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.