Miracles in the Desert
Canada National Mission in the Negev
"It's absolutely gorgeous!" said one of the members of the Canada National Mission as the group walked through vineyards growing in the Negev desert. The mission, which was organized in Canada by Sharon Lehrer
, was comprised of about thirty Canadians who were touring Israel for ten days with KKL-JNF, learning about daily life in Israel and having a great time. Joe Rabinovitch
, Executive Vice President of JNF Canada, told us that for nine or ten of the people in the group, this was their second time in Israel with KKL-JNF: "They get to know Israel in a way very different than other tourists do, and they also learn about KKL-JNF. After seeing firsthand the many and diverse fields KKL-JNF is involved in, someone said to me that we have to market ourselves better, because people still think that KKL-JNF is mainly involved with planting trees. My response was that this is one of the reasons for missions like this - people see for themselves and when they go back home, they become KKL-JNF ambassadors!"
L to R: Nathan Disenhouse and Joe Rabinovitch
The mission spent the first few days of its visit to Israel in the north, and we joined them for a very intense day in the Negev desert in the south. As previously mentioned, the first stop of the day was at the vineyards of Moshav Shekef, which is located in the Negev's Lachish region. The group was greeted by Uri
, the owner of the vineyard, who took the visitors for a walk between the grapevines that were laden with perfect clusters of grapes. Uri talked about the region and about farming it: "If the winter and summer are good, the grapes, which are for eating, are good. Most of our produce is for the Israeli market, although some of it is for export. When Shekef was first established, KKL-JNF did all the earthworks and infrastructure preparations, for which we are very grateful."Esther Weinstein
, KKL-JNF Director of Tourism, who, along with Jessica Lawson
of KKL-JNF's Canadian desk, accompanied the group and made certain that their every need was cared for, spoke a bit about the Lachish region: "Different types of people have chosen to make their home here, some religious, some secular, and some Gaza Strip evacuees. There is not much water here, and water is one of the most expensive components of agriculture. The Lachish water reservoir, which was built with the help of JNF Canada, stores purified effluents that originated in Jerusalem, taking advantage of every drop."Elisha Mizrahi
of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, who also accompanied the group, added that there was another aspect to the water problem: "Water is also one of the reasons for the Middle East conflict. This area is right on the border with the Palestinian Authority, and when we relinquished control of the land, we lost the floodwater that used to flow down here. The Palestinians take the water in the upper section of the watershed, so there's no more flooding here. That means that the underground aquifer isn't filling up, and that affects water quality. KKL-JNF plans to build another reservoir here over the next three years."
The next stop was at the nearby village of Haruv, where the group split up into groups of six, each of which was invited to the house to one of the local residents. Elisha Mizrahi spoke with admiration about the community: "The people who chose to live here, including the Gaza Strip evacuees, have the same spirit that the Zionist pioneers who founded Israel had. Supporting people like them is KKL-JNF's mission, whether it involves land infrastructure, water projects, security roads, or whatever is necessary. David Nahamias, a KKL-JNF leader who was a planner in his soul, envisioned Jewish settlement in this region 35 years ago and drew up plans that were shelved at the time. Now, the time has come to implement them."
On the way to the houses, the group passed yet another KKL-JNF footprint, a children's playground donated by JNF America. Tzvika
, a local resident, greeted his group and spoke about the decision to move to Haruv: "My wife and I come from the Tel Aviv region, and the decision to move here had to do with what I call practical Zionism and the desire to settle an underdeveloped area, where one is close to nature and you know your neighbors. It's not easy, we face many challenges, but thanks to organizations like KKL-JNF, we don't feel alone."
A lively discussion ensued, during which Tzvika spoke about what he feels is the main challenge facing present day Israeli society: "KKL-JNF helps with the physical infrastructure, but I feel our greatest challenge is Israel's social infrastructure. I am particularly concerned with the religious-secular interface. I would like Haruv to be a model for how secular and religious people can live together. It's a question of identity, an issue I know is very important to Jews living abroad."
From Haruv, the group traveled to Beersheva River Park, where KKL-JNF, in partnership with the government and municipal authorities, is transforming the formerly polluted eight-kilometer streambed that intersects Beersheba from east to west into the city's central green lung. The park is fast becoming an attraction that serves local residents and attracts visitors passing through the city to stop, relax, and enjoy a green desert oasis that offers a wealth of possibilities for family recreation. The mission visited Beit Eshel, a restoration project supported by a gift from Ed and Irene Sonshine, Toronto Negev Dinner honorees
. Phillip Ledovsky
of Toronto, who was on the mission together with his wife Karen, pointed to a line in a book by the famous Israeli author David Grossman: "Grossman writes here that according to numbers, statistics and the laws of nature, Israel doesn't stand a chance. When we were at Nahal Beersheva Park, I thought to myself, here is a perfect example of how it's possible to succeed against all the odds. It's so beautiful and impressive now, and the place was a garbage dump only five years ago!"
The group stopped for lunch at Eshkol Park, a joint project of KKL-JNF, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Regional Council. The waters of the Besor springs, which are not suitable for drinking, irrigate green lawns and desert plants in this expansive park, which is wheelchair accessible. Elisha Mizrahi talked about the park and the Besor region: "We started creating this park in 1982, when the peace agreement with Egypt was signed. The Besor region was settled at the time by the people who were evacuated from the Jewish communities in Sinai. Besides agriculture, the region boosts a booming tourist industry, which has become a major source of livelihood for local residents. Eshkol Park is one of the Besor's foremost attractions."
On to the Besor Research and Development Station, where Eliana Ganot
described the importance of research for agriculture in Israel: "The Besor station was the first R&D station to be established in Israel, now there are already seven throughout the country. KKL-JNF is a full partner to financing and maintaining these stations. We address all the issues that affect local farmers – various strains of fruits and vegetables, planting times, diseases and pests, greenhouse agriculture, water conservation, energy conservation – you name it. The farmers bring us their problems and questions, and our researchers try to find solutions and answers. Some of our innovations have earned worldwide recognition."
A tour through the greenhouses where new strains of tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and flowers, among others, were being tested, was one of the day's highlights, but the day was far from over. The bus took the group to Nahal Asaf in the western Negev, where a safari truck waited to take the group for a ride through rough backwoods roads, while Elisha explained about how KKL-JNF cares for open lands, including trailblazing, fighting desertification and erosion, savannization, grazing issues, and much more. The day ended at the Niram water reservoir, where the mission saw how KKL-JNF's water projects are bringing life to this arid region.
We spoke with Nathan Disenhouse
, who became president of JNF Toronto just last June: "When people come to Israel, they get a much better idea of the projects that need to be promoted in Canada. I chose to join KKL-JNF because I wanted to be involved with an organization that is 100% dedicated to Israel, and that's a perfect description of KKL-JNF.
"Back home, we are investing energies in connecting our young people to KKL-JNF. We have a program called 'Futures' for people aged 25-40. We recently had a very successful 'Futures' event entitled 'Meet Max Weinberg', who is Bruce Springstein's drummer. We raised money for a new playground for Ethiopian immigrant children somewhere in the Negev. I hope to see a 'Futures' mission in Israel in the near future." Alan Galdenberg
came from Montreal with his wife Remia: "This trip has been a real highlight for my wife and I, and a fabulous experience. And to be honest, I really appreciate that no one mentioned anything about donations, everything is really from the heart."
, a criminologist
from Toronto, was one of the people who came back this year after being
here the previous year with KKL-JNF: "It left me wanting more. I fell in
love with the country, and I hope to bring my children and
grandchildren here to share what I feel with them. There are common
values that I share with KKL-JNF – environmental concerns and the fact
that it's an organization that supports Israel, but is non-political and
non-religious. And as for the mission, you couldn't find a better or
more cohesive group."Renna Bassal
the past president of JNF Montreal, said that she was very excited to
see what KKL-JNF had accomplished in the Negev and throughout the
country: "I contributed towards building the playground at the Montreal
Oasis Park, which is part of Nahal Beersheva Park. I chose this project
because my grandparents were from Russia, and now the children of
Russian immigrants to Israel have a place to play in their national
homeland. I first fell in love with Israel in 1964, when I was deeply
moved by my first sight of the country from the window of the plane.
Israel was so green, while the neighboring states seemed to be mainly
brown and yellow desert. That is why I chose to be active in KKL-JNF."
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