Monday, August 31, 2015

A second trip and a new view: Seeing Israel through a JNF lens

Photo: Robert Kerzner
The author rings a chime in Aleh Negev's sensory garden, created to stimulate the senses of the facility's disabled residents.

By Lauren Katz

I was a sophomore in college when I visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip. As I’m sure most Birthright alumni will tell you, the trip was a wonderful experience. It’s surreal to finally see places you’ve heard about your entire life -- Masada, Yad Vashem, Ben Yehuda Street.

I remember the excitement I felt as we approached the Western Wall. There was plenty of nervous giggling as our group walked toward it holding hands with our eyes closed. Once we reached a ledge in front of the Wall, our group leader told us to open our eyes. Then, silence. There it was. The Wall we pray toward. The Wall I have a painting of in my living room. The Wall I made out of sugar cubes for an art project at Jewish day school. In that short 10-day trip, I immensely deepened the connection I felt to a place thousands of miles away.

Five years later, I returned to Israel for a second trip, this time on a Jewish National Fund mission for digital-media professionals who traveled there to learn more about JNF projects and hopefully bring greater awareness to them. I experienced the same sense of belonging I did on my first visit, but the itinerary was completely different. Birthright -- which seeks to strengthen young people’s Jewish identity and solidarity with Israel -- is like I-80, the quickest, most-traveled route across the U.S. The digital-media mission is Route 50, the road less traveled but full of must-see sights, with less congestion and more inside, on-the-ground views into the daily lives of Israelis.

Friday, August 28, 2015

In the JNF Kitchen: Uri's lamb stew with pomegranate

Rosh Hashanah always comes either early or late. For a late-summer Rosh Hashanah, we're bringing you a succulent recipe from Chef Uri Arnon, who owns the restaurant Arnold's, voted one of Israel's 10 best kosher gourmet restaurants!

Chef Uri opened Arnold's, located on Moshav Nativ Hashayarato shatter the myth of "kosher or delicious."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Off the beaten path in the Western Galilee, Israel's Napa Valley, in photos

Photo: Grant Legan
Meeting the clans behind the Western Galilee's family-owned businesses and experiencing their homey hospitality is a treat. Pictured at Hefer Ranch, a site for camping, horseback riding, and outdoor team-building activities, are Eyal Hefer and wife Edna (left and third from left), their son Or, and Rachaeli, who works the horse stables.     

As part of our #JNF #SummerLovin series featuring lesser-known Israeli seasonal gems, we visit the beautiful Western Galilee in July.   

By Lauren Katz 

If you haven’t visited the Western Galilee, add it to the top of your list. If you have been there, well, you know it’s worth a second (or eighth) visit. Located in the north of Israel, the culturally diverse area has an incredible amount to offer -- from picturesque wineries to richly historic cities like Akko and breathtaking views in almost every direction. The warmth and openness of the people working and living throughout the region immediately make you feel welcome. 

Below are just a handful of the highlights. For lots more, visit the site for Western Galilee Now, a nonprofit organization that aims to connect visitors with the amazing opportunities in the area. Its website features a detailed map of what to see, as well as an updated list of events. And be sure to take a virtual trip to some of the region's treasures in our photo gallery at the bottom of this post (hover over any image to spend more time on it). 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Special-needs IDF soldiers pay emotional visit to site of Holocaust masscre

A select group of IDF soldiers with special needs were chosen to travel to Poland on a delegation to revisit history. 

By Ariana Goldsmith

I am sitting on the bus looking out the window on the way to Treblinka, one of the many death camps we visited this week, along with Auschwitz, Birkenau, Maidanek, and others. Today is the second-to-last day of a very crazy and intense week. Tomorrow night, our special group, called Hashachar and consisting of 21 people with special needs and 11 chaperones, will board the plane back to Israel, our homeland. I don't think I have ever been more proud to be a religious Jew living in Israel and to be serving in the army in a role very different than the standard fighting positions or desk jobs.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Deep gratitude for outings that bring domestic-violence victims into nature

Photo: Haifa Women's Crisis Shelter

Earlier this month, we shared the story of a program called Mother Nature, operated by our partner LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible, that makes it possible for women and children who've been victims of domestic abuse to enjoy healing outings in nature. Below, we share an emotional testimony to the uniqueness and importance of this program, which has recently been threatened due to funding cuts. While a generous anonymous JNF donor stepped in to help the program survive, it still is in need of help, as each outing costs $2,500 and LOTEM's goal is to take residents of different shelters out four times per year. Learn more here


We just returned from a fantastic nature outing that your wonderful guide Tali led. The outing succeeded to engage the children and mothers of the shelter who are all ages, colors, and background! 

The children splashed their feet in the Ami Spring and on the Emek HaShalom Ecological Farm, they drew water from the well, pressed grapes and made mosaic artwork. Despite the heat that we were nervous about, the activities were in the shade and there was such a pleasant atmosphere. The mothers and children enjoyed it very much. 

In the JNF Kitchen: Hagit's super-easy banana ice cream

Photo: Anne Taillandier

This #RecipeOfTheWeek, like last week's, comes from the kitchen of Hagit Lidror, a chef who specializes in healthy vegetarian cuisine and teaches cooking classes at her home in Israel's Western Galilee. She's a member of JNF partner organization Western Galilee Now, a consortium of small businesses in the region. 

Here's how Hagit makes a healthy, one-ingredient ice cream. Have you made a JNF #RecipeOfTheWeek? Send a photo of your creation to or tweet it to @JNFUSA with the hashtag #JNFfoodie. We might share it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

14 of the most unique ice cream flavors in Israel. Hummus anyone?

Photo: Anne Taillandier
Adam Ziv (left) and Alaa Sawitat, co-owners of Buza, in their Ma'alot Tarshiha shop. 

As part of our #JNF #SummerLovin series, we take you to an ice cream shop with a sweet backstory and some of the more unusual flavors you'll come across in Israel -- or anywhere. Have a lick! 

By Rachel Glago 

It’s official. We've found some of the most uniquely delicious ice cream in Israel, and it's in Ma'alot-Tarshiha, up north in the country's scenic Western Galilee

Friends Adam Ziv and Alaa Sawitat, a Jewish kibbutz resident and an Arab Muslim, co-founded Buza, the insanely delicious ice cream shop with spectacular flavors, whether they're in a cup, a cone, a mini-cone, or on a stick. Filled with gorgeous, vibrantly colored Moroccan-style tiles, Buza has a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and is the perfect place to be on a hot Israeli summer day.

Friday, August 14, 2015

In the JNF Kitchen: Hagit's delectable basic-chocolate recipe

Photo: Robert Kerzner

This #RecipeOfTheWeek comes from the kitchen of Hagit Lidror, a chef who specializes in healthy vegetarian cuisine and teaches cooking classes at her home in Israel's Western Galilee up north. She's a member of JNF partner organization Western Galilee Now, a nonprofit that aims to raise awareness of the region's small businesses and help them to grow and thrive. The Western Galilee is home to boutique wineries, endless local culinary treats, and breathtaking natural beauty. 

Here's how Hagit makes basic, but oh-so-delicious, chocolate. Have you made a JNF #RecipeOfTheWeek? Send a photo of your creation to or tweet it to @JNFUSA with the hashtag #JNFfoodie. We might share it! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Summer on an Israeli field of dreams: To these kids, baseball is life

Photo: Robert Kerzner
At summer baseball camp in Israel, young players listen to coaches intently. 

As part of our #JNF #SummerLovin series focusing on lesser-known Israeli summer happenings that also happen to be #PoweredByJNF, we bring you the story of a baseball camp where young players dream big.    

By Leslie Katz

Ido Peled wants to play in the Major Leagues one day. So does Uri Federman, Nadav Schwartz, Yair Chen, and virtually every other Israeli boy crowded into the bleachers of a Petah Tikvah baseball field on a sticky late morning in July.

For these 12- to 15-year-olds attending summer baseball training camp in Israel, America's favorite pastime is far more than just a pastime. 

"Baseball," Gal Partouche says simply, "is my life." His baseball buddies would surely echo the sentiment.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On JLIM leadership mission, getting emotional in the Arava desert

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Starrett
JNFuture Arizona board members (from left) Penelope Karp Abad, Andy Becker, Talyah Sands, Jennifer Starrett, and Stephanie Kelman visit Alexander Muss High School in Israel during the JLIM. 
JNFuture Arizona board members are currently in Israel on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM), and are sharing their impressions on the blog for the Jewish News, a weekly newspaper serving Greater Phoenix and Northern Arizona. Here, one participant shares some thoughts from the fourth day.

By Stephanie Kelman

I had the understanding after 10 years of involvement in JNF that the Arava was an important project that revolved around agriculture innovation. I had no idea that the Arava desert itself was an example of Zionist pioneering to the greatest extent. About 4,000 pioneers have established themselves in one of the most extreme and difficult environments in the world to show our Jordanian neighbors that we are here and flourishing.
Our JNFuture group was fortunate to learn about the Arava from Noa Zer, resource development director of the Central Arava Regional Council. While I was impressed by the agriculture innovation and spirit of the residents, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT) school astounded me and I was overwhelmed with passion and a true sense of connectivity that I had not yet experienced with a specific JNF project.

Friday, August 7, 2015

In the JNF Kitchen: Osi's summer cauliflower patties

Enjoy the inaugural recipe in our new JNF #RecipeOfTheWeek series: Osi's summer cauliflower patties! 

These cauliflower patties are light and crunchy, and fragrant with spices from Morocco. Osnat Lankri owns a catering business, Osi events, in Ofakim, a small town west of Be'er Sheva in the Negev. Her delicious cuisine reflects her Moroccan and Iraqi roots.

From Gaza to Halutza: Stories from 10 pioneering years on a new frontier

B'nei Netzarim in Halutza
Photo: Robert Kerzner
The Halutza community of B'nei Netzarim. 

By Megan E. Turner

Standing on a hill overlooking B'nei Netzarim, one of the small communities that comprise Halutza in the southwestern Negev desert, one can see a dry, rocky sandscape spread all around.

The sky seems a little bigger here, without urban life blocking its grandeur, but this expansiveness also serves as a reminder of the isolation necessary to create it. This is indeed pioneer land that finds residents building something from nothing, all while coping with the difficulties of remote desert farm life and the painful memory of a life that once was.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mother Nature program: Helping battered women heal through the great outdoors

A child's depiction of the LOTEM Mother Nature outing. 

By Miriam Braun 
Mothers and children splashing in a stream.

There are currently 13 shelters for battered women and children in Israel, housing up to 650 residents per year. Imagine the fear, isolation, and trauma experienced by these victims, not being able to leave their residences alone, afraid of being recognized or followed. 

LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible, recognizing the need to promote trust, independence, and leadership in these moms and kids, has developed the Mother Nature program to provide days of relief and respite to them through the healing power of nature.

LOTEM -- which offers educational outdoor activities throughout the country for children and adults with special needs -- also guides trips for battered women and their kids, from newborns to teens, into parks, trails, and quiet streams. There, participants learn about their surroundings, including lessons about ecology and seasonal patterns in vegetation and animals that they can relate to their own stormy lives. 

The natural surroundings allow the participants to relax and let go. Hadas, director of a Haifa shelter for battered women, says that one day in nature often does more for the women and children than several therapy sessions.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Baseball, goats, and glida: #JNF #SummerLovin uncovers hidden treasures

Photo: Robert Kerzner

Been to Israel in the summer? Then you've probably spent a balmy evening walking Jerusalem's Old City, floated in the warm waters of the Dead Sea, and downed a cold beer in a bustling outdoor cafe on Dizengoff Street.

But have you ever enjoyed a nighttime concert at a desert amphitheater? Wound your way through Israel's sun-drenched wineries? Pitched a tent just feet from a gaggle of goats?

You can, and throughout August, we'll tell you how. To celebrate summer in Israel, JNF-style, we'll feature stories of some of the country's best kept summer secrets, all #PoweredByJNF.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fighting the Beit Shemesh fire: A dramatic view from the ground in pictures

Photo: Or Many
A firetruck bearing the JNF logo at the site of the massive Beit Shemesh fire. 

A huge fire -- the largest in Israel since the 2010 Carmel forest fire -- destroyed nearly 400 acres of the beautiful Beit Shemesh forest west of Jerusalem late last month. Tens of JNF fire trucks and 50 JNF forestry personnel, along with firefighters from all over the country, joined to battle the raging blaze. It is believed the damage to the forest is so severe it will take nature 20 years to recover.

"Firefighters were deployed in large forces in the field to give a quality response, with great personal risk," Chief Shmuel Friedman, acting head of operations of Israel's fire and rescue service, told the JNF. "Despite the intense heat and smoke on a particularly hot day, the fire fighters were able to fight hard to stop the fire, preventing it from spreading to the communities." 

Crews remain on the scene and are still extinguishing reigniting areas while also removing trees in danger of collapse. Click through our gallery below to get a sense of how the drama unfolded -- and is still unfolding -- on the ground. All photos by Or Many