Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Young Farmers Incubator Project

Gush Katif was made up of 17 Israeli settlements in the southern Gaza strip. In August 2005, the Israeli army moved the 8,600 residents of Gush Katif to Israel. They were evicted from the area and their homes demolished as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip.

Faced with the myriad of challenges to starting over, a group of residents from the former Gush Katif settlement of Netzarim established a new community in the Halutza region of the Negev.  This group of pioneers have devised a strong, comprehensive and integrated vision for restoring families and communities. They have worked tirelessly to develop essential social and educational programs and opportunities for the families living in the new community of B’nai Netzarim.

The Young Farmers Incubator Project was designed as a way to attract young families of former Gush Katif evacuees to B’nai Netzarim – a community looking to grow.  The project provides each new family with the resources and education from which to successfully grow their own agricultural business.  Each participant in the project is provided an accomplished and knowledgeable mentor as well as their own greenhouse, which they can use to grow their own fruits, vegetables and plants. The project is currently aimed at helping 3-4 young farmers at a time for between 1-3 agricultural seasons, each lasting 10 months. They are then replaced by new young farmers, so that the community and opportunities can continue to flourish.

This project provides an opportunity that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Israel – to learn the skills of farming while building a new business for oneself.  An indicator of both the need for and the success of the project is the waiting list for the next round of screening. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Tal Fund - Protecting Israel's Land

Our connection as Jews is to the land of Israel – her history and beauty.  Because her environment is so fragile and she is so small in size, it is important that we take care of her by paying careful attention that any development on her precious grounds is thoughtful and sustainable.

Since its inception in 2007, the JNF/ KKL Tal Fund for environmental activism has funded over 40 local and national environmental initiatives by supporting grassroots environmental organizations and community groups in Israel.  The Fund has proved itself to be a nimble and effective player in many of the country’s key environmental campaigns, supporting efforts that have saved beaches and parks, prevented air and water pollution, strengthened civil society and led to more responsible environmental policies.

Though there are too many programs that have been supported by the Tal Fund to name, the following are some of the successful initiatives that have been funded over the past several years:

•    Preserving Sasgon Valley: This pristine corner of the greater Timna region has been zoned for a resort development including numerous hotel buildings, boat canals and attractions. Citizens from the Arava organized a campaign to prevent citing of hotel in this area proposing alternative locations. The campaign included legal action, appearances before the Southern Planning and Building Commission, etc.

•    Moving Away from Coal-fired Electricity: In 2011 a grant was made to Green Course, a national student network, to support their efforts to lobby the government and Israel’s National Planning and Building Commission to opt for a new power plant in Ashkelon based on low carbon fuels as the default source of energy. The campaign was successful and the power station is to be based on natural gas.

In the upcoming year, The Tal Fund hopes to be able to support many new initiatives including the Coastal Protection Initiative.  This program will involve three campaigns -

•    Protecting the Tel Baruch Beach area (which is the last natural corner of Tel Aviv) from a plan to develop it into an extensive commercial urban park

•    Protecting the Nitsanim Coastal Park from a proposed plan to set up an industrial area for the city of Ashdod

•    Protecting the Betset coast near Nahariyah from a tourist resort that was approved decades ago, before the shortage in coastline became clear.

There are so few pristine areas left in Israel - we believe it is of the utmost important to approach every new development project with a critical eye towards sustainability.  Our commitment to the Tal Fund supports Israel's concerned citizens and encourages them to do the same by getting involved!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Stav Learned: There is no such thing as a "normal" person

Editor’s Note: This past school year, Alon and Gida, students in the Ben Yehuda School for children with special needs and Stav and Noam, students in the Tali Bet Chinuch School, were selected by their teachers to write about their experiences in LOTEM, an organization in Israel that offers hikes and educational nature activities to people with disabilities. Alon, Goda, Stav and Noam’s program brings together children with disabilities and those from a regular education class. They also wrote as a group about their experience. One of the students from the regular education class wrote while the other children dictated. Then Alisa Bodner, who works with both LOTEM and its partner, The Jewish National Fund, translated the piece into English and indicated which student made individual remarks. 

We are students from the Tali Bet Chinuch School and the Ben Yehuda School.  We are between the ages of 13-14.  In our group is Alon, age 13, who loves to play soccer and Gida, age 14, who loves to hike and belly dance.  Stav, age 13, loves to read, dance, sing and hike and Noam, age 14, loves to hike and help others.

We participated in a joint program called Natural Integration with the organization LOTEM, in cooperation with Makom LeKulam.  In the first encounter, the students from Bet Chinuch came to Ben Yehuda.  We played games to get to know one another and planned a joint hike together. The second encounter took place in KKL-JNF's Ayalon Park Canada.  We hiked together on the trails and had different activities through which we learned about our surroundings.  Throughout the hike, we ran together hand-in-hand. We really enjoyed.

After the hike, we prepared food in the field, including pizza, croissants, chocolate treats and vegetables.  When we were on the bus returning to our schools we had a desire for more ...

The third encounter was in KKL-JNF's Aminadav Forest. In this encounter we learned sign language and how to sing songs using different hand motions. We learned Braille and even how to say in sign language, "Happy Passover".  After the hike, we had a closing ceremony. Our classmates from the two schools spoke about their experiences from this project. Jay Ruderman, who funded this project through the Ruderman Foundation, attended the ceremony. We felt honored to meet him.

Each one of us learned many new things. Noam learned a life lesson that it is possible to take positive things from each person. "We need to accept differences regardless of who the person is. The children from 'Ben Yehuda' have such happiness for life. They have such strong willpower and they do not give up- even in difficulty. This is something I need to take upon myself."

Alon learned much from the instruction of Shai, his guide from LOTEM. He really enjoyed the hikes. "I gave the gift to Jay. I felt good giving it to him."
Gida had fun hiking with the students from Bet Chinuch. "The most fun was the activity when we made 'Happy Passover' cards with sign language."
One of the most prominent things that Stav learned is that there is no such thing as a "normal" person. "Everybody is different, everybody is unique".

Each one of us enjoyed very much the hikes and encounters. We got to know new and unique people. We would like to thank very much Jay Ruderman for his contribution, the LOTEM guides who were with us and the different people who supported us through the difficulties.

Monday, May 6, 2013

WEPOWER Celebrates the Opening of the Negev Branch of the College for Women in Politics

WEPOWER is pleased to announce that yesterday May 5, 2013 we celebrated the launch of the Negev branch of the College for Women in Politics, made possible with the support of the Jewish National Fund, at the Council Hall of the Beer Sheva Municipality.

The panel speakers were the Mayor of Beer Sheva, Mayor of Mitzpe Ramon, Mayor of Arad, Head of the Regional Council Bnei Shimon, Deputy Mayor of Beer Sheva, Deputy Mayor of Dimona and a Councilmember in Beer Sheva. The Executive Director of WEPOWER, Ifat Zamir gave the opening remarks. The Mayor of Beer Sheva, Mr. Rubik Danilovich, spoke at length about his full-hearted support for reaching a more equal balance in politics as well as his enthusiasm to be working in partnership with WEPOWER.

The conference was attended by 70 women. Among them, "Women for Future Leadership" training program graduates from the Negev, including women from Sderot, Ofakim, Arad, Beer Sheva and Regional Council Bnei Shimon. The conference discussed the opportunities and challenges facing women leaders in the upcoming elections. The three women mayors in attendance, all from the Negev, shared their inspiring stories and spoke about the importance of more women in the municipal sphere and encouraged the participants to run in the upcoming municipal elections in October. The Mayor of Arad, Tali Ploskov said to our program graduates: "Use my slogan – I will run and I will win – as your own in your campaign. I adopted this as a graduate of WEPOWER training program in 2005 and I still carry it with me today."

The Negev branch of the College was established thanks to the strategic partnership with the Jewish National Fund, and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation--Women's Amutot Initiative, Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, the U.S.--Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), Union of Local Authorities, and the Office for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee.

All of us at WEPOWER and all of the beneficiaries of our programs greatly appreciate your commitment to strengthening the next generation of women leaders in the Negev. We strongly believe that equal representation will lead to a better society and stronger community in the Negev.