Jewish National Fund-USA mission to Israel showcases housing success story on the frontier

As part of JNF-USA’s vision to revitalize Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions and encourage Americans to make aliyah, they support these regions with infrastructure, education and employment.

 During the HDF tour of Gaza Border communities, the group had the opportunity to participate in the dedication of the Sandra Goldreich Roklen and Evan Roklen Resilience Center in Sderot; a facility that will provide therapeutic services for children and families suffering from PTSD and other mental (photo credit: JNF-USA)
During the HDF tour of Gaza Border communities, the group had the opportunity to participate in the dedication of the Sandra Goldreich Roklen and Evan Roklen Resilience Center in Sderot; a facility that will provide therapeutic services for children and families suffering from PTSD and other mental
(photo credit: JNF-USA)

Israel’s incredible achievements as the “Start-up Nation” have elevated the country to become a leading first-world economy. Yet, just as in regions like California’s Silicon Valley, its success has led to skyrocketing housing prices over the past two decades. According to a July 2022 Times of Israel report, thousands of Israelis once again took to the streets of Tel Aviv, now the most expensive city in the world, to protest Israel’s high cost of living, soaring housing prices, and major increases in rental costs. At the same time, the severe housing shortage coupled with these economic challenges has also increased the demand for high-quality housing throughout northern and southern Israel that is more affordable yet equally desirable.

As part of Jewish National Fund-USA’s vision to revitalize Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions and encourage 800,000 Israelis and Americans making aliyah (immigration to Israel) to move away from Israel’s crowded, expensive center, the organization is working to dramatically change Israel’s landscape by supporting these regions with critical modern infrastructure, increased tourism, and opportunities for education and employment. One such initiative that is transforming this vision into reality is JNF-USA’s Housing Development Fund (HDF), which provides targeted funding and loans to communities, advancing them the capital necessary for the completion of ground infrastructure to commence the home-building process in new neighborhoods. The HDF initiative is imperative to speed up the process of home ownership in these areas, which might otherwise see delays of up to five years due to Israel’s municipal regulations.

Recently, 14 philanthropists from multiple states participated in Jewish National Fund-USA’s Housing Development Fund Mission to Israel to see the impactful work the organization and its affiliates are doing to support high-quality, affordable housing development in Israel’s frontier. The majority of participants were members of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Housing Development Fund Task Force, a leadership group investing a minimum of $100,000 in JNF-USA and playing an important role in spearheading fundraising efforts for the HDF initiative. 

The HDF at Kibbutz Shluchot in the Valley of Springs Region, south of Lake Kinneret (sea of Galilee) with the Mayor of the Valley of Springs Regional Council, Yoram Karin, and his staff. (Credit: JNF-USA) The HDF at Kibbutz Shluchot in the Valley of Springs Region, south of Lake Kinneret (sea of Galilee) with the Mayor of the Valley of Springs Regional Council, Yoram Karin, and his staff. (Credit: JNF-USA)

“As of March 2022, the HDF supported the development of over 1,500 plots of land in Israel’s frontier with several hundred more plots underway,” said Task Force member, Jonathan Adler. “This means we’re helping to provide homes, and sometimes even ‘dream homes’ for populations like growing families, immigrants, military veterans, and seniors — all groups in need of residential housing options outside of areas like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.”

While exploring Jewish National Fund-USA projects in northern Israel, the philanthropists saw several communities that are currently under development, including Kibbutz Hamadiya, where the HDF is adding 30 housing lots; and Kibbutz Gadot, where the HDF is financing the development of 38 new housing sites. Housing development is a critical component of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Go North initiative, which aims to bring 300,000 new residents to the region.

Kibbutz Gonen, located in the Upper Eastern Galilee, and the site of the under construction JNF-USA Galilee Culinary Institute, is developing 50 new home sites with the help of the HDF, like this home under construction. (Credit: JNF-USA)Kibbutz Gonen, located in the Upper Eastern Galilee, and the site of the under construction JNF-USA Galilee Culinary Institute, is developing 50 new home sites with the help of the HDF, like this home under construction. (Credit: JNF-USA)

“It’s wonderful to see with our own eyes the major steps our Housing Development Fund has taken to create incredible housing that’s attracting new residents to these regions,” said Mission Participant, Josh Schonfeld. “The houses we saw in development were beautiful – warm and inviting, yet spacious and modern, with picturesque views of Israel. To see these homes, where families will be raised and where kids will play in the yard for hours, and to see empty lots knowing that one day we will turn them into cornerstones of a family unit, is a uniquely moving experience.”

The group also made their way to Jerusalem to learn more about Jewish National Fund-USA’s affiliate, Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helps ease the transition and manage the bureaucratic obstacles that individuals face when immigrating to Israel; where they learned how aliyah from North America impacts the housing market.

Nefesh B’Nefesh is one of several Jewish National Fund-USA affiliates providing aid for thousands of refugees from the crisis in Ukraine. It is using its Jerusalem campus as a collection site for hygiene products, clothes, toys, and additional supplies for the incoming immigrants, and has offered its Tel Aviv Hub to groups who have created “command centers” to manage their vital operations, among other support. While mission participants were at the campus, they witnessed nearly 100 Ukrainian and Russian immigrants taking the oath of citizenship and being processed for their Israeli identity cards — an incredibly poignant moment that resonated strongly with the group. 

Kibbutz Nahal Oz is a community on the border with Gaza. The HDF has worked with this community of 450 residents to develop 43 new homes for young families, most of whom are relocating from the overcrowded and expensive Tel Aviv area (Credit: JNF-USA)Kibbutz Nahal Oz is a community on the border with Gaza. The HDF has worked with this community of 450 residents to develop 43 new homes for young families, most of whom are relocating from the overcrowded and expensive Tel Aviv area (Credit: JNF-USA)

“This was one of the most emotional experiences of the trip,” said HDF Task Force Co-Chair, Natalie Goldman. “When Jews from Ukraine are able to escape their war-torn country and move to Israel, they are no longer refugees. They are immigrants coming home. To be able to show them there is a place for them, even after everything they have been through, gives them hope and a shot at starting a new life. That’s what Jewish National Fund-USA and Nefesh B’Nefesh do better than anyone: provide hope and a chance at a new beginning.” 

Other trip highlights included visiting several communities in the Negev undergoing housing development, seeing Jewish National Fund-USA’s Young Adult Center, which provides professional support, educational training, and mentorship to teens in the Negev, exploring the organization’s visionary projects in the Gaza Envelope, and a guided tour led by Ariella Schwartz, a Baltimore native who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh and is now employed there.  

To learn more about Jewish National Fund-USA’s Housing Development Fund and JNF-USA’s other community development projects, go to https://www.jnf.org/our-work/community-building. To visit Israel with JNF-USA, visit jnf.org/travel for a list of all upcoming missions.