Wednesday, February 27, 2013

JNF Travelogue - Makor Mission Day 1

Day 1

Today we hit the ground running, starting in the Southern Arava in Timna Park. We heard from the Chairman (mayor) of the region which comprises 13% of Israel's land mass but is home to only 4000 people. It has taken 55 years to grow the population to this many and the goal is to double it in the next 20 years.

The park itself is a center of tourism, history and agriculture. Many crops are grown for domestic use and export in the area. The park is rich in history with a 6000 year copper mining history. Mining had stopped in the 1970s but a few years ago a Mexican company reopened the mine and you can see the Mexican and Israeli flags flying together at the entrance.

Tourists at the park can enjoy hiking, camping, a visitor center, etc. We went on a hike and crawled through an old mining hole. It was a lot of fun!

We then went on to Grofit Therapeutic Riding Camp which was started with the help of the women's major gifts group of JNF, the Sapphire society. Grofit has been in existence 16 years and helps 180-200 riders a week who are from 3 1/2 to 80 years old. They suffer from mental, physical and emotional disabilities. There are 24 horses at the camp and a petting zoo. The camp works with patients from all over the area, whether Jewish or not, and they find that the movement of the horse during the ride is what helps the patients the most. 

Our next stop was the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. It was founded in 1996 and is an academic research center accredited by Ben Gurion University that has an undergraduate and graduate track. The environment is shared with Israel and Jordan and the philosophy is that nature has no borders. The student body is made up of 1/3 each of Israeli students, 1/3 Jordanian or Palestinian and 1/3 International. At the school they openly discuss their differences and the conflicts in the region and students make friendships that last into the future. There are over 700 alumni from the school and over 1/2 have remained in the Middle East.

We then headed to Kibbutz Yahel which is is 1 hour north of Eilat. We saw the new state of the art visitor center that is being built with the assistance of JNF. Every year millions of people drive by on their way to Eilat and they estimate that 500,000 to 600,000 will stop at this visitor center. The center boasts a lily and fish pond in the center. It will have restaurants, shops, remote control boats, convenience store, coffee shop and 5 star rest rooms.

At the kibbutz they are also building new homes to keep their children from moving from the area as they grow and marry and have children of their own. They will be bigger than the traditional kibbutz home and will be financially independent of the traditional kibbutz. All of this with the help of JNF.

It was still time for Purim to be celebrated at the Kibbutz and we got to watch the children in their costumes before we left  their party. They were adorable.

Here, as with most of the JNF sites we visited, the thank yous were many - for the help JNF does to help. It was humbling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Let me begin with a story

"Let me begin with a story"....  this quote followed me around my JNF Alternative Winter Break (AWB) 2012 trip through the Negev.  On this trip we spent most of the time in the desert touring and helping out with projects that JNF is involved in. Every place we visited we met the Israelis who lived and worked in the land, and heard their stories. We heard about the true Sabraim who moved to the Arava to farm, the couple who moved to israel from Chicago to become caretakers of an important historical fortress, and the AWB alum who made aliyah to help out the Ethiopian community.  All of these people believed in David Ben Gurion's vision of making the desert blossom and so they moved to the negev. These tales sustained us volunteers as we were pruning weeds, painting houses, cleaning up ruins, and building sustainable irrigation ponds.
The stories were heartwarming, but these pioneers' accomplishments left me in awe. With the help of JNF the people have slowly began turning the Negev into an oasis. We left each day feeling an ache in our muscles but knowing we helped improve the area.

In addition to helping out we toured some of the many locations where JNF has improved the lives of the local populations.  I think it is important to note that even with waking up at seven every morning and not returning to the hotel until seven at night, our trip just barely scratched the surface of everything that JNF has a hand in in the negev.  It is unbelievable to think that it is just a small percentage of everything that JNF is a part of in israel.  We visited a research and development center in the far south, the indoor playground built for the children of Sderot, and an ecologically friendly kibbutz, that all are thankful for JNF's help.  Every guide that we met told us his story and the story behind JNF's involvement in the specific program. Everyone ended by telling us what an impact JNF has had on the community.

When I signed up for this trip, I was unprepared for the experience I was about to have. What I thought was just signing up for a free trip to Israel, turned into something so much more.  I, like so many people in the Jewish community have been to Israel, and I was even fortunate to take a gap year.  Most of my time spent in the country has been spent in the Mercaz (the center of the country). My impression of the desert was of a camel wandering and the boardwalks of Eilat. I was not expecting to fall in love with the desert and all of the resilient people who inhabit the terrain.  The people's fierce spirits match the awesome power of the desert. With the help of JNF, these people are harnessing the power and turning sand into cities and fields. The desert will be the future of Israel and thanks to JNF, it is ready to be populated.

Lauren Blachorsky, President of the Israel Club at Queens College

The Summit - 3 days in Las Vegas

You are concerned about the future of our planet. 

You care about ensuring that best practices in sustainability are utilized to protect our environment and natural resources.  

You are interested in spending a weekend with other young professionals who are as passionate as you are and meeting with leaders from the centers of sustainable innovation - all with a focus on Israel and leadership.
"The Summit" is a three day environmental leadership event taking place in Las Vegas, NV from April 27-29, 2013.  The Summit will be more than a conference.  It will be a gathering of influencers to promote change in the story of the next generation — sustainability of water, food and energy. It is an event, a master class and a one-of-a- kind weekend experience in Nevada’s Red Rock desert.  

The purpose of the weekend is to encourage environmental consciousness by exploring Israel as a model for innovative solutions in sustainability.  Today, Israel is a global leader in sustainability initiatives and one of the main goals of “The Summit” will be to help share these innovations with the rest of the world.  Over the last 110 years, JNF has helped Israel become the leader it is today, by investing in the country’s first commercial solar field, planting 250 million trees and funding technology to help reuse 80% of Israel’s water resources, compared to just 1% here at home in the U.S.  The Summit will connect young leaders from all over the country interested in promoting worldwide environmentalism and sustainability, modeled on the success of the innovative work being done in Israel.

“The Summit” will be held at the the Red Rocks Casino, a venue chosen for its proximity to the airport and the Red Rocks desert.  The environment will experiential, similar in quality to the desert lands of Israel and will focus participants on the challenges at hand – scarcity of natural water resources and the unique challenges to growing and cultivating food sustainably in an arid environment. 

Confirmed speakers include: Carolyn Goodman - Mayor of Las Vegas; Patricia Mulroy - General Manager, Southern Nevada Water; Gilad Erdan - Israeli Environment Minister;  Danny Ayalon - Israeli Vice Foreign Ministry; Ronald Lauder, Estee Lauder Companies, CEO - RWL Water, Chairman of the Board - JNF, President - World Jewish Congress; and Rich Cohen - Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair Magazine.  

* We’re less than 2 weeks away from the deadline to receive your credit of $150 per hotel room at Red Rock Hotel and Casino. After March 2nd the $150 room credit and special hotel rate will no longer be available. In order to receive the credit, you must pay for The Summit in full and book your hotel room using the code JNF; please note this is per hotel room and not per person.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Congratulations to Alison Wendt of Chicago, IL for winning the JNF Tu BiShvat raffle! Alison won two round-trip tickets to Israel courtesy of EL AL Israel Airlines and two nights at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv. Everyone who planted a tree with JNF between January 16 and January 27 was entered into the raffle. More than 5,000 trees were planted.  
Alison has visited Israel twice before, the last time was a year ago for her friends’ wedding. Upon hearing that her friends are expecting their first child this summer, she planted a tree in their honor.
“I believe a tree is symbolic of a new birth, a new beginning," she said. "What a wonderful gift to give someone, to plant a tree in the honor of a new birth.”
She was surprised and delighted to learn that she had won the JNF Tu BiShvat raffle.
“Winning a trip to Israel is so exciting, as Israel has a special place in my heart,” said Alison. “I am particularly fond of Jerusalem, not only for its great historical significance, but also for the sacred holiness that surrounds you in the city.”
While in Israel, Alison will have the opportunity to plant a complimentary tree at the Harvey Hertz-JNF Ceremonial Tree Planting Center at Neot Kedumim.
Ten runners-up received a prize of an E-Z Tree™ account, with 10 free trees.
To plant a tree, visit or call 800-542-TREE.