A Day in the Desert with JNF Canada Israel Mission

"There are forty-one people on this mission from all over Canada, including places like Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor, among others," said Joe Rabinowitch, executive vice-president of JNF Canada.

KKL_081111_A (photo credit: KKL-JNF)
KKL_081111_A
(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
"There are forty-one people on this mission from all over Canada, including places like Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor, among others," said Joe Rabinowitch, executive vice-president of JNF Canada. "We're here from October 28 to November 8, and we've been touring all over the country, with one of a half days devoted entirely to KKL-JNF projects. Today we're in the south, and on Sunday, November 6, we'll be visiting KKL-JNF sites in the north, including a visit to the Carmel forest to learn about rehabilitation plans firsthand. KKL-JNF missions are unique, because they give visitors to Israel an opportunity to see projects and places that most other visitors to the country never get to see."
Water for the Desert – Mitzpe Ramon Reservoir
The town of Mitzpe Ramon is located deep in the Negev desert. On the way to the water reservoir, which was built by KKL-JNF with the help of its friends from Holland, the group could see impressive environmental sculptures set against the magnificent background of the Ramon crater. Esther Weinstein, KKL-JNF's director of tourism, explained how the reservoir impacts life in the desert: "This reservoir stores purified effluents from Mitzpe Ramon and local army bases. The water is used for agriculture and gardening. One of the things we need to remember is that in Israel, agriculture is not only about growing food, but also about maintaining presence on the land. In the future, the reservoir will enable this area to become a tourist attraction featuring the sculpture route, the breathtaking view of the desert landscape, bird watching and desert farming. The gift of water is what makes life in the Negev possible."
Tomorrow's Zionists Today – Ayalim Student Village at Eshalim
"Everything you see here has been built by the students themselves," said Donna, a resident of the Negev village of Eshalim who moved to Israel thirteen years ago from Berkeley, California. "The students receive scholarships in exchange for 500 hours of community outreach, with the goal of settling the Negev and the Galilee. In this sense, our ideology is very similar to that of KKL-JNF. The student's village is located next to Eshalim, where I live with my family. At first, nKKLo one wanted to live here, but now, we have 70 families, infrastructure is under way for 150 new plots, and we have a waiting list of 200 families.
"Ninety percent of the greenery you see here, along with all of the infrastructure, is the work of KKL-JNF. Without KKL-JNF's involvement in almost every aspect of Negev life, the boom we have seen in the Negev over the past few years could never have taken place. The Negev desert is where the original pioneering spirit of Zionism is being realized on an everyday basis, and many of the students decide to make their homes in the Negev after their studies. Having been here when Eshalim's total population was only five families, I find it very exciting to see what's happening now," Donna concluded.
Ramat Hanegev R&D Station – Making Miracles Happen
The next stop was the Ramat Hanegev research and development station, where Michal, an agronomist, explained why cutting-edge research is so critical to life in the Negev: "Only twenty years ago, when this R&D station was established, no one believed that agriculture was possible here. There's hardly any rain, the summers are dry and the nights are so cold that water freezes.
"We do, however, have an underground water source, although the water is brackish (salty). That's one of the main challenges we face here – learning to farm with brackish water. In fact, certain crops, like tomatoes, are tastier and crispier when irrigated with this water. For other crops, we need to mix the brackish water with fresh water, so we developed a computer that monitors and mixes the water according to the crop's needs.
"All of Israel's R&D stations are supported by KKL-JNF and its friends worldwide. It is very much to KKL-JNF's credit that they understand the critical importance of research for life in the Negev. How could anyone make a living here if not for desert agriculture? Many of our discoveries have national and local significance. For example, Israel has recently begun a massive water desalination project due to the country's severe water shortage. However, when farmers used the desalinated water to irrigate their crops, nothing grew! We found that the desalinated water was lacking minerals, so the research we had done in mixing different water sources provided us with solutions."