Friday, March 27, 2015

JNF photography mission yields beautiful Israel pastiche

Photo: Chet Stein
An ibex and its calf, spotted in Ein Gedi. 

Retired periodontist and avowed photographer Chet Stein, a JNF major-gifts chair for the DC region and a member of Makor, co-chaired the JNF photography mission earlier this month. Here, he shares impressions of the experience, as well as some of his photos.  

On the Jewish National Fund's recent Israel Through a Photographic Lens mission, nine of us from around the country had a unique opportunity to expand our photographic horizons. Our goal for the mission was to expose participants to the diverse beauty of Israel as well as the wonderful work of the JNF. If the stunning photos that resulted are any indication, I think we succeeded handily.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once a soldier in Iraq, now a JNF staffer: One man's story

During a tour of Camp Victory in Iraq, Matthew Gabe sits in a throne in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. 

By Matthew Gabe 

I'm a senior campaign executive with the Jewish National Fund in San Francisco. But this isn't the first time I've worked in the Jewish community. After practicing law for several years, I made a career change in 2006 and accepted a position with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In May of 2007, while working at AIPAC, and with less than two weeks notice, I was recalled to active duty with the United States Navy. I am proud to have served my country in Iraq as a Jewish soldier. I still keep my dog tags, which list my religion as Jewish, next to my bed.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Shamir Drilling Project: Making water flow from an ancient aquifer

Shamir Drilling Project
Photo: KKL-JNF

By Leiba Chaya David

Israel, located in one of the driest regions in the world, is in a perpetual state of water crisis.  Historically, water has often been a cause of great dispute -- as in the biblical case of Isaac and the Philistine shepherds arguing over well ownership. In the thousands of years since that particular conflict, water scarcity in the region has been exacerbated by rapidly growing populations, ambitious development plans, and prolonged periods of drought. The current annual deficit in Israel's renewable water resources is almost 131 billion gallons.

Though the picture seems grim, Israelis have an international reputation for pioneering innovative solutions to the water challenge. On a quiet hillside in the northeastern Galilee, for example, a group of hydrologists and farmers are reaching back into the past to guarantee a viable source of water for future generations. The Shamir project, a partnership between the Israeli government, the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights Water Associations, and Jewish National Fund’s Parsons Water Fund (through the generous donation of Dr. Evelyn G. Lipper and the EGL Charitable Foundation), is drawing unprecedented amounts of water from a 5,000-year-old (according to carbon dating) artesian aquifer.

Watershed moment: Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouin team on Negev water quality

Photo: Arava Center for Transboundary Water Management

Clive Lipchin (top) and Bart Johnsen-Harris knee and arm deep in sludge near Be’er Sheva.

By Clive Lipchin

In a time of ever-decreasing global water supply, Israel is working to ensure that its future water needs are secure. Responding to this mandate, the JNF Parsons Water Fund has partnered with the Center for Transboundary Water Management (CTWM) at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies to restore the Besor-Hebron-Be'er Sheva watershed, whose untreated wastewater directly affects JNF's Be'er Sheva River Park project.

A little earth science lesson: Watersheds are the areas of land where all of the water that runs under it or drains off it collects at the same place. The Besor-Hebron-Be’er Sheva watershed includes areas of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza (Sde Boker in the south, Hebron in the northeast, and Gaza in the west), ultimately draining into the Mediterranean Sea. Because it includes both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it is considered a transboundary watershed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Alternative Spring Break: Election Day spurs musings on democracy

JNF Alternative Spring Break
Working on beautifying a community garden in Haifa.  

By Ali Cohen, Alternative Spring Break Young Professionals chair

The second day of Jewish National Fund's Alternative Spring Break for Young Professionals was particularly special, as Israelis went to the polls. As we embarked on another meaningful day of volunteering, I reflected on the vibrancy of Israel's democracy and the vast diversity of opportunities, challenges, and visions for the future of this tiny, but beautiful and important country.

We spent our morning in one of Haifa's oldest neighborhoods, Bat Galim, working with a local resident on the beautification of his small, self-made community garden. We jumped right in after a brief introduction from the two main gardeners, Omer and Tzur, and for several hours, we removed overgrown weeds, prepared plots for summer crops, developed artwork, and planted herbs and fruit trees. We definitely broke a sweat, and by the time our service hours were over, the garden looked completely different than it did when we arrived. Omer and Tzur, who have been working for seven years to bring members of the community together in their once neglected space, were very grateful for our assistance and enthusiasm.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dramatic story of top-secret pre-state bullet factory headed to big screen

Filming The Secret Beneath the Hill
A film crew recaptures the dramatic story of the secret factory where more than 2 million bullets were manufactured. 

By June Glazer

One of the most dramatic chapters in the struggle to establish the state of Israel will soon be portrayed in a documentary, thanks to an American news reporter turned movie producer who recently filmed at the site where the story of a clandestine bullet factory unfolded 70 years ago. 

Laurel Fairworth, an Emmy-Award-winning television journalist based in Philadelphia, was inspired to re-create for posterity this little-known story of secrecy and heroism after visiting Israel for the first time two years ago. 

"My parents loved Israel, and before my mother passed away she made me promise to visit. Frankly, I had no desire to do so, but to fulfill my promise I went on a mega-mission with our Jewish Federation. Very simply, I was smitten," Fairworth said at the Ayalon Institute on the day filming for the documentary "The Secret Beneath the Hill" began there in March. "Ayalon Institute" was the code name for the clandestine underground munitions plant that today is a national museum.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More Alternative Spring Break: Students become sudden farmers

Enhancing the kitchen at Earth's Promise with mud. 
Participants in our second Alternative Spring Break trip of the season are off and exploring Israel while physically working the land. And they're having a ball! Read on for an update from Michael Newfield, a student at UMass Amherst. 

We have had quite an exciting first day over here in the homeland!

We kicked off our adventure at the Earth's Promise sustainable farm in Be'er Sheva, where we split up and participated in multiple projects to improve the well-being and sustainability of the the local community. In the blink of an eye, 42 college students transformed into farmers as we began preparing the unused plots of land for planting food.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Then and now: See the Western Galilee Visitors Center's speedy progress

Last August, JNF's inaugural Social Media Executive Committee traveled up north and spent time exploring the coastal city of Akko, including the site of what will be the JNF Western Galilee Visitors Center. What a difference seven months makes! From a 150-year-old building with crumbling walls, exposed pipes and a debris-strewn floor to one lined with beautiful stones that recall the city's ancient history... Check out the before-and-after pictures below.

Last summer on the mission:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spotlight on Jewish women part 2: Ronna Schneider

To mark International Women’s Day 2015, March 8, Jewish National Fund lauds two powerhouse women, both Cincinnati residents, for their leadership roles and hard work on behalf of JNF, as well as their efforts in their broader local communities and in Israel. Read about Nina Levine Paul here

By June Glazer 

Dr. Ronna Schneider:  "It's my responsibility to give back"

Dr. Ronna Schneider, a pediatrician and owner of a medical practice in Cincinnati, credits her family’s history with motivating her to "give back" to the community. As the JNF national co-chair for both the Doctors for Israel affinity group and the 2014 Doctors for Israel tour, Ronna credits her father’s volunteer work as a dentist and a life-changing encounter in Greece for putting her on the leadership track at JNF.

"My parents were involved in Jewish Federation and in the community, so volunteerism was instilled in me early on," the Cincinnati native says. "During the 1980s, when Russian Jews were immigrating to the US, he volunteered one day a week to clean their teeth and give them dental exams. As a physician, I now understand what a sacrifice it was for him to give up a whole day of work."

Several years ago, Ronna experienced a turning point in her life that bolstered her father's example of the importance of giving back. At the Holocaust Memorial in the city of Salonika, Greece, as part of a Jewish Federation National Young Leadership Cabinet trip, she listened as the non-Jewish tour guide recounted the history of the area during the Holocaust and told the story of the Yosafat family of Katerini, whose members the town mayor helped to escape and who were hidden for two years by locals on nearby Mt. Olympus.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spotlight on Jewish women part I: Nina Levine Paul

To mark International Women’s Day 2015, March 8, Jewish National Fund lauds two powerhouse women, both Cincinnati residents, for their leadership roles and hard work on behalf of JNF, as well as their efforts in their broader local communities and in Israel. Read about Ronna Schneider here

By June Glazer

For Nina Levine Paul, it all started 29 years ago when she arrived in Cincinnati from Los Angeles, married her husband, Edward, and became involved in JNF. There, she discovered people who shared her love of Israel, and she channeled her experience and skills as a businesswoman into her volunteer work, especially fundraising. Nina climbed through the ranks, became Southern Ohio regional president, and today is national vice president of the women's campaign.

Along the way, Nina joined the Sapphire Society, JNF's women's major-gifts division, and continued with other campaigns, all of which earned her recognition as JNF's first campaign all-star.

In addition, she sits on JNF's Israel Relations Committee and chairs the Manual D. and Rhoda Mayerson Inclusive Parks Project, which supports the creation and redesign of all parks in Israel to be inclusive for people with and without disabilities.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Alternative Spring Break: Tasting deliciousness and danger in the same day

By Janie Brown, University of Michigan 

Today started off with the same type of savory breakfast, although there was chocolate pudding! For breakfast! Israel is an amazing place.

Our destination was the Halutzah region, which sits in the Negev between the Egyptian border and Gaza. We worked in the village of Shlomit, which was similar to yesterday's Zuqim, although Shlomit is smaller with only 40 families. The project today was creating a play area for the kids of the community: laying sod in a small lot, building a roof on a patio for some shade in the hot desert, and painting murals inside to create a welcoming indoor playroom for the kids. 

I worked on planting the grass, which required clearing out and flattening dirt, laying down gravel, and nailing the sod to the ground. It was hard work, but looking at it before we started and after we finished was amazing. Even before we were done, kids started playing and wrestling in their new play area, and it felt so wonderful to instantly see the impact our work had on this little community. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Alternative Spring Break: Experiencing life in the brutal, fascinating desert

Alternative Spring Break participants build a stone wall in the Negev desert.  

JNF's Alternative Spring Break program gives Jewish young adults, ages 18-30, a chance to spend a week doing community service in Northern or Southern Israel. Hear from one of our Alternative Spring Break participants, Cheryl Geliebter, about her first days "on the job"! 

Day one of Alternative Spring Break found the 15 of us, college students and young professionals from across the US, pushing past our exhaustion and jet lag to explore the Central Arava region of the Negev. We began the morning in Zuqim, a settlement unlike any other in the Negev. Its inhabitants, mainly artists, chose not to plant any trees in their settlement, and are living life in the desert in its natural -- and often brutal -- state. The extreme temperatures, lack of water, flooding, sandstorms, and proximity to Jordan make the Arava an intense place to live, but these pioneering people are fulfilling Ben Gurion's dream, with some help from the Jewish National Fund.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dad of special-needs child visits Israeli haven for the disabled: 'Every emotion was triggered'

Michael Perman and daughter Emily (right) spent a day at the LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible in Emek HaShalom with Alisa Bodner of the Jewish National Fund. 

Michael Perman of San Francisco shared the below story for Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Michael is the father of a son with special needs.

On my maiden voyage to Israel last year, I found my way to Jerusalem just as Shabbat dusk settled in and cast its lavender glow upon the golden stones. I'm a novice to this Israel thing but I couldn't help but be quietly elated and naturally high by the mere presence of being here. Not just for the spiritual and geographic significance of my presence, but for the excitement of meeting up with my 18-year-old daughter Emily, who was midway through her gap year between high school and college. My little girl had grown up and found harmony and independence as she voyaged into adulthood, and we were about to spend 10 days together in Israel and Italy.