Israel at 59: The modern challenges of building a nation

JNF has worked to identify the challenges of this little piece of land we Jews call home and to respond.

July 25, 2007 11:45
Israel at 59 pic 1

Israel at 59 pic 1. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With just one cut of the ribbon, Lois and Steve Scheiner answered two vital needs and showed a town full of people that someone cares. While on JNF of America's President's Council Mission in November, the Scottsdale, Arizona couple dedicated an inclusive playground/park in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border. The park was particularly important for the community's morale after the area had been showered with Katyusha rockets, and also answered a growing need in Israeli society: to make parks and playgrounds accessible to people with disabilities. That's what Jewish National Fund does: finds a need and provides an answer. That is what we have been doing for 105 years and what will always guide us. Israel turned 59-years-old in May. Birthdays are a time for celebration, but also a time to reflect on the past - what have we accomplished? And look to the future - what else needs to be done? JNF has worked to identify the challenges of this little piece of land we Jews call home and to respond. In the process we have changed the lives of thousands of Israelis. Take a look at the progress we've made and the stories of real JNF donors who, like the Scheiners, have contributed to our many success stories. And then get involved with the challenges of the future. There are many and you are needed. The challenge: Due to terrorism, military conflict, and a disproportionate number of traffic accidents, almost 15% of Israelis have some form of disability. The response: JNF is working to make all existing parks and recreation facilities inclusive and welcoming to people with and without disabilities, and to help inspire inclusive practices throughout Israel. The Inclusive Parks Program kicked off in 2004 with a grant from the Cincinnati-based Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation. One of the program's first initiatives was an inclusive trail that meanders along the Nahal Hashofet stream in Ramat Menashe Park. This trail is not only accessible for those with physical disabilities, but also creates a multi-sensory experience for visually impaired visitors by incorporating the textures, sounds and smells of the forest. When discussing how JNF improves the quality of life for Israelis, Nina Paul, National Campign Chair of the Inclusive Parks Program, said: "Think of a family in which one person has a disability. With these parks, now the whole family can go out and enjoy a day of leisure together not in a park that is just accessible for people with disabilities, and not in a typical park, but in a park that everyone can enjoy together." Paul said that other organizations throughout Israel are embracing the idea of being inclusive, and believes that other facilities banks, executive buildings, schools will soon follow. "Life in Israel is so stressful and everyone needs respite," Nina said. "If there is a whole group of people who can't enjoy our parks, what kind of message are we sending?" Success story: In addition to the park in Kiryat Shmona, an accessible Tree Planting Center at the Kennedy Memorial outside Jerusalem was just opened. A ramp allows for access to this site, which was funded by the Scheiners and Bob & Saralee Harrisburg of Portland, ME. The challenge: The cities in central Israel are becoming crowded, making it difficult for Israelis and those who make aliyah to find affordable housing. The response: Through our Blueprint Negev initiative, JNF is developing new communities in the Negev desert, and breathing new life into existing communities. We have made great strides in bringing new residents, new sources of water, improved agriculture, new jobs and economic opportunity to the area while protecting the environment. Success story: In addition to the many smaller communities that JNF is building and creating infrastructure for, we are also reviving Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, to make it an affordable and desirable place for people to live, work, and visit. Be'er Sheva's renovations center around the river that runs through the city. A park, a promenade and a few hundred privately-developed homes facing the riverbed have already been built, with an amphitheater and a sports complex being developed. JNF regions across the country have dedicated a huge amount of time and money to this massive undertaking, which is key to the overall Blueprint Negev plan. "It's the linchpin of the whole project," said Boston Regional President Larry Cohen, who recently visited the area. "There are jobs to be created and there's a demand for housing with new immigrants and people moving within Israel. If you look at the opportunities there are now, it's more significant than ever. You want to have a full country, not just a few cities and then no man's land." The challenge: Israel's ongoing water shortage The response: As recently as the 1990s most of the freshwater consumed in Israel was used for agriculture. Thanks to the many reservoirs built by JNF, most fresh water is now diverted to domestic use, while agriculture and industry use purified wastewater that is good for irrigation but not for drinking. Success story: Building and maintaining a reservoir is a huge endeavor, costing millions of dollars. Like all JNF reservoirs, many donors from across the country contributed to the establishment of the Kfar Menachem Reservoir outside Jerusalem. Among them are Evelyn Tabas and her late husband, Daniel, of Philadelphia, PA, who have put more than $1 million toward the reservoir. Last summer, Evelyn visited the reservoir for the first time with her daughter, Carol Tabas Stofman, who had been there before. Carol recalled that the last time she had been to the reservoir there were brown fields where now there were crops growing - watermelon, grapes, cotton and newly planted almond orchards. "As far as the eye can see crops," she said. "It is wonderful." Kibbutz Kfar Menachem has also increased its income as a result of more crops and increased yields. The challenge: During the war with Hezbollah last summer, approximately 2 million tress in northern Israel were destroyed. The response: Through Operation Northern Renewal, a 10-year, $400 million campaign to rebuild northern Israel, JNF is implementing the principles of sustainable development and sustainable forest management as we re-green the north. Success story: This year's Tu B'Shevat took on special meaning as 1,500 people attended a planting ceremony in Biriya Forest near Tzfat, one of the areas that sustained the most damage from the war. Among the attendees were the Israeli Minister of Education, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, IDF soldiers, and many hundreds of schoolchildren and teachers. "We're all planting trees together, and together we'll make the north green again," said Stenzler during the ceremony. One of the IDF soldiers who participated in the ceremony said, "It's our job to defend the State, and planting trees is another way to protect the country." To learn more about our latest projects in Israel, please contact your local JNF office 1-888-JNF-0099 or visit us online KKL-JNF America Sponsored content

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