Bressler’s foresight, those who were alive in 1958, along with their children and grandchildren, can visit a stunning memorial honoring President Kennedy built and maintained by JNF.
JFK2.JPGThe distinctive Kennedy Memorial sits high amidst the verdant green of the Jerusalem Forest, where every tree was planted by hand. A unique memorial to a foreign president, the dramatic structure was meant to evoke the stump of a felled tree, symbolizing a life cut short. The main circular hall is supported by 51 gracefully curved columns, each bearing the golden medallion of the official seal of one of the 50 states, along with Washington DC. Each column was endowed by American Jews, often residents of the state whose seal is affixed to the column. The circular stone hall shields a Ner Zikaron, an eternal memorial candle. Forty years after it was inaugurated, the Kennedy Memorial was renovated through a generous donation by Dr. Irving Taylor of Baltimore whose parents, Isaac and Rose Taylor, funded the original Maryland column.
“When I was asked to restore Kennedy Memorial, this was something I couldn’t refuse, especially since my father donated the original Maryland column,” said Dr. Irving Taylor. “Recognizing that it needed updating, it was the least I could do out of respect to my parents and President Kennedy.”
The spacious outdoor plaza provides a panoramic view of the Jerusalem Forest, suggesting a meaningful and scenic place to hold a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or wedding ceremony. On the grounds of the Kennedy Memorial lies the Kennedy Family Planting Circle, where a dozen members of the Kennedy family, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, came to plant trees. Each year, the JNF site hosts 200,000 visitors, including foreign dignitaries and Israeli families who take advantage of the hiking trails and picnic areas surrounding the monument. Israeli school children also tour the site on official school visits, learning about the legacy of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his exceptional support of the State of Israel.
“It was important for Jewish National Fund to build a memorial that honored a great man like JFK,” shared JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson. “Just like we honored the victims of September 11th at JNF’s 9/11 Living Memorial, it is important for JNF to remember the great people of our past who have always supported Israel. Yad Kennedy shows the connection that JNF has with great Americans who stand by Israel, and we must pay tribute to that.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An early Birthright revolution

From Israel Hayom
by Gideon Shavit

Though it has become somewhat of a cliché, the truth still remains that the only way to ensure our Jewish future is to engage and empower our Jewish youth and help them forge meaningful connections with Israel. From where I'm sitting, I believe this is impossible without actually bringing young people to Israel -- ground zero for Jewish thought, culture, and tradition -- to connect with the land, its people and Judaism on their own terms.

And I am by no means the only one.

Over the past 13 years, Birthright and Masa have seen much success in this arena, bringing young adults aged 18 to 30 to Israel on programs ranging from 10 days to a full year. Thus far, Birthright has sponsored a little over 300,000 Israel experiences. More than 17,000 of those participants have subsequently chosen to live in Israel. Additionally, Birthright participants are much more likely to marry Jewish spouses and identify with Israel and their Jewish heritage.

Clearly, they are doing something right. But the question becomes: Can we do even better?
I believe we can. We just have to think younger.

At the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a member of the Lapid coalition for high school age programs in Israel, high school students from abroad take fully-accredited classes at an Israeli school for part of an academic year. Impressively, Alexander Muss has reported that 98 percent of their alumni have rated their program as one of the most influential educational and spiritual experiences of their lives. The statistics also show that participants of high school in Israel programming are more likely to put their Jewish identities first with everything they do.

As such, the benefits of high school-age Israel programming extend far beyond the individual. Following their time in Israel, teens return home inspired, seeking out previously unexplored connections with their Jewish heritage and taking on leadership roles to develop more Jewish programming for their communities.

And then there's the benefit of timing. When teens are groomed to value Israel and their Jewish identity from an earlier age, they have many more opportunities to make Jewish life choices. This can include everything from where they decide to attend college to who they choose to date and the extent to which they will support Israel in the future.

Indeed, one pivotal choice, like taking the strength of the campus Hillel house into account when selecting a college, can set a Jewish life in motion. And when Jewish students make these decisions together, they will find strength in numbers. They will stand up for Israel and the Jewish people as a stronger, better informed unit when they are confronted with anti-Israel rhetoric on campus and beyond the university walls, and they will actively seek out opportunities to take up the mantle of Jewish leadership.

It is not beyond our reach. It just hinges on an earlier, more impactful Israel experience.
The current trend among Jewish adolescents is to wait until after high school for their first Israel encounter. But we can do better.

If we can make high school Israel programs more accessible, if we can instill a love of Israel and Judaism in our youth as part and parcel of an education framework earlier on, the returns could be staggering.

We can do better. In the long run, we must do better. Our Jewish future depends on it.

Gideon Shavit is the co-founder and chairman of Lapid (, a cooperative initiative to raise awareness and significantly increase participation in quality high school age Israel programs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beersheba, with Shlomo Artzi on hand, launches new city space

From The Times of Israel

By Debra Kamin

A 12,000-seat outdoor theater is the crown of the new River Park, an ambitious project the mayor hopes will boost the Negev city’s profile

(photo by Udi Ibn Haim)
Last Thursday evening, as Israeli superstar Shlomo Artzi serenaded 12,000 Beersheba residents in the city’s brand-new amphitheater, Mayor Ruvik Danilovich looked on with pride. The event, meant to inaugurate the newest and biggest outdoor performance space in Israel, sealed several years of effort on his part to raise this southern city’s profile from a sleepy desert enclave to a cosmopolitan metropolis worthy of its title as capital of the Negev. 

“The new amphitheater, which is the largest amphitheater and the only one of its kind in Israel, is a milestone for Israeli culture,” he said. “It is especially big news to the south. Every major city around the world would be proud to have such an amphitheater.”

Bundled up against the chilly desert night and enthusiastically waving their glowing smartphones in the air, the crowd on Thursday night seemed to agree. They cheered when Artzi, who played a medley of his greatest hits and routinely waded his way into the crowd to kiss his fans and allow them to sing into his microphone, reminded them that Beersheba has always been a favorite stop of his.  “And what an amphitheater!” he exclaimed.

The outdoor arena is the crown jewel in an ambitious broader development project for the Negev’s largest city. Dubbed River Park, it spans 1,700 acres along five miles of the city’s south and includes bike trails, promenades, and an outdoor sports center. Restaurants and galleries are in the works.

The park, which when completed will be double the size of Central Park in New York City, is a joint project of the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli government and a number of private corporations.

 The new amphitheater is the largest in Israel. (photo credit: photo by Udi Ibn Haim)

JNF has touted the park as the centerpiece of its Blueprint Negev campaign, which it hopes will make good on David Ben-Gurion’s dream of greening Israel’s massive desert space and lure businesses and cultural groups away from the country’s center and into its wider periphery. The park is modeled on the San Antonio River Walk and much of its construction involved cleaning and purifying the muddy trickle that was the city’s riverbed, landscaping its banks and installing infrastructure to pump purified water into it year round.

Danilovich, who was re-elected last week, started planning the River Park almost immediately upon entering office and has made it his pet project ever since.
“The city of Beersheba is undergoing exceptional development,” he said. “I have no doubt it will become one of the most desirable cities in Israel.”