Day with JNF USA Makor Mission

Their packed schedule included tours and many meetings, providing them the best possible opportunity to see the progress already made in KKL-JNF's various projects, as well as an understanding of future plans.

March 2, 2010 18:12

kkl. (photo credit: kkl)


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A Voyage into the Negev and Arava in KKL-JNF's Footsteps

The Makor Mission of JNF America leaders landed in Israel for a week’s visit, to learn more about KKL-JNF’s various projects in the Negev and Arava, and in particular to visit projects established with the help of their contributions.  The mission comprised 25 representatives from all over the US, and was accompanied by KKL-JNF emissary Sharon Davidovich.  The aim was to give the group an up-close look at KKL-JNF’s activities, so that they could return to their home communities with first-hand, updated knowledge.

providing them the best possible opportunity to see the progress already made in KKL-JNF's various projects, as well as an understanding of future plans.  Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, spoke with them about the importance of various activities, as well as the organization’s achievements and challenges.  The water crisis was discussed with the heads of the Water Authority.  In Beersheba, the mayor briefed them on the city’s development plans and they also toured the Old City.  They visited Eshel Hanasi youth village, toured the new community of Givot Bar (“Wild Hills”), and were hosted at the Israel Air Force’s base in Nevatim where they were updated about the plan to move IDF bases to the south of the country. 

The head of the Central Arava Regional Council spoke to them about the settlement projects in the region and about the latest agricultural developments at the local R&D stations.  They had the experience of a jeep tour along the “Spice Route” and then in Tzukim (“Cliffs”) they gained on-site appreciation of KKL-JNF’s contribution to the establishment of new communities. 

“We saw with our own eyes what wonderful things are happening here, which means that when we get back to the States, we’ll be able to describe it in the best way possible,” said Lauren Mescon one of the mission participants.

Beckie Fischer, who chaired the group and is president of KKL-JNF’s Florida region, said: “This mission includes many lawyers, doctors and other successful people in different fields.  We all live good, satisfying lives and we are all motivated by a desire to give back to the community.  We have a strong bond with Israel and Judaism, and JNF is the best way for connecting with Israel.” In response to the question whether she hesitated about leaving her family and her work for a trip to Israel, she responded, “I didn’t hesitate for a moment.  My family supports Israel and understands how important it is.  JNF is part of our family.”

Another participant, Joel Leibowitz, remarked, “Ambassadors who are active within their community have enormous power.  This visit in Israel is enabling them to deliver their messages in the most genuine, exciting and convincing way.”

Chuck Fax is the vice-president of JNF USA.  Concurring that nothing else compares in any way to a visit in Israel, he said, “It’s the only way to get us really excited when we tell about the use made of our donations and the remaining needs, plus the expectations about what will be achieved next.  This group contains talented, experienced people, each of whom is responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.  We started Makor activity ten years ago, with three members.  Today we already number 25 people, and every year we are joined by others who fit in.”

At Kibbutz Yahel the group met Ron Bernstein, a pomelo farmer – pomelos are an exotic citrus fruit that is not widely known in the USA, but is much loved in Israel. He related how he placed a crate of pomelos on the Jordanian border for the enjoyment of soldiers on both sides.  “It’s my modest contribution to peace in the Middle East,” he said with a smile, “because despite all the risks, we’ve managed to do amazing things here.  And with your assistance we have established wonderful communities, and for that I thank you.”

After eating Bernstein’s pomelos – for some of the mission it was their first taste ever – the guests continued their tour, meeting the farming coordinator of the kibbutz, Hillel Tobias.  He said to the mission, “KKL-JNF’s work is essential for settlement and for agriculture: building reservoirs, preparing ground for construction and for crops.  It’s with your help that we are able to develop the kibbutz and accept new residents.”  With clear excitement Tobias presented the plan for setting up an agricultural park, which will include a visitors center and agricultural tours. Another plan is for restaurants, a farmers’ market, a farming exhibition and a lake with water plants. In addition, there are plans for an adjacent vacation village with about 200 rooms.

The visit in Yahel was an especially emotional experience for Carol Freidkin.  Several years ago she had visited the kibbutz and planted a tree there.  She was worried about remembering its exact location, yet now she did actually visit her tree again and saw how well it is growing.  She ceremoniously held out a bottle of mineral water and announced with great pleasure: “Look! I am watering my tree with some of my own water.”

Bob Benedon said that joining Makor a few years ago was the gift that he gave himself, to celebrate his 50th birthday.  “I’ve visited Israel at least 20 times, but with JNF there’s always something new to see.  For example, the visit in Givot Bar was a really special experience for me, because I was there a few years ago, when they were just starting the initial development works. And now it’s amazing to see how a whole new community has grown since then.”

As far as Mark Kelman is concerned, the landscapes of the Arava are not so different from what he sees at home in Phoenix, Arizona.  “I’m used to seeing the desert from my house. I’ve visited here several times, and yet with each visit I get a new and different aspect.  We’re not just being exposed to one particular project or another; we’re getting an overall picture of the region’s development.”

The therapeutic riding farm at Grofit was established with the assistance of the Sapphire Society – the women’s organization in JNF USA. The visitors were very excited to see how children with special needs enjoy riding so much. “Just imagine what riding on a horse means for a child whose whole life has been spent sitting in a wheelchair,” said their guide at the riding farm, Ellen Reisel

Daniel, aged 15, left them in no doubt about what it means.  He met the guests confidently, and when they asked him what he feels when he’s on a horse, he replied in English, “Happy.” The group applauded spontaneously, and more than a few tears could be seen.  The bad news is that only one third of kibbutz and Eilat children who could benefit from therapeutic riding actually get this help today. However, when more funds are raised it will be possible to expand activities and open more groups. The staff has plans for a closed arena that can also operate during the burning summer days when the farm is at present forced to close its gates.  Obviously, many extra donations are required to put this dream into practice.

Carol Freidkin, chair of the Sapphire Society Women, said, “More and more women nowadays are independent economically and intellectually.  We’re involved in the community, we volunteer and donate.  Since we earn the money ourselves, why shouldn’t we contribute it to causes that we view as important?”

The packed agenda did not leave any moments for leisure, and even the lunch break at the wayside stop in Yotvata was exploited to the full: Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF USA, arrived to talk with the mission members.  He spoke with them about the tremendous importance of their involvement in events happening in Israel.  “Your involvement also encourages the government of Israel to invest more,” he emphasized.  Robinson accompanied the group when they continued with their schedule for a meeting with Professor Uri Shani, head of Israel’s Water Authority. He was the guide at their visit in the R&D center in the southern Arava.  The work at this research station in Yotvata is aimed at discovering scientific-agricultural solutions to the difficulties posed by the extreme climate and the water quality in the Arava.

The fields of research that the R&D station deals with include water shortage, salty water and water temperature, climate control in hothouses, agrotech improvements in orchards, examining vegetable varieties to produce different types, development and acclimatization of new crops and flowers for seeds, and the use of sewage water for agricultural crops.  Farmers in the Arava have to cope with the severest conditions imaginable: high temperatures, very little precipitation, low humidity, the sun’s strong rays, sudden sand storms and saline irrigation water.

Prof. Shani presented the revolutionary research carried out in the R&D station to test the effect of water quality on the growth of date palms: it showed a dramatic difference in the trees’ growth and the quantity of fruit according to the level of boron in the irrigation water.  This led to the conclusion that in cases of saline water with a high concentration of boron, the best solution is to address the water quality and not deal with it by increasing the quantity of irrigation water, as was customary before now.  As a result of this research, the accepted wisdom on this issue has been changed all round the world. “An improvement in the water quality makes sense from the standpoints of both economics and the environment,” Prof. Shani concluded.

Russell Robinson added, “The water crisis in Israel has forced the state to double the price of water.  After an earthquake or a tsunami it’s possible to build anew.  But an area that has become desert, takes 25 years to rehabilitate.  Water is the basis of civilization, while deserts cause poverty and hunger. We aim to raise funding for non-stop research to take place, in order to find solutions to this complex issue.”

In the Timna Park, which was developed thanks to the assistance of KKL-JNF Friends in the USA, the 3,000-years old copper mines impressed the visitors. Ancient Egyptians worked 8,000 copper mines at this site, which had a complex system of underground tunnels.  The Arava’s stunning scenery turns this area into a real tourist attraction.  The park’s director, Michael Lavi (Levko) showed the development plans, which include the construction of a modern visitors center that will provide hands-on activities.  He noted that KKL-JNF has contributed greatly to the site, and had been responsible for its overall development.  “Without KKL-JNF there would have been nothing here at all,” he said.  After his explanations, the group went for a walk in the park, enchanted by the ancient landscape that surrounded them on all sides.

On the last day of their stay in Israel, the Makor Mission toured the Negev towns of Mitspeh Ramon, Yeruham, Dimona and Sderot.  They then left behind the warm hospitality of the Negev and the rugged desert scenery to fly back to the USA.  Each made his or her own way home, to pass on the information they have acquired to their community, thereby helping to link them to events in Israel.  It was obvious that even before separating from each other, the participants were already starting to miss their Makor companions. However, they will soon meet up again – in Atlanta at the National Conference of JNF USA.

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