Thursday, March 31, 2016

Moved and awe-inspired witnessing Israelis with special needs

Alan Wolk of the JNF's Task Force on Disabilities chats with a girl at LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, where
accessible trails make it possible for hikers in wheelchairs to enjoy nature. 

By Alan Wolk

The afterglow of my recent trip to Israel as part of JNF's Task Force on Disabilities has not faded, even after all these weeks. I thought I had an idea of what JNF did to help people with disabilities integrate into society, but seeing it firsthand opened my eyes to just how much JNF does to ensure no one feels left out and that as many as possible get the quality care they need. I see so much opportunity for each of JNF’s partners under the disabilities and special-needs banner to do more for the people of Israel. 

I will never forget the $1 Billion Roadtrip Mission earlier this month and what it meant to me personally. I just wish my parents could be around to see what JNF is doing. They would be amazed and so proud of my commitment to this organization. You see, my older brother Phillip was profoundly disabled. Seventy years ago, there were not many options available to improve his quality of life. He passed away in 2004 at just 60 years old, having lived most of his life in a care facility. JNF's commitment to the disabled and world-class facilities like Aleh Negev might have made a difference for Phillip and my family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spending spring break doing community service in Israel was 'magical'

JNF's Alternative Spring Break program gives young adults, ages 18-30, a chance to spend a week doing community service in Israel. Here, one recent participant shares her experience. 

By Jessica Peden

For many, spring break is a week of relaxation. To some, it means a lot of partying. This spring break, I joined 50 other college students who decided to do something a little different. We set off to Israel to volunteer.

The first night we ate dinner at Kibbutz Shomrat, our new home for the majority of the week, and played some ice breakers. We made a giant circle on the lawn and sat and shmoozed, giving us time to get to know one another before the week of hard work began. 

Each day that followed was filled with incredible new experiences. Every time we got to our new location, we were assigned our task, and it often felt too big a project for us to accomplish in such a short amount of time. I, for one, am not someone who normally works outside and I was given a saw and told to start sawing away. It took me a good minute to figure out what exactly I was doing but once I did, I was really good at it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Happy days for boy with autism: How horses are changing my son's life

Photo: Jonathan Kaplan
Rafi Osmo, creator of the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, supports 4-year-old Mattias, who's 
on the autism spectrum. The two stop to play language and coordination games as Mattias rides a horse 
around a riding ring as therapy on a weekday morning. 

At Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center on Israel's Kibbutz Grofit, children with special needs ride horses to improve their coordination and behavioral and social skills. Sometimes this therapy has a dramatic impact, as evidenced by this letter from the mom of a child in the JNF-supported program. "Words alone could never express how grateful we are, which is why I have tried to share with you our experience so that you can perhaps see where your money goes and how wisely you have given," she says. 

By Li Jackson

My son, Isaac, is autistic. He was diagnosed in August of last year, and as a result, on September 1, he started to attend a special-needs gan (kindergarten). As part of his curriculum, he and his fellow classmates are taken to Kibbutz Grofit once a week for a morning of therapeutic horseback riding. 

Until recently, Isaac was not keen on animals. Animals are unpredictable, they scare him and they confuse him. In the best-case scenario, he would shut his eyes and shake his head vigorously until the animal was taken away. I was not optimistic about him enjoying the whole horseback riding experience. Not optimistic at all. 

Every Tuesday, off they went to the kibbutz, and the staff would relay back pictures of the day. There he was, my son, ON A HORSE!!! We were speechless! Not only was he sitting on a horse with a riding hat (another unfavorite thing of his). He was SMILING!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Surprises abound in Yerucham, a little Negev town with big dreams

Visiting the Perrigo factory in Yerucham
Visiting the new Perrigo Pharmaceuticals plant in Yerucham are (l to r) Ido Eisikovits of JNF partner Green Horizons,
Yerucham Task Force Chair Geri Shatz, and task force members Bob Weiss and Bruce Goldberg.  

By Bob Weiss 

As the newest member of the Jewish National Fund's Yerucham Task Force, this was my first visit to the town. I’ve only been active in JNF for a year or so, and thought, as a "rookie," that maybe I'd been assigned to Yerucham as a sort of a JNF hazing.  It can take awhile to find Yerucham on a map -- it's about 18 miles southeast of Be'er Sheva in the Negev desert. 

After my first visit, during the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission earlier this month, I fully realize my good fortune. I had read that Yerucham was a development town from the 1950s, challenged to keep young people or attract new families. When I got there, everything I found surprised me.   

I found a town poised to become the template for new development in the Negev.  Physically, Yerucham is a town of about 10,000 with a history of stagnating population and lackluster economic growth. But recent construction of a new 65-unit luxury hotel has made the town popular as a base for Negev adventure exploration. U.S. pharmaceutical firm Perrigo recently completed a new plant. There are over 1,000 units of new, mostly single-family homes in early construction, and they are already spoken for through a lottery that was over-subscribed by a factor of five to one. And the IDF has just completed building the second largest training base in the country just outside town.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Water trip through Israel gives student hope for a dry, troubled region

Photo: Anne Taillandier
At the Arava Institute in the bone-dry Arava desert, students are studying ways to optimize water resources in the Middle East.  

By Ronni Gurwicz

When I wake up most Tuesday mornings on campus here at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, I stare out the window at the beautiful mountains, and one thought immediately crosses my mind: "Damn it's dry as a bone out there." 

Now, although I have lived in the Arava desert since last September and in Israel for the past few years, there must be some part of me that pines for the rain-soaked green surroundings of the north of England, my native country. This often puts me in a bit of a dilemma. Should I be brushing my teeth in this place of acute water shortage? Or maybe I should be drinking imported Icelandic Coca-Cola to avoid using the local non-renewable groundwater? It's a fascinating subject, and one that we have started to study and research this semester in the Water Resources in the Middle East class with Clive Lipchin.

This brings me back to Tuesdays. Last week, instead of my usual staring-through-the-window tradition, I grabbed my bag and headed to the bus to join students, interns, and staff of the institute on a three-day transboundary water management trip just before International Water Day. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

'We will make dreams come true': Reflections on the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission

JNF's Sderot-Shaar HaNegev Eshkol Task Force. Our author stands second from left.

By Phyllis Chancy Solomon

One by one, we trickled in Friday morning, full of smiles, hugs, and embraces. A group of people familiar with this place and the mission they were about to undertake. There was a palpable excitement in the air, and it made the statement: "We are here, when do we get to work?"

I am describing the start of the JNF $1 Billion Roadmap Mission that just took place in Israel from March 6-12. Dedicated professionals and lay leaders from all over the U.S. joined their task forces and went off to hear and access the needs of the communities they were assigned to.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lost in the Arava desert, and (uh-oh!) late to the JNF bus

Photo: Anne Taillandier
The main road circling Moshav Paran. Make the next right to get to... who knows where. 

Leslie Katz, a journalist based in San Francisco, joined JNF's $1 Billion Roadmap Mission last week as part of the social media executive committee. 

By Leslie Katz

I learned a lot about Israel's Arava on the JNF mega mission last week. With the right agricultural know-how, pretty much anything can, and does, grow there, despite the harsh conditions. The area offers abundant outdoor adventures -- mountain biking, hikes, jeep rides -- set against views worthy of National Geographic. And it's really easy for a couple of city girls to get lost in the desert.

It started simply enough. One of my traveling companions and I decided to take a quick morning walk before our bus departed for the day's activities. It seemed straightforward. We'd walk partway along the road circling Moshav Paran, where we'd stayed for the night, and then turn around and head back the way we came.

The morning was spectacularly still as we strolled, marveling at the beauty of the desert and revisiting highlights of our trip so far -- Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, where kids with special needs ride horses for physical and emotional rehabilitation, and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, site of an off-grid village spotlighting promising energy solutions for the developing world. We got so caught up in conversation I was surprised to look down at my phone and see we had just 15 minutes to get back to our rooms at the moshav's charming Kelem guest house to shower, pack, and make it to the bus on time.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

JNF mega-mission leaders leave Israel inspired -- and inspiring others

Photo: Alicia Yaffe
The border task force's itinerary included a stop at the Sderot indoor playground, where kids can play without fear 
of rocket fire.  

Last week, Jewish National Fund task forces fanned out across Israel as part of JNF's $1 Billion Roadmap Mission. One of the groups met with Adele Raemer, who was born in the U.S. and has lived on a kibbutz on the Gaza border since 1975. Adele, a teacher, writer, and moderator of the Facebook group Life on the Border, shared her thoughts about that meeting in a blog post for the Times of Israel. We are reprinting her words here. 

By Adele Raemer

I gave another talk this week. 

I DO actually have a day job. A pretty demanding and time-consuming one, in fact (actually...MORE than one), but I figure I work enough late nights and throughout enough weekends to allow myself every so often to play hooky for a few hours to devote the time to what I see as my "Zionism" these days.

So I snuck away from my pressing "to do" list for a few precious hours one morning this week to talk to a group of visitors over from the States on a JNF task force to the border regions (Sderot, Shar Hanegev, and Eshkol) to try to depict what life here is all about. Here in Israel. Here on the border. In 2016.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

U.S. ambassador to Israel swings by shiny new tourist center in Akko

As Alon Badihi of JNF's Israel office looks on, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro signs the registry at JNF's new
Western Galilee Tourist Information Center. 

By Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro was met with treats, lots of treats. 

Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, paid a recent visit to the Jewish National Fund's new Western Galilee Tourist Information Center in Akko to show support for the organization’s efforts to increase tourism and employment growth in northern Israel. While in Akko, Shapiro praised the region’s multiculturalism and ongoing commitment to coexistence and "shared citizenship."

Ambassador Shapiro spent a day visiting with local authorities and others to discuss development in the region. His stop at the tourist center included tastes of local delicacies presented by representatives of Western Galilee Now (WGN), a grassroots consortium of more than 30 tourism-related businesses in the area, which is known for attractions like its picturesque wineries and sweeping views