Friday, December 27, 2019

Top 5 reasons to join JNF's first ever Negev Adventure Mission to Israel

By Don Wong, Negev Adventure Mission co-chair

Looking for a travel adventure? We have something amazing for the active and non-active alike.
Please tell your family members and friends to save the dates April 21-27, 2020 for fun and adventure in Israel's Negev. Below are the top five reasons to join the Modern Israel Negev Adventure Mission.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Waze, Wix, Outbrain, Trax: Cuz about Israeli innovation, we're rappin' facts

By Max Marine

After growing up in Philadelphia in a conservative Jewish community, 10 years ago (at age 20), I flew to Israel for the first time on Birthright. My uncle handed me a book before I flew: "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle." As I traveled over the Atlantic reading, I was blown away by all the innovation such a small country had produced with so few resources.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Three things a rabbi learned about JNF on his mission to Israel

The author, center, with other members of the mission.

By Rabbi Jason Fruithandler

I just got back from a JNF-USA mission to Israel. Before attending, I was under the impression JNF-USA planted trees, collected tzedakah money, and occasionally brought a very large map of Israel to my Hebrew school. I always assumed it did more but never had an inkling what. These past few days I have learned so much about JNF-USA. I'd like to share it.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The poetry of Israel: A JNF housing mission, recounted in rhyme

The author, second from right, with other members of JNF's Housing Development Task Force.

By Scott Nadler

We loaded up the van with our luggage,
And our leaders discussed the day's plan.
Traveling south from Ashdod to Sderot,
The housing mission began.

We hit the road bright and early,
It was a 30-minute ride -- 
Zest and excitement filled the air,
Our hearts filled with pride.

There were eight of us volunteering
From different states, all with bravado.
From New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania,
To Arkansas and Colorado.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What is Chanukah? A reminder that light can transform darkness

Yossi Kahana lights the menorah.
By Yossi Kahana, director, JNF Task Force on Disabilities

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime "festival of lights," celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, and fried foods. Chanukah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 and continues for eight days. This year, the holiday runs from December 22-30.

What we are celebrating again?
In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.

When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Sirens strengthen resolve of JNF missions in Israel: 'We are here 24/7'

Children from the Eshkol region staying in a bomb shelter all day.
By Eric Narrow

This week, Israel woke to the unexpected sounds of sirens, from Be'er Sheva all the way to Tel Aviv, with early-morning commuters pulling off to the side of the road, school canceled, and parents told to stay home with their children, all before 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning.  

By the afternoon, as the sun hung low across the sparkling Mediterranean sea, local residents and tourists could be seen lounging on the beach, eating lunch along the many restaurants that line Tel Aviv's beach promenade, and getting ready for the next day. Within a matter of hours, life for most had seemed to return to a level of normalcy, all while the southern region of Israel continued to bear the brunt of the violence from Gaza.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Stand strong with Israel: On family trip, rocket sirens a sobering sound

By Steven London

Greetings from Tel Aviv. For the past 10 days, my wife Paula and I have been taking five  family members on a tour of Israel. We have been here many times, but several of our family members have never been and two of them were last here 45 years ago.  The purpose of our visit is sharing our passion for Israel. We wanted our family to feel our connection to Israel, to see the wonder of this place, and to appreciate what it's like to live here today.

Starting in Jerusalem, we took our family through ancient and modern times, with visits to Masada, Sfat, and Caesarea, and visits to the Golan Heights, the port of Haifa, to Atlit (the British Detention Center) and the Ayalon Institute (the bullet factory). Our travels ended in Tel Aviv, a vibrant, modern, and metropolitan city with beautiful beaches, world famous corporate R&D facilities, art and culture, and tourists and business people from throughout the world. My brother-in-law, who went to school here 45 years ago, couldn’t believe his eyes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Brave, resilient Israelis in embattled Gaza Envelope give us strength

JNF CEO Russell Robinson with a Sderot resident whose car is riddled with holes. 

By Russell Robinson

As I'm packing to go to Israel to meet with five different Jewish National Fund-USA missions consisting of over 200 participants, my phone's tzevah-adom (red alert) app suddenly starts blaring "Red Alert! Red Alert!" Immediately, I check to see if it's one missile or more. It's more. I watch as one missile after another is launched from Gaza into the Israeli communities surrounding the border.

Our Israeli friends who live in the GazaEnvelope describe life there as 99 percent heaven and 1 percent hell. The 1 percent hell was beginning again, as it has from the day Israel withdrew from 100 percent of the territory in Gaza.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The power of experiential education in Israel: 'Involve me and I’ll learn'

By Amanda Feder

From a young age, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I have a passion for learning and long to see and know as much as possible. As a student, I learned best when I was involved in the lessons: The more engaged and hands-on the experience, the better the chances of retaining what was being taught. 

When I became a teacher, I carried that mentality with me into my classroom, and I aim to make learning as experiential as possible for my students.

Growing up, I attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, and Israel was a core component of my daily life. Whether it was studying the Torah, listening to Israeli folk music, or learning about the country's vibrant history, my love for Israel has always been with me. 

I visited Israel a few times throughout elementary and high school, and with each visit I saw firsthand what I was taught in school -- Israel became my classroom.

It wasn't until I was finishing high school that I experienced Israel in a way that would completely transform my life. At my school, seniors graduate in February and spend what would typically be the last semester of high school living in Israel. My class attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF), and it showed me what an entire school built on experiential learning looked like.

Friday, October 18, 2019

I'm proud to mentor the next generation of leaders to stand tall for Israel

By Laura Salzer

Life has an interesting way of showing us what we find important. Little did I know my son's decision to move to Israel, volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces, and become an Israeli citizen in 2014 would have such a drastic impact on my own life.

Lauren Salzer
Until that point, I thought I knew a lot about Israel. I was taught about the country in religious school and visited and read about Israel over the years. Then, I joined Jewish National Fund, and my eyes were opened to all the innovative projects the organization spearheads for all Israelis. 

I learned about the real Israel, the people, the land, the history, and our future. For me, being a part of JNF has felt like working toward a master’s degree in Israel studies: It's such a transformative and fulfilling learning experience -- one I feel compelled to tell others about and encourage to take on themselves.

I am a strong advocate for education. It is vital to know our collective history so that in the future we can continue to protect and develop the land of Israel. As a member of JNF's Women for Israel, I am able to support, educate, and mentor the next generation about the importance of Zionism and Israel.

Friday, October 4, 2019

At JNF conference, student has a powerful revelation about Judaism

The author, pictured top right.
By Ruby Rosenthal

In many ways, Judaism has a moral compass built in. After attending Hebrew school for six years, and five subsequent years assisting as a madricha, or youth leader, I've realized there's a common theme that permeates my religion: Judaism is about giving.

Growing up, our Hebrew school classes began with a tzedakah box. I remember it very clearly as being blue and green and featuring the state of Israel prominently on the front. As students, we'd often shake it, trying to see how much was inside by listening to the clang of the money against its tin walls. 

Every week, we were instructed to bring in a few coins or dollar bills to slip through the slit of the box, and later, we'd sing a song to explain why we weren't saving the cash for ourselves: "Tzedakah, tzedakah, we do what we can / To help other people and our fellow man / With quarters and nickels and dimes -- pennies too! / Tzedakah, tzedakah it's the best we can do."

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

My life-changing journey to JNF's women's leadership circle

Author Civia Caroline has been involved 
with JNF since 2014.

By Civia Caroline

My Jewish National Fund story began with a sheet of paper and a pen. It was 2014, and my first time participating on the JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission, an educational retreat in Israel to learn about JNF's work. JNF CEO Russell Robinson asked us to draw "our story." I had been involved with Jewish National Fund on a local level in Los Angeles, but it was the first time I had to ask myself, "Why am I here? Why is this important to me?"

The answer came to me quickly. I grew up with the strong values of tikkun olam and Zionism instilled in me by my parents, and Israel was always part of my DNA. I was raised in an observant household, Israel is where we pray toward, it’s the Promised Land, and it’s also where my extended family lives. It was never something I had to think hard about or work hard for.

As I started to forge my own path and a career in the music industry, I found myself surrounded by people from very different backgrounds. Most in my social and work circles were either not Jewish or completely disconnected. I felt something was missing, so I began to really search for it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The unforgettable night in Israel I prayed with every Jew in the world

The author (third from left) and his classmates from AMHSI at the Kotel.

This summer, Mason Solomon of Weston, Florida, attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a study-abroad program that turns Israel into a classroom. Here are his reflections on a life-changing Shabbat the students spent in Jerusalem.

On our overnight in Jerusalem, we got to experience the beauty of Shabbat in the holiest place on Earth for the Jewish people. That night was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We started off on a long walk in the sunset to the Kotel. The streets of Jerusalem Shel Zahav, the city of gold, shimmered brightly. The roofs of the old stone buildings reflected the light of the desert sun onto the people walking in the street. It was a beautiful walk through the quiet streets of Jerusalem. We had seen those streets before so vibrant and busy, but now they were completely closed down for Shabbat.

We arrived at the wall to see masses of people in white clothes and black hats all coming together to celebrate. We walked down the stairs that connect the Old City to the wall and joined the hundreds of people there to celebrate Shabbat. Right away, my friends and I jumped right in. We went straight to the wall and got through masses of men with long beards and huge hats. It was surreal how they were all praying so deeply and intently. We found a space on the wall and we took a moment to pray and take in this Shabbat at such a holy place. I pushed my head up against the wall and held my hands flat against it. As I began to pray, I noticed each crevice in the wall. I felt myself connecting to the wall as I had a long, meaningful moment that felt like an eternity.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Advice for jump-starting a career in Israel after aliyah

Rachel Gang, living her dream as a therapist in Israel.
By Megan E. Turner

It was the need that attracted Rachel Gang to Be'er Sheva. The need and the opportunity to answer it. "I really liked the southern part of the country, and I saw that Be'er Sheva was lacking resources for mental health services," said Gang, 29, a social worker and educator who made aliyah from Baltimore in the summer of 2018. "I’ve always been social justice-oriented, so I didn’t want to go to Tel Aviv or the center -- I wanted to go where there’s a need." And that’s exactly what she did after spending summers and an academic year teaching English in Israel's north and south.

"Even in the U.S. I always worked in 'the frontier,'" Gang said, "usually in an education-related field, whether it was as a teacher or a social worker." When deciding on where to live in the south, community life was an important factor in Gang’s decision, and Be'er Sheva's revival as an attractive, hip city for young people -- thanks to projects spearheaded by Jewish National Fund's Blueprint Negev -- made it the perfect place to call home. "It’s also more affordable than the center," she said.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

American eats meet Israel as L.A. transplant brings food trucks to Golan

Shimon Shain, holding one of the food items from his food truck, Shimmy's.

By Alan Rosenbaum

"We’ve basically made a mini-restaurant on wheels," said Shimon Shain. "Even the health inspector was impressed with the design of the food truck." Be it sushi, tuna melts, a classic falafel sandwich, fish and chips, fries, waffles, hearty pancakes, a refreshing ice coffee, or just plain toast, Shain and his small fleet of food trucks around Israel's Golan Heights serve anything and everything to tourists, workers, and students. But don’t expect the menus to stay the same for long; they vary as clients' demands change.

Brooklyn-born and raised, Shimon, 34, and his wife, Sara, moved from the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles in July 2016 to the calm and tranquility of Hispin, a scenic town of 1,400 residents in the heart of the Golan Heights. "We like the cattle and the agriculture. We preferred to live in the north or the south -- in a quiet area," Shain said.

The Shains felt like there was still something missing from the Golan scene. Shain, who studied at the Jerusalem School of Culinary Arts, used his expertise in gastronomic studies and his extensive experience in the food industry to establish Shimmy’s, a mobile food service -- known as the beloved food truck in the U.S. -- that prepares and sells food throughout the Golan region.

Grainy photo at Jerusalem historic site stirs tears: 'This is who we are'

Ammunition Hill: 1 of more than 150 heritage sites around Israel open to visitors.

By Doran Miller

My personal connection to Israel runs deep. My mom and grandmother are Israeli. My grandfather was born in Germany and fled to British Mandate Palestine in the early 1930s to escape the rising Nazi regime. My entire life, I've been steeped in the stories, music, and culture of Israel. I'd been to Israel before, of course, and I consider myself very familiar with Jewish National Fund’s work, so I thought I knew what to expect from this summer's Jewish Leadership Institute Mission: an action-packed week traveling around the country to see JNF affiliates and projects firsthand. The truth is I had no idea how powerful the experience would be.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Brewer from Kansas crafts creative beers in the heart of Tel Aviv

Jason Barnett, an oleh from Shawnee, Kansas, took his beer brewing hobby and, with assistance from Jewish National Fund partner Nefesh B'Nefesh, started a successful craft beer brewery, Opus Brewing, in the heart of Tel Aviv. Here's his story.

What made you decide to make aliyah? 
I studied abroad in Israel my freshman year, just as the second Lebanon War broke out. The experience reminded me that the world can be a dangerous place for the Jewish people. I made aliyah in August 2010 and that October I entered the IDF's 101st Airborne Brigade.

How did you get started in the beer brewing business?
I loved sitting with friends at bars but didn't love needing to pay for the simple privilege of enjoying a beer with friends. I decided to make my own beer and began whipping up my first batch of amber ale. Truth -- it was terrible. After four years of amateur brewing, I got a job working as a brewer's apprentice at the Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv and began teaching brewing workshops. Nefesh B’Nefesh invited me to conduct my first workshop at their Tel Aviv Hub, and in January 2018, Opus Brewing was born.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Saving lives in Israel's Negev desert: U.S. doctor settles in to new life

Dr. Michael Star, a neurologist in the Negev desert.
By Megan E. Turner

As one of only two stroke specialists in the entirety of Israel’s Negev Desert, this Indianapolis-born neurologist is a coveted gem. With that status, the glaring question is: why did Dr. Michael Star, 34, and his young family make aliyah and decide to live in Yerucham, a once dusty development town that is now experiencing a revival and building boom thanks to Jewish National Fund?

"We knew we didn’t want to live in the center of Israel," said Star of his and his wife's choice to make their home in the south in 2016. "We started out in Be'er Sheva, but we didn’t find a community that fit us," he said. "I was happy with my job at Soroka Hospital, so, we decided to start looking for communities around Be’er Sheva, and that's how we found Yerucham."

Monday, July 29, 2019

These moments touched me most deeply on JNFuture mission to Israel

The author (top row, in blue shirt, third from left) and other volunteers on the JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission.

By Matt Franzblau

To say my JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission trip this summer was impactful and meaningful would be an understatement. Through a jammed-packed five-day tour filled with meetings, greetings, activities, and introductions, our group, comprised of nearly two dozen young professionals, got a true bird's eye view of Jewish National Fund's operations on the ground in Israel.

From the very first day when we stepped foot onto Ammunition Hill, where JNF's support helped revitalize an important memorial site, to our final meal with Halutza community representative Yedidya Harush, who is now thriving in his new home after having to leave his old one in Gush Katif on the Gaza Strip, our group became more knowledgeable and passionate about the organization we were in Israel to represent. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Zionist spirit of Halutza pioneers is highlight of JNFuture Israel trip

 Photo: Joshua Robbin Marks
The new JNF-Halutza Medical Center serving the residents of Shlomit.

By Joshua Robbin Marks

The highlight of the action-packed JNFuture Ultimate Israel Experience tour this May was visiting the amazing communities of Halutza in the northwestern Negev. 

Seeing these modern-day Zionist pioneers flourishing right next to Gaza and Egypt was proof of the success of Jewish National Fund's Blueprint Negev initiative to improve the quality of life in southern Israel and attract new residents to the region.

The communities of Shlomit, Bnei Netzarim and Naveh were built for the Gush Katif residents evacuated from Gaza during the 2005 disengagement. These communities are rapidly developing to accommodate more families. We saw new homes, a synagogue, a community center under construction, greenhouses, crop fields, and solar farms. We also went on a tour of a new medical facility and took advantage of new trees recently planted to provide shade from the intense desert heat. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

From a Kenyan village to Israel and back: One woman's big science plans

The author and Kenneth Kiplang'at Chepkwony leader/mentor for AICAT Kenyan students. 

In Israel's south, at AICAT: The Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, students from around the world learn advanced agricultural practices they then take back to their home countries. Here's one student's inspiring story.

By Irene Chemtai Phungoh

My story starts in a pastoralist community in Kenya's arid West Pokot County where food, water, and energy insecurity have prevailed for a long time.
Sometime in the year 2006, the primary school I attended benefited from a water project courtesy of UNICEF and Danish pump manufacturer Grundfos. A solar-powered borehole drilled at the school brought relief to my school and the entire village.
Nearby sat a water collection tank, which would then become the heart of the school. At this point, we became partially relieved of the routine daily six-mile "water-searching missions."

One day on a hot weekend afternoon, as I washed clothes at the school tank, I was startled by the sight of large amounts of water falling from above. To some people, this would be just a tank’s overflow, but I was definitely challenged to do something about the excess precious liquid that was simply wasting away.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Shabbat on the Strip: Doing Vegas with dozens of young JNF leaders

Lisa Shakun, second from left, with other participants of JLIS 2019.

By Lisa Shakun 

Why would young professionals from all over the country come to Las Vegas and spend their time and hard-earned money sitting in a hotel board room instead of hanging out by the pool or partying in casinos? 

That question takes me back to the beginning of my Jewish National Fund journey. It started two years ago when I googled "young professional trip Israel." I had recently returned from Israel after traveling there on a women's trip through my synagogue, where I easily brought down the average age by 30 years. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I was connected to Israel, and I wanted to go back, but this time with my peers. One of the of the first Google results that appeared was for the JNF Young Professionals Tour, and without hesitation I signed up for the trip, booked a flight, and three months later I was on my way to Israel.

What I learned about life pruning pomegranate trees in Israel's desert

By Arielle Levy

I had the time of my life working on a farm in southern Israel along the border of Egypt pruning pomegranate trees. I contacted HaShomer HaChadash looking to volunteer on a farm so I could have a "pioneer" experience. I can't even express how much my week of manual labor far exceeded my expectations in the best possible way.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Back in Israel with JNF four years later, and awed by the progress

By Lauren Mescon

The words of my dear friend Vivian Grossman, "I always yearn to be back in Israel," could not be more true for me.

As I begin to put words on paper, thoughts fight for clarity amid the jumble of emotions that come with living as part of the diaspora but knowing the warmth and joy of being "home" in Israel, as I was during the JNF Mega Mission in February.

The author holds a newly inscribed Torah on its way
to a new home at Kibbutz Shalom.

My connection to the state began when my grandmother collected blue boxes in Savannah, Georgia. It must have seeped into my subconscious because when I was asked to be on the local JNF board in Atlanta in 2007, I said yes. 

And when I attended the Queen of Sheba Mission in 2008, going to Israel for only the second time, my life truly changed forever. I will never be at a Friday night Shabbat anywhere in the world without recalling the feeling I had being with Talia Tzour's family, blessed for Shabbat by her grandmother. I will never forget the feelings of love and camaraderie among the women and the people we met.

The more involved I become, the deeper my feelings and commitment grow.  From falling in love with the Be'er Sheva River Project, and permanently placing my beloved parents' names on a plaque there, to my current "affair" with the Arava, and my growing attraction to the Gaza Envelope, it just gets better and better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

JDAIM: Meet two immigrants to Israel devoting themselves to those with special needs

During February, Jewish Disabilty Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM), and all year round, Jewish National Fund proudly supports efforts to make sure people with special needs and disabilities are fully included in Israeli society.

Beth Steinberg 

Photo: Jared Bernstein 
Beth Steinberg is one of the co-founders and directors of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem. Shutaf, which was founded with another olah from the US, Miriam Avraham, offers innovative and inclusive informal-education programs for children, teens, and young people, with and without disabilities. 

More than 300 participants of all abilities enjoy year-round activities including Camp Shutaf Passover and Camp Shutaf Summer day camps; Young Leadership Program for Teens and Young Adults; 21+ activities for older participants, ages 21-30; Inclusion Education; Parent and family gatherings. Shutaf is a place of complete acceptance and inclusion for all participants of all abilities, and from all cultural backgrounds.