Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: A disabled man's stunning breakthrough

Aleh Negev
Dvir's former home, Aleh Negev, where he found his voice.  
Rehabilitation facility Aleh Negev provides high-level medical and rehabilitative care to severely disabled adults and children, most of whom cannot speak. Dvir, a former resident, suffers from cerebral palsy and severe motor disabilities, and his weak control over the muscles in his mouth made it impossible to understand him when he talked. At Aleh Negev, a volunteer drama teacher worked with Dvir to teach him how to purse his lips and blow, working with candles and teaching him to play the harmonica. These continuous practices resulted in a major improvement in Dvir's ability to speak and communicate with those around him.

As soon as it became easier for people to understand what he was saying, Dvir -- who came to live at Aleh Negev at age 22 -- began to share his thoughts and feelings with the therapy staff. He revealed a rich inner world and an unimagined cognitive level. 

He told the staff that he wanted to move to another home where he could be with friends with others who can speak. He put his thoughts into a letter that he asked his therapist to type for him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: A new Napa Valley, tucked in the Galilee

gourmet dining in the Galilee
The Western Galilee, located in Israel's north, is becoming a destination for lovers of good food. Really good food.
Sometimes a miracle is about helping people experience the magic that already exists close to home. As part of the Jewish National Fund's Go North program, JNF is giving Israelis a reason to discover their own version of Napa Valley just a short drive from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

The Western Galilee, in the northern part of Israel, is nestled between Mount Meron and the Mediterranean Sea. Overflowing with history, culture, natural beauty, and stellar local produce, the region is a source of world-class wines, boutique cheeses, and gorgeous scenery. And it’s an easy day trip from just about anywhere in Israel.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: 'Rescue our residents,' a plea answered

LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible

LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible offers educational outdoor activities throughout the country for children and adults with special needs. During Operation Protective Edge this summer, the organization received numerous calls from directors of special-needs facilities in the south of the country to literally "rescue our residents." 

"We are going crazy in the home," one participant from a Be'er Sheva rehab center for adults with intellectual challenges told LOTEM. "It's impossible to continue this way with all the fears."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: Advanced agricultural know-how farmed to the developing world

AICAT students holding Israeli flag

Along the Jordanian border, in the Central Arava desert, a modern miracle is taking place. With less than one inch of annual rainfall and multiple other challenges, the Arava farmers have been able to make the impossible possible and make the desert bloom. Roughly 550 farming families of the Central Arava produce 60 percent of Israel’s fresh vegetable exports and 10 percent of its cut-flower imports. The region is a world leader in advanced desert agriculture and a prime example of effective water use. 

But the miracle isn't only benefiting Israel; it's also impacting people in developing countries. Twenty years ago the Arava farmers took it upon themselves to share their  knowledge  and experience with the world. This was the beginning of the Arava International Center for Agriculture Training, or AICAT. Today the program has changed the lives of over 8,000 graduates from Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Tibet, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: Instant cheer for beleaguered IDF soldiers

Israeli soldiers thank Muss
Israeli soldiers say thank you to Muss students. 
During Operation Protective Edge this summer, students of Alexander Muss High School in Israel, an international study-abroad program for high schoolersraised almost $2,000 overnight in a charity drive to purchase food and supplies for IDF soldiers serving in Gaza. Help more teens strengthen their Jewish identities at Alexander Muss High School in Israel

More modern miracles #PoweredByJNF

Friday, December 19, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredbyJNF: Suddenly, an escape from the deadly flames

Israel's firefighters, some of the country's unsung heroes, are ranked among the best firefighting and rescue specialists in the world, and considered top experts in responding to acts of terror. But while they face situations specific to war, like in any community -- and particularly a dry, desert climate like that of Israel -- fires are a regular occurrence that need to be handled. Sometimes in moments of great peril battling the flames, firefighters experience something miraculous.

More modern miracles #PoweredByJNF

In July of this year, a number of fires encircled communities in the hills outside Jerusalem, including Ora, Aminadav, and Even Sapir. The Jerusalem Region Fire Brigade, which includes Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh firefighters, went into the fire with four crews, a total of 10 firefighters. They drove into the forest to protect Even Sapir first, in an attempt to stop the flames from engulfing homes. All of a sudden, the wind changed direction and the firefighters found themselves surrounded by flames. The heat trapped the first responders in their trucks. Just as they were about to be overcome by smoke, a path through the fire materialized, and the teams managed to escape their death trap.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: For six families, a life-changing decision

New homes in Negev desert
Slowly but surely, the OR Movement has relocated thousands of families to Israel's Negev desert. 
The OR Movement -- founded in 2002 by a group of young, idealistic Israelis -- aims to populate Israel's Negev desert, which represents 60 percent of Israel's land mass but is home to just 8 percent of the country's population.

More modern miracles #PoweredByJNF

After two months of constant rocket fire and unrest in Israel's southern region this summer, the OR Movement and JNF brought a busload of Israeli families to visit the Negev in hopes of motivating them to relocate to the south and help the desert flourish. Within days of the visit, six families committed to move to a kibbutz near the Gaza border, Nahal Oz, which lost a 4-year-old boy to a mortar hit during Operation Protective Edge and was largely evacuated during the final days of the crisis. When asked about the risk of living in a community that's experienced such duress, one man replied, "We are so proud to be Israeli, so moving here is what we will do." 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Modern miracle #PoweredByJNF: Silenced by fear, a boy speaks again

Green Horizons hike

During the eight days of Hanukkah, which celebrates an ancient miracle, we'll be highlighting some of the many modern-day miracles experienced by Jewish National Fund partners. We start with Green Horizons, known in Hebrew as Hugey Sayarut (hiking groups). The educational organization teaches kids about Israel's history, geography, and culture through outdoor field trips led by professional guides, and sometimes unexpected -- and miraculous -- things happen along the trails. 

Avinoam, a young boy in one of Green Horizons' northern groups, stopped talking during the summer of 2006. A katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon fell next to his house and since then, he had stopped communicating with words. His family did all they could do to help. They took him to doctors and psychologists, but Avinoam couldn't overcome his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What do Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg and singer Matisyahu have in common?

Sheryl Sandberg
Chances are you know Sheryl Sandberg as chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the much-talked-about best-seller "Lean In: Woman, Work, and the Will to Lead." But did you know she attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel

And she's far from the only big-name alum of the JNF-supported international study-abroad program for high schoolers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why am I in Israel? Musings on a JNF mission, poetry style

Phyllis Chancy Solomon (third from right); daughter Lori (second from left); and grandson Dylan (second from right), visit the Samuel Rubin Conservatory of Music in Be'er Sheva during their visit to Israel on the JNF mission. Their family foundation, the Chancy Memorial Foundation, provides music scholarships to the institution. Scholarship recipients are pictured at far left and to the left of Phyllis. 

Why am I in Israel? 

By Phyllis Chancy Solomon 

I am here because, I see a people who hear the siren
and stop, look and guide others to safety

I see a people who join hands, join hearts and reach
out to each other

I see a people who have lights in their eyes, softness
in their hearts and strength in their souls

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Harvesting Bedouin tradition to grow Israel's healing herbs

Wadi Attir
Photo: Jewish National Fund
Traditional Bedouin healer Adi Alhawashla (left) examines herbs with Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Sustainability Laboratory,  which focuses on research, development, and education related to sustainability.

By Arielle Angel

When Eti Golan, an Israeli herbalist, began studying her trade, she discovered that while European, North American, and Asian plants were well-represented in the available literature, information on the medicinal use of native Israeli plants was much harder to find.

"When you learn the science of healing in Israel, most everything -- the herbs and the knowledge about them -- is imported. There is no specific emphasis on Israeli herbs. You really have to struggle to learn more about them, especially those from the desert," said Golan, who is the manager of medicinal-plant product development at Project Wadi Attir, a model sustainable agricultural operation led by a Bedouin community in the Negev desert. 

The project has been designed to leverage Bedouin traditional values, know-how, and experience with modern-day science and cutting-edge technologies. Golan works alongside the director of the medicinal-plants operation, Ali Alhawashla, a traditional Bedouin healer and an expert in Negev medicinal plants, who has dedicated his life to studying their characteristics and preserving knowledge of their uses.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Back to the future: Making Beit She'an a place young people return to

Liron Avraham and Moriya Yaakobi
Photo: Nicolas Malamud 
Liron Avraham and Moriya Yaakobi speak at the kickoff event for the JNF-supported young adult leadership center in Beit She'an. Jewish National Fund CEO Russell Robinson came up with the idea for the facility.   

By Hermine Mahmouzian

A few months after arriving in Israel from Los Angeles, organizing our house, and getting the kids settled in school for what was to be our two-year adventure abroad, JNF CEO Russell Robinson asked me to do some work in the northern city of Beit She'an.

I had only been to Beit She'an once, when I worked on an archaeological dig there for a week while studying at Tel Aviv University many years ago. Who goes to Beit Shean? Well, I guess I was...

On one of my first visits I was introduced to a group of young adults, all in their mid twenties. Some attending university, some working in Beit She'an, and all complaining about the fact that there was no future for them in this city, one of the most ancient in the country. They had no motivation to return after their college years and already had their sights on Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.

As part of JNF's $1 Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade, which includes a push to develop the country's northern region, we asked what JNF could do. What would make them stay in the area? They all said the same thing: we need a place to meet, to hang out, to learn, to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Arava desert: Land of goat milk and honey

Photo: Kayema Farm
Kayema Farm in the Central Arava desert produces more than 20 varieties of boutique French-style goat cheeses.

By Darryl Egnal 

Ran Porat is a rule breaker. When someone tells him something can’t be done, he sets out to prove the opposite.

When he decided he wanted to make honey in the desert, people laughed. When he said he wanted to breed bees in the Arava -- the driest, hottest part of the Negev -- they told him he'd never make it. He disagreed. He was young, straight out of the army, and he set out to show everyone how wrong they were. Today, the Porat Apiary is a successful family-run business with thousands of productive beehives throughout the Negev and is renowned across Israel for its unusual honey flavors.

Not far from the Porat Apiary is the Kayema Farm, a place rich with the flow of milk -- goats' milk. An unusual choice for the Arava, the decision has been enormously successful. After seven years of competing with the rest of the fruit and vegetable farmers in the Central Arava, the Ofaimme family decided to try something new and different. So they brought 20 Alpine goats to Israel and acclimatized them to the desert heat. The goats have been thriving in the area for the past seven years and their milk produces special cheeses and many flavored fruit yogurts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Harvesting love with a wheelchair-accessible winepress

Photo: LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible 
With Sukkot just a couple of days away, we share a glimpse into a special type of harvest in Israel. During the summer grape-gathering season there, being in a wheelchair is no obstacle to getting in on the fun of pressing grapes. That's thanks to a custom-built accessible winepress at Jewish National Fund partner site LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible, which offers educational outdoor activities for children and adults with special needs in Emek HaShalom, the Valley of Peace.

The press is wide enough for wheelchairs to enter, and ropes hang from the roof for those who may not need a wheelchair, but require extra support standing. Participants press the grapes with their bare feet or wheelchair wheels and the juice slides into a pit. It is then collected in a large bowl, boiled, and enjoyed by all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One answer to crowding in central Israel: Go North!

Photo: Anne Taillandier 
The historically rich northern city of Akko is looking to attract more tourists to its turrets and tunnels. 

By Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod

Israel's center is "imploding" from crowding and high living costs, according to Jewish National Fund Chief Development Officer Rick Krosnick. But tourism to the north will help take the pressure off by spurring economic development and encouraging population growth in another region. 

While close to 80 percent of Israel's land area is located outside the center of the country, tourists typically spend only a few hours, at most, exploring beaches, museums, and historical and natural sites beyond Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Krosnick said recently at the Go North Western Galilee Tourism Conference in the northern coastal city of Akko. The conference was co-sponsored by JNF and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

The challenge doesn't just lie in bringing visitors to the region, but in convincing them to stay longer to enjoy the area's rich historical sites, boutique artists, expert travel guides, and farm-to-table restaurants. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Calling all JNF social-media superstars!

This Israeli firefighter just got a much-needed new tool belt. Hopefully he can pry it away from his daughter. #LoveGrowsInIsrael #JNF 
You just read about a JNF-sponsored field trip for Israeli children touched by war, and you want to share the story on Facebook. Or you're in Israel on a JNF mission and visited a site you think the world should know about. What's the best way to share JNF experiences and impressions on your social-media platform of choice? Here are a few tips to keep in mind, JNF social-media superstars.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

After days of war, giving kids a chance to be kids

Israeli kids enjoy a much-needed yom kef, or fun day, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund. 
More than 2,000 Israeli kids enjoyed a much-needed reprieve from months of fear and tension recently when the Jewish National Fund took them on a field trip to the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In Israel, such a day is called a yom kef, or a fun day. The field trip included 
1,500 elementary school students from Sderot, a city of 24,000 located less than a mile from the Gaza border. For them, the day offered dramatic relief from the tension they live with every day.

The fun day for the children from Sderot came together in just 72 hours. Driven by their desire to do something special for the children of Sderot, staff from JNF, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), and Neot Kedumim, as well as administrators from every elementary school in Sderot, worked around the clock to coordinate the complex logistics of the day.

"Today was a day of relief for the children of Sderot," said 
Alon Badihi, executive director of JNF Israel. "We want them to know that we love them. We want to thank them for being there for the Jewish people. We want to send them the message of how important it is for Jewish children all over Israel to keep living their lives and to remember how to have fun."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fear not, the younger generation gets it

Photo: Alicia Yaffe
JNF Social Media Executive Committee member Anne Taillandier samples the crop at Earth's Promise, a cooperative community garden farmed mostly by new immigrants from Ethiopia. 
By Vivian Grossman

I've often wondered whether generations to come will continue to fan the flame of Zionism. Will they understand the importance of how and why a strong Israel is critical to the quality of their lives in America? I've wondered how, with Holocaust survivors leaving us daily, the next generation will connect the dots and understand how Jews have survived for centuries despite countless attempts to rid us from the earth.
After recently returning from another amazing trip to Israel, I fear not. I spent a week with a group of rock-star social-media professionals from around the country who represent the leaders of tomorrow. They gave up their very valuable time to travel to Israel with the JNF and keep the message going. They're delightful, bright, funny, and serious, and they get that Zionism has a capital Z and is something to embrace. It's a word to be held in the highest esteem, not one to be disgraced.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Solidarity Mission shares impressions on i24news

Our L'Chaim Solidarity Mission has returned from an awesome week of helping out on the ground. Listen and see what they have to say. And read a compilation of emails written by mission co-chair Vivian Grossman.

Monday, June 30, 2014

We remember Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal

This afternoon, the world learned of the killings of the three teenagers in Israel: Naftali Frenkel, 16; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19. Our prayers and thoughts go out to their families and to all who knew and loved them.

In a way, their loss is one that we all share. Each of us came to know Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal in the last two weeks through the global campaign #BringBackOurBoys. Their story and captivity brought people together from many backgrounds and nations to support their release. It was indeed an unprecedented display of emotion and community not seen in some time.

However, the fact remains that these young men were abducted and struck down for no reason. They were not soldiers but Jewish students who loved Israel, desired to learn Torah, and had their entire lives before them.

In tribute to their lasting memory, Jewish National Fund will create gardens to honor Naftali z"l, Gilad z"l and Eyal z"l.

Friday, May 23, 2014

'Fireman’s fireman' honored with new truck in Jerusalem

By June Glazer 

No. 38 is the newest fire truck in Jerusalem. Weighing in at 12 tons of red fiberglass and pulled by a 240-horsepower engine, it is capable of driving over steep hills, rocks, and ditches, and is perfectly suited for the terrain of Israel's capital city and its surrounding forests.

Last week, family and friends gathered at a fire station in Jerusalem's Givat Mordechai neighborhood to dedicate No. 38 in memory of fallen American firefighter Captain David L. Bailey from Los Angeles, California. Captain Bailey, who died in the line of duty in 2012, was known as a "fireman's fireman," and the truck, which will bear his name in perpetuity, testifies to the esteem in which he was held by those who knew and loved him.

"Dave was one of the most highly certified firefighters in the Los Angeles County Fire Department," said Sam Heller, Bailey's good friend and the force behind acquiring the fire truck for the Jerusalem fleet. "At his funeral, which was attended by over 2,000 firefighters, the fire chief who spoke asked all those assembled to rise. Then he listed multiple accreditations and one by one asked the firefighters to remain standing if they held that accreditation. After going through a long list of possible accreditations all fighters were seated, to which the Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief said, 'If Captain David L. Bailey was among us today, he would still be standing. That's the kind of professional firefighter Dave was.'"

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Extreme makeover Be'er Sheva River Park: From garbage dump to eco-wonder

The city of Be'er Sheva, whose population in the greater municipal area is close to half a million, is fast overcoming an image problem. The city had been long regarded by Israelis as a sleepy, run-down development town, a dusty pit stop on the way to Eilat.

That is no longer the case. In the past few years, the city has experienced a makeover that almost defies belief. Museums, theaters, high-rise upscale apartment buildings, high-tech parks, giant malls, and new parks and restaurants have appeared around the city. The former dilapidated town is gradually undergoing an aesthetic gentrification and the city's outer suburbs are nestled on green hills dotted by cool water fountains.

Nothing demonstrates this transformation as dramatically as the Be'er Sheva River Park. As if by magic, the park was created in an area described once as the "armpit" of the city, in what was a dry riverbed near the southern entrance of the city piled with wrecked cars, garbage, and sewage. It took months of cleanup with trucks going in and out to dispose of the rotting trash that had accumulated over decades.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why 'limiting debate on Israel will only hurt us' is wrong

By Russell F. Robinson, Jewish National Fund CEO

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, a senior fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), and author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future (2013) is someone I deeply respect. However, his latest opinion ("Limiting Debate on Israel Will Only Hurt Us," The Jewish Week, Feb. 4), is a perspective, if acted upon, that has the potential to actually hurt our community.

In his desire to encourage more open dialogue on Israel, Rabbi Schwarz would like the college campus organization Hillel to reform its guidelines and allow overtly anti-Israel groups the opportunity to speak under the Hillel banner. Schwarz believes that preventing such contrarians to talk will actually drive young next-gen Jews away from us. 

Such a notion is not only unbelievable, it is just plain irresponsible!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sderot indoor playground provides safe haven in times of crisis

By Patricia Golan

Despite the sudden resumption of Qassam rocket fire from Gaza late last week, school children in southern Israel turned out en masse in festive costumes for Purim holiday celebrations this past weekend, especially at the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, where Purim holiday music blasted from the loudspeakers, adding to a fun atmosphere that helped alleviate the stress of recent days.

"Purim has helped us forget the sirens we have been hearing in recent days,” said a resident. “I can only hope it stays that way." In Sderot -- a town located less than a mile from Gaza and well-known for being targeted by Gaza rocket launchers -- residents were given the go-ahead from the Home Front to hold their Purim festival in town and outdoors. 

Until the last-minute decision by defense authorities, Sderot’s children at least had a unique alternative to staging the Purim parade outdoors: hold festivities in their one-of-a-kind, heavily fortified indoor children's playground.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More alternative-break reporting from the Negev

By Emma Levich

Sitting here back here in my room at the wonderful Kibbutz Kramim, I can't believe our second day has already flown by; we have done so much, yet have many more amazing stories to hear and sights to see.

Yesterday was our first day of volunteering, and we worked with an organization called Earth's Promise, an organization that strives to assist Ethiopian immigrants adjust to life in Israel, culturally and socially. One specific project they have is growing a community garden where Ethiopian families can grow various crops and vegetables to be used in their daily life. The purpose of this garden is to give something to the families who are new to the land of Israel, something that they can call their own. This also provides them with a certain comfort, by growing crops they are familiar with.

I was so impressed by this organization and their various projects, especially by the passion that encompassed everyone who worked there. Throughout spending the day there, it was obvious to see how the presence of this community garden brought people together, in the most positive ways. The fact that I can say that I was personally a part of this mission is extremely rewarding, and something that I will cherish forever.

Alternative spring breaker reports from the Negev

By Samantha Mellman

It is the end of day 2 of our week long journey in the Negev desert on JNF ASB. Yesterday we volunteered at an Ethiopian urban farm in Be’er  Sheva which is maintained by an organization called Earth's Promise and today we spent time at Yossi's farm in Kerem Behar Hanegev.  I did not realize that small family farms can not always afford the tools and technology to cultivate and clean their land in a relatively quick and simple way. Our group had to rake weeds, nail benches, and shovel mulch with our bare hands. This was the first time I have volunteered on farms, and even though my arms and back are a bit sore I can sleep in our kibbutz happy knowing that we made a difference.

In two days, I have learned so much more about the Negev then I ever knew before. I went on Birthright three years ago and we visited the desert for one day. I thought all there was to see was Mt. Masada and the Dead Sea. I figured no one else lives here besides Bedouins. I was proven wrong.  From listening to various speakers on our trip I have come to understand that the Negev is in an ongoing process of development. This was my first visit to Be'er Sheva and when we stood on a newly built bridge at Be'er Sheva River Park I saw the promise this city has to be a thriving metropolis like Tel Aviv.

Creating new opportunities for the next generation in the Arava

By Patricia Golan
Here's a startling fact: it’s more expensive to buy an apartment in Tel Aviv today than in Manhattan. The housing situation in the rest of central Israel is not much better – overcrowded and expensive – and well beyond the means of average Israelis, especially young families. Social unrest throughout the country two years ago added further voice to argue for greater economic and housing opportunities, and shed light on the ongoing struggle the middle-class experiences to obtain a better quality of life. 

The situation has been referred to as “one of Israel’s biggest political issues of all time.” So the question remains, where can young Israelis, who are contemplating the prospects for a better life, move?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A legend and his son's legacy

By Abby Leviss, JNF director of grants and foundations 

Doron and Didi Almog are amazing people whom I've known for nearly seven years now. Their son Eran, who was born with severe developmental disabilities, died suddenly seven years ago at the age of 23. It's hard for me to imagine that they were so early in their grief when I met them. They were and are amazing people.

General Almog was the first person on the ground in Entebbe in 1976 -- part of a clandestine mission to rescue 108 hostages whose plane had been hijacked and who were being help captive in Uganda. He was the commander of that mission and is a celebrated hero in Israel. He felt led by his deeply rooted commitment to never leaving a wounded soldier in the field. Several years earlier, during the Yom Kippur war, Doron's brother was left bleeding on the battlefield for days. He was returned to his family already dead. The hostages were to him the wounded soldiers. He would not leave then behind.

Abby Leviss shares a moment with Doron Almog. 
When Eran was born, he felt the same. He and his wife knew that they would never leave him behind. Their commitment was to give him a beautiful life, to make sure that he could experience everything to the fullest in a way that matched his needs and abilities. He and his wife recognized right away that there was a stigma. That the other parents would proudly brag about their children. "Of course they thought their children were great!" Doron said, because they belonged to their parents! Their children were considered an extension of their parent's own greatness. There is ego in the pride.

But what do the parents of a severely developmentally disabled child have to brag about? Eran could not feed himself, or go to the bathroom by himself, or even say one word -- "not even aba (father)". But the love a parent feels for their child is unconditional. Those things should not matter. "These children are the most innocent in society -- full of love. They cannot be left behind." Doron set about building a village that would accommodate special-needs young people and adults -- not a sterile institution but a community with green grass, shaded areas to relax, a multitude of special therapies (pet therapy, equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, hydrotherapy). The place is called Aleh Negev -- a place that they believed Eran would live out the many years of his life.  But that dream would never be realized.  Eran died suddenly and unexpectedly as a young man. People talk about Doron's son who was developmentally disabled a lot at JNF, but they nearly never speak about the fact that he's been left grieving -- a bereaved parent to a special-needs child.

Reflections on a JNF staff mission to Israel

This past week, 45 members of the Jewish National Fund's USA staff participated in a staff mission to Israel to see projects, participate in team building, and become even more energized by the important work that we do. This post was submitted by Jodi Perlmuth Popofsky, senior campaign executive, Greater New York.  

Getting to Israel

Before my flight began, passenger became ill and had to get off the plane. This was followed by a search for his baggage, and so our on time departure was not in the cards. My hopes of getting to Tel Aviv in time to meet the LA contingent (and their van to Be'er Sheva) were dashed.  Instead, after a decent amount of sleep on the plane, I got myself from Ben Gurion airport to the train and to my hotel in Be'er Sheva just about 10 minutes after the other 40 or so people in my group.  

Start to the day
I met four of my colleagues at 6 a.m. the next morning and we ran for approximately 4 miles -- it was a lot of fun and was followed by a great breakfast, then onto the busses to begin a big day of touring.  

Giv'ot Bar
First stop was the community called Giv'ot Bar where we saw a real community in the desert, built with JNF support. What was originally barren desert has been transformed -- first with an idea, then with trailers, and now with real houses. Demand for these houses is so high that a third phase of development is in the works.

Aleh Negev
Upon arrival at Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art rehabilitative community in the middle of the desert, we were met by its founder, Major General Doron Almog. In my estimation, Doron may be the person with the biggest heart I have ever met. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Marathon man on a roll

Photo: Anne Taillandier
Reprinted from the Jerusalem Post by Abigail Klein Leichman

A car accident 11 years ago killed Eden Rutman and put her eight-and-a-half-year-old brother Raz in critical condition. When he regained consciousness after two months in the ICU, his mother, Esther, had to tell him the terrible news about his sister. 

Then she added, “You have two choices: If you want, you can join Eden. If you want, you can live.” 

Raz chose to live. And on March 21, a day after his 20th birthday, he will lead a group determined to finish the 800-meter accessi­ble route in the Jerusalem Marathon, to raise funds and awareness for LOTEM, the 20-year-old nonprofit that has become entwined in the lives of the Rutman family. 

They’ll be participating as part of a larger team under the banner of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, which has partnered with LOTEM for the past eight years to build accessible hiking trails and guide some 30,000 Israelis a year with phys­ical, communication and intellectual chal­lenges, hearing and vision impairments, who have an opportunity to experience the outdoors. 

Other KKL-JNF partners, including farm­ers from the community of Halutza in the Negev and firefighters, will be running as part of this team. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Usafiya fire station dedication

Tuesday was the opening ceremony of the brand new state-of-the-art fire station in Usafia that was made possible thanks to the Miami-Dade and Florida regions of Jewish National Fund under the leadership of Ron Kriss, the Miami president. In many ways, the occasion was like the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. The morning started with a visit to where it all began three and a half years ago. There was an emotional visit to the Carmel Forest Memorial where 44 people lost their lives in the worst fire ever in Israel’s history. The group then continued to the opening ceremony at the new station.

When commissioner Ayalon made his remarks, he recounted a phone call after the Carmel fire from Ron Kriss in Florida who was so moved and simply said -- "I want to help… tell me how." The commissioner told Ron about plans to build a fire station on Mount Carmel in the Druze village, a station that would lower response time to 4-6 minutes instead of the current 25 minutes, and a station that would help support the continued development of the North and would make a true difference in the lives of those in the region. "Ron and our JNF USA family got straight on it, and today was the result of all of the hard work that was put into raising the funds and building the station."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Bullet Factory: Always something new

By Alyse Golden Berkley, Makor member

The Ayalon Institute is a museum dedicated to preserving the history of a secret bullet factory, set up by the Haganah, and built right under the nose of the British. The factory was built to look like a Kibbutz laundry. Volunteers led a double life, telling everyone they knew that they were going to work in the laundry but really working tirelessly underground manufacturing ammunition.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit my favorite tourist attraction in all of Israel, The Ayalon Institute, also known as the Bullet Factory. I accompanied the wife of an American Executive. As our guide fascinated us with the personal stories of the workers from the Factory, our guest shared stories of her father fighting at Normandy during World War II. She saw that we all had to sacrifice and fight together for freedom. It was touching to see how moved she was by this experience.

Some might say that returning to this site is the same old, same old; however, it has never been the same. I always learn something new. This time, our guide told us of a Holocaust survivor who came to see the Bullet Factory. During the war, she endured torture when forced to make bullets for the very enemy that was trying to annihilate her and her people. In coming to this place, she saw that at the same time, Jews were doing the very same thing, but for their own defense. In the words of this survivor, her life had come full circle and was given the closure that she has always sought. Her thought and feelings have been memorialized in the letter that is below.   

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Negev bound, with a message

By Alyse Golden Berkley, Makor member

As a member of Jewish National Fund's speaker's bureau, Makor, I have certain responsibilities; at the same time, I have many blessings. This year, my journey begins with an airport pick up by Noa Gefen, our partner with SPIHS (The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites), and my friend. After lots of warm hugs and salutations, our conversation turned to updates of our projects together and how we may better showcase them to the world. She gladly invited me to join her on a special private tour with a potential very major donor from the United States not yet connected with the Jewish National Fund. I endeavor to change that.

On Wednesday, days prior to the official start of the Makor Mission, I was given the unique opportunity to bring new potential donors to the Central Arava. They work in the produce industry and are very well-respected for the unique produce that they introduce in the United States. In addition to providing them with the opportunity to share in our JNF projects in Israel, I hope to open doors to potentially establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with our farmers in the Negev.

Our day was artfully planned by Shahar, who works for JNF in Israel and leads many of our tours.  He could not have been more accommodating, professional and gracious. Our first stop was a quick tour of Sapir where we watched a short video of the resources in the Central Arava, followed by a meeting with Hanni, the Director of AICAT, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training

We were privileged to observe classrooms filled with students from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Imagine how wonderful I felt when we entered the classroom with Vietnamese students and the Translator immediately recognized me and greeted me with such a warm hug!  And even more special, he told me that when we last met, his family had been so against him coming to Israel, but now, as a result of the special time he has spent here with AICAT, his family now wants to join him in Israel!  Muslims becoming Zionists!  Who knew?!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New eligibility for Birthright participants

Birthright/Taglit has made a major announcement that changes their participation guidelines.  Birthright was designed for young Jewish people (between the ages of 18-26) who had never experienced an educational peer trip to Israel. In January, Birthright officially expanded that criteria to include even more young adults in the program.

As part of the expanded criteria for participation, “second-timers” — youth who have already participated in an Israel trip — will be eligible for the heavily subsidized Israel experience.

This is great news for anyone who previously participated on a high school teen tour and for anyone who has attended or is considering attending Alexander Muss High School in Israel

Friday, January 24, 2014

Western Galilee artisans: Tourism off the beaten path

By Geri Shatz, Member of JNF's Makor Speakers Bureau

Hagit Stern. Edna and Eyal Hefer. Tami and Yaron Cohen. Jaris Hadid. Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat. Michal and Danny Kalderon.

No, you don't know these names yet. They are those of artisanal entrepreneurs in Israel's Western Galilee, and the quality of their work is original and excellent.  Each workshop is worth a visit, each food should be tasted, and I will tell you just how to do that in a moment.

But first, there is some recent history to relate:.

Johnny Stern, the owner of Stern Winery at Kibbutz Tuvat, and Amnon
Gopher, a tour guide specializing in the Galilee recognized that forming a coalition of local artisans to work in concert to enhance their products and promote their businesses could also help to expose the public to the under-appreciated Western Galilee. They would rely on each other, not government agencies, to create, fund and direct their association. The next steps would be to hire an executive director, whom they found in Michal Shiloah, whose marketing and public relations background was honed at Motorola, and to develop a concept of bringing enough top-rated artisans to the association Western Galilee Now to be able to offer tour guides the ability to craft trips for discerning visitors that maximize the quality of visits to the religiously, historically and culturally diverse region.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Canadian PM Stephen Harper joins Cornerstone Ceremony for Hula Lake Park Visitors Center

“Our environmental policy in Canada focuses on the preservation of green areas,” said the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, at the ceremony, “so it is truly wonderful that we can share this with the State of Israel.” 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

LGBT mission to Israel for Pride Parade!

For the first time ever, Jewish National Fund (JNF) is hosting a very unique mission to Israel for the LGBT community. Taking place from June 5-12, 2014, the Pride of Israel LGBT Mission will embrace the world-famous Tel Aviv Gay Pride Festival while showing participants the colorful side of Israel.

“What most people in the LGBT community don’t realize is that within this community there is still a need for support in both the Jewish community and Israel,” said Howard Bragman, Pride of Israel LGBT Mission Chair. “Participants will come away with an additional sense of pride, not only from the LGBT community, but from learning what Israel has to offer."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Caravan for Democracy: My hope for humanity

By Wesley Varughese, Lawrence University '16

First and foremost, I am thankful and most blessed to have received the opportunity to travel  to Israel with the Caravan for Democracy for the Jewish National Fund. The JNF staff on our trip consists of the following: Yoni, our incredibly knowledgeable, but hilarious tour guide, Rabbi Leor Sinai, our hip, co-tour guide that provided different perspectives of every situation we were placed in throughout the country (while promoting discussion), and Jessica Lebovits, another fantastic staff person guiding us on the trip, who was very familiar with what the Jewish National Fund is doing here in Israel and answering any questions we had about Judaism. We also had our chief of security/emergency aid, and our fantastic driver, passing through tight streets smoothly and giving us pleasant rides throughout the trip - both with smiling faces everyday we saw them. Each one of these staff members impacted us on the trip, and although some were different than others, they each gave us a perspective and a memory that will forever be engrained in our minds, even if we forget their names later on in life.

Rabbi Leor had said a few nights ago, "you've met so many people on this trip: my kids, all the speakers from various organizations, the people serving us food at restaurants, and each of us here on the trip with you. You may not remember all their names, but you will wonder one day how they're doing back in Israel." You make ask yourself, "I wonder how Rabbi Leor's son doing? Did he ever have to join the IDF once he had grown up?" Or the man who talked to us about the Druze, "how is his family doing?" These questions will linger and are already beginning to form in our minds once we've met someone - as we remember who they are subconsciously. It may be dependent on their importance to you, but there will be important people that stuck out to you that you will wonder about. This wondering process is important for when we do our best to explain our experiences to our family and friends. Making personal connections to the stories you tell gives them that much more enjoyment when it's told. And with that, the things you wonder about are the things that were important to you in what you felt on this Caravan for Democracy.