Jewish National Fund-USA is offering a one-of-a-kind trip to Israel this spring, focused on celebrating not only three-quarters of a century of statehood but also the immeasurable progress that the country has made during that time. The organization’s “Israel at 75” mission is scheduled for April 23-30, 2023, with a grand celebration planned on the country’s Independence Day.
“Israel’s story is a story of contrasts,” says Dr. Sol Lizerbram of San Diego, Jewish National Fund-USA’s National President and mission Co-chair. “75 years ago, Israel was a fledgling nation; water shortages plagued the country, and making aliyah (immigration to Israel) was only a dream for most people. Those who did immigrate came from dark experiences and desperation. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews are arriving in Israel by choice instead of necessity.”
Deena Shiff, head of the organization’s Travel & Tours Department, agrees. “One of the themes of this trip will be the contrast of people’s preconceived ideas when they think about the Israel of 75 years ago versus what Israel is now.”
She cites an example of how far Israel has come in the field of agriculture: Recent decades have seen developments that far exceed making the desert bloom with novel irrigation systems and agricultural techniques. For instance, in the Arava region, Jewish National Fund-USA has teamed up with the University of Arizona to share innovative agricultural technology with developing African communities.
“There is extraordinary work that Israel is doing in so many fields,” Shiff explains. “We’re going to visit the site of our brand-new Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF and see firsthand how Israel is changing the food tech industry. People have outdated assumptions about our Jewish Homeland, and we like to show people the real Israel.”
Featured in national travel publications, including National Geographic, Jewish National Fund-USA’s Travels & Tours has a track record of offering incredible trips to Israel, historically bringing thousands of visitors to Israel annually. Mission Co-chair Michelle Bernstein, a general contractor from New York City, experienced this for herself when she first traveled to Israel with the organization over a decade ago.
“That first trip broadened my horizons to the many ways they are impacting the land and people of Israel,” she said. “I saw firsthand that Jewish National Fund-USA is so much more than just a tree planting organization, which is a myth that still needs to be dispelled. It gave me insight into life in Israel, and I could see how I could affect change through philanthropy, which brought me closer to the organization and propelled me to become even more involved.”
Still in her 30s, Bernstein is a member of JNFuture, Jewish National Fund-USA’s community of philanthropists ages 22-40, as well as a member of the JNF-USA New York Board of Directors and Co-chair of the organization’s Housing Development Fund Task Force.
Heartbreak and Triumph
Jewish National Fund-USA’s Israel at 75 Mission is scheduled to coincide with the emotional week when Yom HaZikaron – a day which mourns the loss of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks – is immediately followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary of statehood.“I’ve never been to Israel for these holidays, and I think it will be an extremely emotional and moving part of the trip,” says Bernstein.
‘On this mission, you will see places and meet people that you won’t experience on any other trip.’
The mission will commemorate Yom HaZikaron in Jerusalem with an exclusive event at Jewish National Fund-USA-supported Ammunition Hill, the site of the historic battle during the Six Day War that led to the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. The day will also include spending time at ceremonies at army bases and cemeteries to mark the day in solidarity with mourning families. The following day, the tour will head to the Negev, where Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations will include, for the first time, a huge music festival co-sponsored by Jewish National Fund-USA and the city of Be’er Sheva.
A New Perspective of Israel
“On this mission, you will see places and meet people that you won’t experience on any other trip; you’ll be impacted by things that you would have never otherwise had the opportunity to be exposed to,” says Shiff.Developing new communities in the Galilee and Negev through the organization’s One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade has been a priority for the organization for almost 20 years, and this trip includes numerous sites in the country’s north and south that even Israelis themselves may not have visited.
“We’ll go to the Western Wall, Masada, and other iconic sites, but we’re really looking forward to seeing projects that people might not be as familiar with, like our indoor fortified playground in Sderot in the Negev, where kids can have fun and parents can feel comfortable that they don’t have to strategically place themselves within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter,” says Lizerbram.
Other sites planned to visit in the south include ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, a one-of-a-kind rehabilitative village that provides high-level medical services and unparalleled care to individuals with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, and Be’er Sheva River Park, the centerpiece of Jewish National Fund-USA’s efforts to create a renaissance for the city and the site of the organization’s planned 20-acre World Zionist Village Campus, which will bring together visitors from across the globe to engage in conversations focusing on Zionism.
An Eye to the Future
According to Lizerbram, Jewish National Fund-USA has been so successful in impacting the lives of Israelis because the organization simultaneously addresses their current needs – everything from fire equipment to medical facilities – while also looking to the future.
“The vision for projects like our Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF or our World Zionist Village and planning for the next 50 or 100 years – that’s what makes it so different,” he added. “We are in a position to look toward the future, be creative, and do things that no one else would do. We’ve demonstrated that we’ve come up with concepts and executed them – in many cases, ahead of schedule and under budget. When you see something like that, people want to be part of it, and that’s what makes it so exciting.”
According to Shiff, connecting with a wide variety of Israelis is a key component of what makes a Jewish National Fund-USA mission so extraordinary. “On all of our missions, you’re not just meeting with Israel’s leadership and key decision makers, but also with mayors, farmers, and members of the new Negev communities. At ADI Negev, we’ll talk to family members, doctors, therapists, and the people who care for those with significant special needs.”
Jewish National Fund-USA’s Lauder Employment Center was founded in 2015 in order to help match Israelis with high-quality employment opportunities in Israel’s north or south. On this trip, participants will have a chance to meet the recent Ukrainian immigrants who – thanks to this crucial resource – have been able to find jobs as they begin a new life in Israel.
“Everything we do is about impacting the land and people of Israel,” says Shiff. “This mission is about celebrating the people from all over the world that make up the fabric of Israel.”
This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA