JNF UK had a novel idea – in order to train the next generation of Jewish community leaders and supporters of Israel, they launched a competition based on the TV show "The Ambassadors" in local high schools, the winners of which would spend a week with KKL-JNF in Israel. The group arrived in Israel on Friday, February 12, when they were met by KKL-JNF guide Itzik Peres. Amos Schonfield
Daniel Green, one of the group's councilors, described how the group was formed: "The winners include sixteen high school students from four different English schools, who are part of what we call 'The Ambassadors Program', which means that they will be advocating for Israel in the future. In each school, there was a competition in which each participant was asked to participate in five or six tasks, including tasks like writing articles, debates on Israel, presenting a video clip on what Israel has contributed to the world, and so on. The sixteen winners, four from each school, are now here for an intensive week-long program in Israel that will give them tools to advocate for Israel on college campuses. The program is sponsored by the JNF UK Education Department."
We joined them on Sunday morning for a visit to the Rimon archaeological site in the Negev desert, near Kibbutz Lahav, where the remains of a Second Temple Jewish village were discovered at exactly the site mentioned by Josephus. After receiving an explanation about the site and the synagogue with a depiction of a menorah on its floor, the group learned to reconstruct ancient oil lamps from broken potshards. As Yoni Golker, a teacher at the Jewish Free School in London explained: "Visiting an archaeological site is important because it gives you a sense of historical continuity. Besides potshards, we also found a piece of ancient glass and saw the remains of a miqve (ritual bath)."
Paula Strauss, one of the councilors who studies at Birmingham University: "We get a lot of anti-Israeli speakers on campus, so this trip is important to learn how to answer and defend Israel. I did a year of voluntary service in Israel and was very inspired. I felt I wanted to help, and this is a great way of doing that."
Danny Rothberg, also a councilor, told us that this was a really great group: "The Jewish community in the UK is thriving. I study at the University of Manchester and am president of the Manchester Jewish Students Union. There is definitely anti-Israel sentiment on campus. For example, Manchester University twinned with the Al-Najah University of Nablus, which had an exhibition glorifying the terrorists who perpetuated the Sbarro terrorist attack in Jerusalem, including models of body parts. During my first year, they were shouting 'Throw the Jews into the sea' at one of the demonstrations. But we don't hide, we're proud and it's an exciting place to be a Jewish student. We try to arrange activities with Palestinians to promote co-existence and have had some very successful events. I am certain that this trip will give the 'ambassadors' tools for confronting anti-Israel sentiment."
After a brief stop at KKL-JNF's recently planted Ambassador Forest in the Negev for a group picture ("After all, they're going to be ambassadors," said Itzik Peres, the group leader), the group proceeded to the new community of Halutziyot, which is being built with help KKL-JNF friends worldwide, including UK. Halutziyot is located in the western Negev, at a site where there are sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Moshe Brinker, a local resident, told the group about the village's history: "Ten years ago, when Ehud Barak was prime minister, he offered the Palestinians the Halutziyot region in exchange for annexing some of the larger settlement blocs to Israel. The Palestinian reaction was that they were not interested in worthless sand dunes. After their evacuation from their homes in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, fifteen families decided to make their homes here, and KKL-JNF began infrastructure works for homes and agricultures. Sure enough, a couple years ago one of the leaders of the Hamas called for missile shelling of Halutziyot, 'to drive the Jews off our land.'
"Today, 170 families are waiting to move here. We hope that the first families will be moving in about a month after Pessach. The building we are standing next to will be the boys' elementary school, and it was donated by JNF UK, which will also be helping us to build the local high school. For us, the most important help we could receive is with building schools, and we are very appreciative to JNF UK for this."
Moshe told the group that Halutziyot was growing organic potatoes, carrots and peppers in the sand dunes, and he invited them to pick carrots. It is difficult to describe what an exciting experience this was for everyone, and, as one of the students said while munching on his carrot, "Even the sand tastes good here!", while another one declared, "These are the most incredible carrots I ever ate in my life."
Corinne Abrahams told us that the group had spent Shabbat at Shomriya, another village in the Negev that was settled by Gaza Strip evacuees: "I was with a family there for Shabbat, and it was really nice. People in England have no idea about Shomriya. I've always had a strong belief in Israel, and connection to KKL-JNF is a family affair. My grandfather, who's now 93, still puts money in his Blue Box every week. Before this trip, when people bad-mouthed Israel, I would argue with them, but now that I've been here, I feel that I can argue with substance.
said that it's really important to get to know about
Israel: "I personally am a lefty politically, but there are things that
are complicated. For example, my brother lives in Sussex, where they
are boycotting Israeli goods. I feel I need to deal with what being
Jewish means. One of the reasons for my trip here is that it's
important to get the feelings, not just the ideas."
Over the rest of the week, the group toured the country, learning about
Israel's history and present day challenges, also visiting various
KKL-JNF projects. One of the most interesting activities was a visit to
the city of Lod, where they met with Arab teenagers. As Joel
want to find out how it feels to be Muslim in a Jewish country. By
seeing the whole picture in a non-biased manner, including situations
that have not yet been resolved, we will be able to better represent
Israel, because people will sense that we are being honest and sincere."
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