Israel Insights Mission
the Vision of Negev Development
The Israel Insights Mission arrived in Israel for an orientation and investigation tour of a variety of KKL-JNF projects throughout the country. Russell Robinson
, JNF America CEO, accompanied the mission on its visit and presented the diverse projects that have been carried out with the support of JNF USA. “Our vision is to bring 500,000 residents to the Negev in the next decade,” said Robinson. “This is the time to work together with the people of Israel, with the goal of promoting initiatives that will make a significant change in the lives of the residents of the Negev.”
Robinson attributes great importance to the missions that come to Israel. “Every member of the mission tells his or her friends, and they pass the message on, and this is how every group like this actually influences masses of people. For example, I have no doubt that everyone who was on the air balloon flight will go home and talk about it to friends and family. The message is that Israel is not a country that is always at war, but a normal country that’s worth visiting and where you can have wonderful experiences."On the first day of their visit, the mission toured in Jerusalem, Ammunition Hill, the Western Wall Tunnels, American Independence Park in the Judean Hills, and they even planted trees in Aminadav Forest. The second day was devoted to becoming acquainted with Negev projects. The schedule for the rest of the week included, among other things, a jeep trip in the Ramon Crater, a visit to the Ramon Air Force Base, a tour of the Netafim drip irrigation factory and visits to Caesarea, the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv and the Carmel Market.Valerie Shapiro
, president of the JNF Orlando campaign cabinet, tells about how the mission came about: “We were in Israel on a JNF mission four years ago, and we were so excited by Israel and by what KKL-JNF is doing here that we wanted to come back and show it to our friends, so that they too would become more involved. One year ago, there was a meeting of JNF representatives in Orlando, and my husband Jim and I announced that we wanted to organize a mission to Israel. Some of the people said right away that they would join, while others joined later. This is a mixed mission of Jews and Christians. Nine of the mission participants are our neighbors, who live in the same building. There are many we never really knew before, and we are getting to know them better here.”
The tour of the Negev began with a very unique and extraordinary experience - an early morning flight in an air balloon above the town of Netivot. Other than being such a unique experience, it was also an opportunity to view the landscape from above, to get to know and learn about the region.
After their bird’s eye view, the mission landed for a visit at the Sderot reservoir, where they were greeted by Yoram Peretz
, of KKL-JNF’s southern Forestry Department, who explained how essential the project is for the environment and for the local population. The water reservoir, whose volume is 1 million cubic meters, was constructed by KKL-JNF with the support of Friends of JNF in the USA and with the assistance of the Parsons Foundation. The reservoir, which is expected to begin functioning in the beginning of August, will be treating the effluents of Sderot and the other settlements in the vicinity, and it will be supplying about 3 million cubic meters of water a year. The purified effluents will be used for irrigating 5,000 dunams of fields, groves and orchards, and will contribute to the livelihood of 600 farmers. The reservoir will prevent the flow of sewage into Nahal Shikma, which causes pollution and damages the groundwater.
KKL-JNF has constructed more than 220 reservoirs to date throughout Israel, and thanks to them, about 80% of the agricultural areas are irrigated with purified effluents instead of freshwater, which is meant to be used for drinking. In a land where every drop of water is precious, these reservoirs make a significant contribution to the water economy.
“KKL-JNF is the only organization in Israel that constructs reservoirs on this scale,” said Russell Robinson. “Water is the essence of life, and the water we supply guarantees a better future for the entire region. We are promoting a variety of projects whose purpose is to help Israel deal with the water crisis. Among these are the construction of reservoirs, water reclamation, drilling for locating groundwater, river restoration and educational initiatives to teach people about water conservation.”
From the Sderot reservoir, the mission proceeded to visit the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, which was constructed in Sderot by a contribution from JNF USA. This is the largest protected recreation center in Israel. In its protected space the children of Sderot and the vicinity can enjoy games, sports and leisure activities. Among its attractions are: inflated equipment, a climbing wall, a jamboree, computer games, ping pong, dance floors, Playstation, game tables, basketball courts and many games for all ages. There are also after school activities, performances, birthday parties, celebrations and assorted events. While the children are having fun, their parents can sit comfortably in the cafeteria and watch them.
The Mayor of Sderot, David Bouskila
, said to the members of the mission: “The project you constructed for us is giving the children of Sderot their childhood back, which was robbed from them by the Kassam missiles. Today our children can play and have fun just like any other children, a right that was stolen from them for eight years. In the year since we opened the Center, more than 40,000 children have been here. Every smile of every child that walks in here is really a thank you note to the donors.”
“We didn’t want to build just another playground,” said Russell Robinson
. “What we wanted to build here was a place that would allow the children of Sderot to tell their friends in Tel Aviv, or anywhere else in Israel, 'Look what we have!'”James Riola
, one of the members of the mission, said: “I was visiting here in February, when the place was still under construction. A few weeks later I came back for the official opening. There were more than two thousand children here celebrating an incredible Purim carnival. It was the first time in years that Sderot had a Purim carnival. It had been simply unfeasible beforehand, because there was no protected place where they could hold such an event.”
On display in the Sderot police station are the remains of a small number of the Kassam missiles that were fired on the city. On each missile the date it struck is written. The members of the mission looked at the chunks of metal, whose only aim was arbitrary bloodshed of Israeli civilians, and they heard about what living under constant fire is like from Shahar Hermelin
, JNF USA Director of Tourism. Remnants of the missiles are being used as raw material for sculpting artistically designed flowers, which are then sold in the USA and assist in funding the operation of the Sderot Recreation Center.
After the moving visit in Sderot, the mission proceeded to the Givot Bar community, which was founded in 2004 in the vicinity of the Beduin city of Rahat. About 300 residents are now living in this pastoral village, and many additional families are waiting to join the young community. This young settlement expresses the pioneering spirit of the new settlements in the Negev very well.
In Beer Sheva River Park, one the main projects that JNF USA is participating in developing as change-inducing catalysts in the region, the mission met Itai Freiman
, the director of the project, and heard about how they had turned a polluted garbage dump and a neglected quarry into a beautiful green park, a real desert oasis, which creates a real change for the capital of the Negev and its environs. In order to restore the streambed and construct the park, KKL-JNF and its friends worldwide partnered with the Ministry for Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Beersheba Municipality, the Administration for the Restoration and Development of Nahal Beersheba, and the Shikma-Besor Drainage Authority.
The park boasts green areas, promenades, and historical sites that tell the history of the city. The large promenade, which covers an area of 250 dunams, was constructed with a contribution from JNF USA, and there are groves, lawns and playgrounds all along it.
The Stanley Plotnick Garden, also known as the Bell Park, was constructed on the western side of the park, on an area of 40 dunams, thanks to a contribution from Friends of KKL-JNF in Canada. On the eastern side of the park, KKL-JNF restored Beit Eshel, a settlement that was established in 1943. Restoration of the site was made possible thanks to a contribution from Friends of KKL-JNF in Germany and in Canada. The development plans include construction of a lake covering an area of 80 dunams, with tourism and recreation sites around it, fields, walking paths and bicycle trails. The earthworks for constructing the lake are expected to begin this summer. Also in the plans is an amphitheatre for 10,000 spectators, whose construction is to begin soon. Water for the lake and for irrigating the park will be coming from the reservoirs KKL-JNF has constructed in the area.Itai Freiman
: “Building this park has created great economic momentum in the city. Adjacent areas that were abandoned and neglected for years are becoming valuable property these days. Entrepreneurs have begun to buy lots for building shopping centers and residential housing. Festivals and municipal events are taking place here. Residents of the city are getting to know the place, and it is becoming a center for family outings.”
At the end of a day of touring overflowing with experiences, the members of the mission met the Mayor of Beersheba, Ruvik Danilovich
, who thanked them warmly for the important projects being undertaken by JNF USA for the welfare of the residents and for the benefit of Beersheba and the development of the Negev. “It moves me to know that people who live thousands of miles away are participants in our vision of developing the Negev,” said the Mayor. “You are making history today in Israel, and it’s not a cliché. You’re not only our partners, you are our family and part of the Zionist journey, and you have succeeded in making miracles happen together with us. I thought it would take thirty years to construct Nahal Beersheba Park, and here it is already. If we continue working together in such an intensive manner, we could complete the park in the next five years. I want to thank all of you for your involvement and your faith.”
Later on in their Israel journey, the mission visited the Atlit Illegal Immigrant Camp near Haifa. Seymour Israel
, one of the mission members, was a founding and a main donor whose contributions helped create a museum in an authentic illegal immigration boat, which had been bought in Europe, brought to Israel and restored. “As a fan of the sea and boats, I connected right away with this initiative,” he said. “It is very important that the younger generation know how the refugees from Europe got to Israel before the establishment of the state. This history could be forgotten, if we don’t make sure to tell it to our children.” Seymour Israel was extremely excited to tour, for the first time, the renovated boat as transformed into a museum. He was the first to tour the boat that has not yet opened for the public. Bruce Gould
, JNF USA regional president in Florida, has been involved for years in activities for Israel. “I am very connected to Israel, and it is important for me that as many people as possible find out about KKL-JNF's wonderful projects. Among all the amazing things we have seen here, the Recreation Center in Sderot captured my heart, and I think it is the most wonderful thing in the world.”
, JNF USA
director of the Orlando offices: “We believe that showing the important
work of JNF USA is the best way to connect people to Israel and recruit
them in helping promote additional projects.”
For Carl Atkinson
and his wife
Sonia, it was their first time in Israel. “They have been hosting us
here so wonderfully, and we are enjoying every minute,” said Carl. “We
have always wanted to come to Israel, and as Christians we thought it
would be fascinating to become acquainted with the Jewish point of view
and to see Israel a little differently than your average tourist.”Linda Poole
was also in Israel
for the first time, and what she said expresses the feeling of
connection to the people and the place very succinctly: “Planting a
tree in Aminadav Forest was a deep and meaningful experience for me.
We put roots in the ground, making this place part of us and us, part
of the place.”
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