Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alternative Spring Break - Perspective from the border

Alternative Spring Break participant Sarah Graham-Helwig shares her perspective on a visit to Moshav Netiv Ha'asarah on the Gaza Border.

There, her group met with Adi, a long-time resident of the Moshav, who took them to a lookout point and gave them an overview of the area.  From the lookout point the group could see major towns in Gaza as well as the rubble from three former settlements in the Gaza Strip.  They then met with Tzameret, a local artist who has started a project which expresses her desire for long lasting peace.  She created a mural on the border wall which says, path to peace, and was filled in by many different groups who share her dream of a peaceful end to the conflict.  Following the visit to the wall, the group traveled to her studio and helped her create more mosaic pieces so she could grow her project beyond her current capacity.  They were amazed that the peaceful Moshav was right on the border and that, although Tzameret had endured years of rockets, she was still optimistic and hopeful.

Sarah's thoughts:

While approaching the large cement panels I couldn't take my eyes away as I wondered if this was the border with Gaza.  It seemed so out of place and I couldn't stop thinking that this beautiful neighborhood was constantly struck with horror.  Watching the news from my house in California, Israel seems so far away and often the news depiction of events seems so unreal.  However passing these houses with unique touches of window chimes blowing by the front doors, it was unbelievable to think that this peaceful area was right on the border of Gaza.  Pulling up to the cement fence, I immediately noticed the large dove on the wall with the words, Path to Peace.  I remember the chatter in the bus questioning if we were really at the border, if behind this beautiful articulate neighborhood lay one of the number one news topics of the world.  The dove and writing made me reflect on the spirit and resilience of the people of Israel. When I was listening to Tzameret's speech regarding the history between Israel and the Gaza Strip, I kept thinking about the people we saw sitting on their porches half a mile away.  Talking to Tzameret allowed me to capture the spirit and essence of the people of Netiv Ha'asarah and of the entire region.  I know that this experience has changed my perception and I will absolutely take what I now know back to my friends and family so that they can understand what these wonderful people have to endure.

Sarah Graham-Helwig, ASB participant

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

US foodies sample the BEST of Israeli food!

A walking tour of the Machne Yehudah Market

Once again the idea that Israel can attract a group of foodies from all over the US to sample the best of Israeli food and wine is a tribute to the work of the JNF from its inception at the end of the 18th Century to the present.

The acquisition of the land, the development of arable land and the management of scarce resources like water allow today's Israeli's to produce world class quality wines and food and we are sampling some of the best.

From the pioneering organic farming and quality of life environment of Mitzpe Hayamim, through the experience of the melding of cultures at a Moroccan home, to the glorious setting of the home of noted chef, Erez Komarovsky set in the beauty of the Galil, our Mission began on a high note.

We witnessed first hand Israeli and Arab co-operation in the creation of a wonderful gelato shop, fabulous creativity in contemporary dance and commedia del'arte.

However, it keeps getting better.

We were briefed by Mark Regev, the spokesman of the PM about the formation of the new government in Israel, the hopes for peace progress, the expectations of the upcoming visit of President Obama and  an overview of the security in the region.

We had a walking tour of the Machne Yehudah market telling us the history of the market which predates the creation of the State of Israel, which was followed by a fabulous meal made with ingredients from the market.

A very emotional visit to Ammunition Hill was highlighted by the unveiling of plaques contributed by two of the Mission participant's, Makornik Gary Kushner and Herzl Society member Cliff Faber.

More to come......

By Jeffrey Menick

Culinary, Wine and Art Mission to Israel!

Cooking Class with Chef Tali Friedman

We are half-way through the second JNF Culinary, Wine and Art Mission to Israel and every day exceeds expectations. I've now been to Israel with JNF three times in the last three years, including the inaugural Culinary and Wine Mission, and am continually amazed by all that JNF is doing to make the quality of life in Israel better and better; I am in a constant state of awe. This visit is really special because my wife Gail and sister Ellen are with me. 

So far, we have visited a beautiful resort in an idyllic setting in the Galilee. Mitzpe Hayamim is on an organic farm overlooking the hills of Galilee; the food served at the resort is beyond description, and all of it (including meat and poultry) is grown right there. We had lunch at the home of one of Israel's most acclaimed chefs; we picked herbs and vegetables in his garden, also overlooking the Galilee, and, aided by exceptional wines, we helped him prepare a meal that I don't think one could get in any restaurant. And later in the afternoon, we enjoyed fondue in the forest with teenagers from Green Horizons, a JNF sponsored program that gives these young adults the opportunity to learn responsibility and self-reliance through nature. Yes, we're eating a lot, but this is, after all, a Culinary mission!

The next morning, on our way to Jerusalem, we were treated to a private insiders' briefing at JNF's office by Mark Regev, the Prime Minister's right hand and personal advisor. From there, we went to Ammunition Hill, the site of the most strategic battle making possible reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. JNF built and maintains a memorial in memory of the IDF soldiers who lost their lives in that turning point in the war. Gail, Ellen and I were especially privileged this year to dedicate a plaque commemorating  my father's 90th birthday on the Wall of Honors. The wall honors Jewish soldiers who served in any branch of the military anywhere in the world; my father fought in World War II.

We spent yesterday afternoon visiting an incredible outdoor market in Jerusalem, guided by Talli Friedman, a charming and also renowned Israeli chef. We then went up to her studio, which is right in the market, and helped prepare yet another amazing meal; again aided by fine wines from the Golan Heights. We were so satisfied by the meal that none of us had dinner; instead, some of us shopped while others turned in early for a restful night at another first class hotel.

We are now on our way to the Negev. Our first stop will be Aleh Negev, a unique rehabilitation and treatment facility for young people with severe mental and/or physical disabilities. JNF supports Aleh Negev, founded by retired IDF General Doron Almog, who founded it in honor of his son who was born with severe challenges from which he unfortunately passed; he was 23. The facility is so unique that health professionals from all over the world visit to observe and learn from the extraordinary techniques used there. I have been there before with JNF and can't wait to see it again.

This afternoon, we'll be headed for Sderot, near Gaza, where JNF has built a 21,000 square foot indoor playground. Because of the constant rocket attacks in the area, children living there could not go out to play. The JNF playground has given the kids a place to be kids; it also doubled as  a bomb shelter during the recent attacks. From there, we go to Mitzpe Ramon near Be're Sheva later today where we will see a crater that is Israel's version of the Grand Canyon. But I am especially eager to visit the Be're Sheva Water Park, another JNF project in which Gail and I have invested. When completed, this oasis will have all of the facilities of NYC's Central Park, including a world class amphitheater, and be twice the size!

We have already covered so much ground that it feels as if we've been here for a month; and we still have lots to see, and many JNF projects to visit, before heading back to Jerusalem for Shabbat and then to Tel Aviv before leaving for home. For me, the good news is not only the incredible experience our group has enjoyed, and sharing this experience with Gail and Ellen, but that I will be back to Israel again next year. Thanks to JNF, Israel has become a  very special part of my life.

Gary Kushner

Monday, March 4, 2013

A new twist on your standard charity golf tournament

The winners of four local Jewish National Fund golf tournaments across the country are going to be flown to Israel, courtesy of El Al airlines, to participate in the "El Al Cup" golf tournament taking place at the Caesarea Golf Club.  Winners are also invited to extend their stay and participate in JNF's first ever golf mission to Israel, “The Herzl Tour” (October 9-16, 2013).  The National Golf Mission is open to anyone, even if they don’t win a qualifying leg.  As part of the mission, participants are invited to watch the last round of the Israel Open, play a practice round on Sunday with the tournament on Monday and play a non-tournament round as well. 

Click below to watch a short video about the local tournaments and national mission

The four local tournaments are:
Los Angeles/Sherwood Country Club         May 13   
Contact Lou Rosenberg - lrosenberg@jnf.org
Chicago/Conway Farms                             June 10    
Contact Beth Cherner - bcherner@jnf.org
NYC/NJ/Bayonne                                       June 17      
Contact Michael Feinman - mfeinman@jnf.org
San Diego/Del Mar                                     August 13     
Contact Ezra Earle - eearle@jnf.org    

Golf Mission                                                October 9-16    
Contact Michael Feinman - mfeinman@jnf.org