Friday, April 26, 2013

Ben Jablonski, Founder of Jewish National Fund’s JNFuture, and Andrew Wilshinsky, co-chair of JNF’s summit were interviewed today on FOX 5 morning news in Las Vegas. Jason Feinberg, who will MC this weekend’s Summit at Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa sat down with Ben and Andrew to learn more about the sustainability conference and leaders and influencers that will be gathering to speak at this major event.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


As I celebrate Israel’s 65th year in existence, I reflect on what Israel means to me and why I spend each and every day supporting that magical country. My Israeli roots begin in 1905, the year my grandmother was born in Petach Tikva, and continues to my dad, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1930.
I myself lived in Tel Aviv for close to 20 years, working in the music industry, where I was so lucky to immerse myself in the incredible Israeli culture. Following my move to Boston, I was blessed to join the Jewish National Fund (JNF) family.
Being a part of that family for 14 years has continued to provide me with that special connection to my roots, allowing it to be my vehicle for helping the people and the land.

As JNF’s National Campaign Director, I was honored to lead its top professionals from around the country on a “JNF boot camp.” We were afforded the opportunity to understand, on site, JNF’s meaningful vision. As professionals, we’ve spent countless hours talking about our vision with our donors, but to see the work we do firsthand is incredibly inspiring.

Jewish National Fund professionals gather at the Carmel Forest memorial. 

A hallmark of JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign is the creation and expansion of new communities in the South, since the Negev represents 60 percent of the land but is home to just 8 percent of its population. It’s fascinating to travel down south, see only desert, and return a year later to witness the seeds of growth. We were fortunate to visit and meet the residents of Tzukim, Carmit and Giv’ot Bar where – through the revitalization of those communities – we attract young, energetic residents to the Negev and strengthen the economic and social fabric of the whole region.

JNF’s Rachel Klein and Sharon Freedman meet Ethiopian children in the Negev.

How exciting it was for us to visit our partners in the Bedouin community of Wadi Attir, which seeks to develop and demonstrate a model for a sustainable, community-based agricultural enterprise, adapted to a desert environment. It is designed to combine Bedouin aspirations, values and experience with sustainability principles, modern-day science and cutting-edge technologies.

Another visit was to the Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitation village, which is one of the most meaningful partnerships we have. The state-of-the-art village offers unparalleled care for people with severe disabilities in a warm, loving and dignified environment. In addition to significantly increasing their quality of life, the village provides job opportunities to residents of Ofakim and neighboring towns. Spending time at Aleh Negev brought tears to everyone in the group.

As we were training our professionals to travel back to their communities as ambassadors of JNF, it was very fitting to visit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and meet Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students who also serve as ambassadors in their respective communities. The institute is the first of its kind that brings together such a broad range of students to study the environmental challenges of the region, apply innovative solutions, and build a unified leadership base critical to economic, environmental and societal growth.

Throughout the mission, we were in awe of the significance of our work in water renewal. The JNF Parsons Water Fund is a $100 million initiative to increase Israel’s supply of high quality water, which was founded by the late Natan Parsons of Boston. Today, his wife Amy serves as vice chair as well as president of the Sapphire Society, JNF’s major women’s donor division.

During our trip, we visited the Ramon Air Force Base, located in the heart of the Negev Desert, to learn about the establishment of a constructed wetlands system. Because of its remote location, it is not served by Israel’s main sewage system, and until recently treated its wastewater in an inefficient manner that posed an ecological hazard. In addition to controlling pollution, the wetlands at the Ramon Air Force Base will provide 80 million gallons of recycled water a year, which will be used to irrigate nearby farms as well as the 7.5-acre park created by JNF for the families of the base. The base now serves as a model for efficient water treatment and reuse throughout Israel.

As we traveled the country, I wanted to make sure my colleagues understood that we are not a religious organization, we are not a political organization, and you don’t have to be Jewish to support JNF. You do have to love Israel, and hope and pray for peace. We simply connect people to our homeland because it’s who we are and it’s what we do every day.

I returned to Boston inspired, humbled, excited, empowered and so proud. For me, it is a privilege to be a donor myself, and a true partner in building the infrastructure and the future of our homeland.

I love the fact that our donors all share this love for Israel and – like myself – dream about keeping it safe, display the same commitment to alleviate the water crisis, and have the passion to follow David Ben-Gurion’s dream of developing the Negev.

I am a proud Israeli celebrating Israel’s 65 years of magic. Please feel free to contact me at to stand with me, and Israel, at this crucial point in Israel’s future.
Sharon Freedman is National Campaign Director at Jewish National Fund.

JNF Delegation Commemorates Yom Hazicharon at Ammunition Hill

Jewish News One covers JNF Israel at 65 Mission's visit to Ammunition Hill:

Monday, April 15, 2013

How a fake kibbutz was built to hide a bullet factory

Reprinted from Ha'aretz

How a fake kibbutz was built to hide a bullet factory

Israel's pre-state underground militia knew it had to prepare for war once the British left, and it concocted a brilliant way of doing so without getting caught.

On a green hilltop between the central Israeli cities of Rehovot and Nes Tziona, just minutes from the sparkling new high-rises of a high-tech Science Park, sits an innocent-looking former laundry with an amazing secret.

A few meters from the laundry sits what was once a bakery. It also looks typical, with a massive stone oven and shelves that once held piping hot loaves of freshly baked bread. But under each of the rooms there lies a trap door; one beneath the bakery’s 10-ton oven and the other under the drum of the deceptively lightweight washer. Climb down through the openings and you will find yourself in an underground ammunition factory, where 65 years ago a group of rag-tag pioneers worked day in and day out to produce the bullets that were used in Israel's War of Independence.

This place is the Ayalon Institute, a modern-day museum whose past is an Israeli tale of gumption, guts and dazzling deception. In 1945, World War II had wound down but the Jews living under the British Mandate knew another conflict was just around the corner. “In the 1940s, everybody in Israel knew two things for a fact. One, it was only a matter of time before the British leave the country, and two, the second the British are gone a war will break out,” says Shahar Hermelin, director of tourism and Israel operations for the Jewish National Fund, which helps maintain the museum. “And the Haganah [a pre-state militia that was a precursor to the army] was very concerned that we didn’t have enough bullets.”
Under the British, any Jew caught carrying weapons or ammunition could expect corporal punishment. So while the Haganah knew it had to prepare for battle, it also knew it had to figure out a way to do so without getting caught. Yosef Avidar, a senior Haganah commander, zeroed in on that hilltop in Rehovot, deeming it the ideal location for an underground bullet factory, because its slope would make digging easy and its proximity to Tel Aviv would simplify transport. Another plus? It was right next door to a British military camp, and he believed the last place the British would ever think to look was right under their noses. The cover story would be the formation of a new kibbutz, and on the surface, that’s exactly what was built: In addition to the laundry and bakery, a chicken coop, dining hall, children’s house, gardens and more were erected on the site. 

The Haganah selected Hatzofim Aleph, a pioneer group, to relocate from its base in Pardes Hannah and set up shop on the kibbutz. And so these young people, most of them barely 20 years old, moved to the site and began seemingly ordinary lives among the citrus groves and communal meals of the kibbutz. A closer look, however, would have revealed a few red flags. To camouflage the high-pitched screeching sound of the bullet machines below, the laundry had to run practically around the clock. To produce enough whites and darks to justify such a demand, the kibbutz opened a branch of its laundry in downtown Rehovot and began handling the washing for most of the region. They even won a bid to handle the laundry for a nearby hospital, and – their reputation for low prices and excellent service having reached the nearby British camp – became the go-to starch and suds provider for many of the soldiers who were being so fantastically duped. A convenient pick-up and delivery service kept the British from ever having to step foot in the laundry.

Down in the bullet factory, in a production line based around World War I-era machines smuggled in via Beirut, some 45 pioneers crafted more than 2.5 million copper bullets by hand. The copper, the Haganah told British customs officials, was needed to create lipstick containers, a storyline they backed up with gifts of lipstick to British officers’ wives. Yehudit Ayalon was 19 when she came to the Ayalon Institute and began working in the clandestine factory. “We had to improvise,” she says. “It was not frightening. It’s very difficult for me to reconstruct the feeling because we were so dedicated and we wanted it to succeed. And we knew the dangers, of course. One little lapse and the British would hang us.”

Before the War of Independence, Yehudit Ayalon had been Yehudit Adler, but when the State of Israel was established she took the name of the institute as her own. Ayalon, who was married with two small children in the preschool at the kibbutz, spent nearly 10 hours a day in the dim light of the bullet factory. To maintain their cover story, she and her fellow workers spent a few minutes each day in a special room outfitted with a quartz light, enjoying the first-ever tanning salon in Israel to support their story of spending all day out in the fields, away from the kibbutz proper. Without the audacity, quick thinking and sheer will of the Ayalon Institute’s members, historians say, the Jews might have lost the War of Independence.
“There is no doubt about it,” says Dr. Motti Golani, a professor of Israeli history at Haifa University. “The Ayalon Institute has two significant historical meanings. The first is that it helped the Haganah and what would become the Israel Defense Forces. But the second meaning is about pre-state Israel, or what we call the yishuv. This was not just an abstract organization. It had a real army and a real arms industry. The quality of what they produced was quite impressive.”
In 1949, the bullets having done the job, the facility became the basis of Israel Military Industries. The members of Hatzofim Aleph, who had always dreamed of establishing their own real kibbutz, relocated to a site near Zichron Ya’akov on the Mediterranean shore and established Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Ayalon, who is now 89, still lives there. The site was declared a National Historic Site in 1987 by then Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and is open to the public every day of the year except Yom Kippur.

Visitors can take guided tours – available in English and Hebrew – of the laundry and bakery, climb down the bakery’s trap door and examine the bullet machines up close. Period photographs, including a few with Ayalon herself working the line, adorn the walls, and life-sized mannequins in the factory, laundry and bakery give visitors a taste of what this massive underground operation looked like at its height.

Ayalon Institute Museum, Kibbutzim Hill, Rehovot; (08) 940-6552
Opening hours: Sun-Thu 8:30 A.M.-4 P.M.; Fri 8:30 A.M.-2 P.M.; Sat and holidays 9 A.M.-4P.M.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Experience High School - in Israel

The Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) offers the opportunity for students to spend a summer, 8-weeks or a whole semester studying abroad in Israel, while still in High School!  This is like no other Israel peer - travel experience - students earn high school credit while learning about their heritage in an experiential fashion, connecting to their Jewish identity, heritage and roots.  The program is the only non-denominational, non-political and co-educational English language study abroad program for high school students in Israel. Since 1972, the program has engaged more than 20,000 students.

The core curriculum is conducted in chronological historical order, with on-site experiential learning. Jewish teens connect with others from around the globe and create relationships that influence significant decisions as they plan for the post-high schools phase of life.  Most students agree that the most incredible part of the experience is getting to live in Israel like a local, instead of a tourist.

The original Hod HaSharon AMHSI campus hosts the summer and 8-week sessions.  With the support of Jewish National Fund (JNF), an AMHSI partner, the newest AMHSI campus was recently opened at the Eshel Hanassi Youth Village in the Negev, where the full semester program is held. More than double the length of a traditional eight-week AMHSI session, the new four-month program develops a deeper exposure to, and connection with, Israel, building upon the core AMHSI curriculum while including additional features such as Hebrew classes, mock army training, and a four-day hike across the country from “sea to sea,” from the Galilee to the Mediterranean. The semester also includes a week in Poland to study about the Holocaust, continuing with the AMHSI educational methodology of learning on-site where history took place.

To learn more about AMHSI - contact Dana Gerbie Klein at 617.566.8166.