A journey to the Negev connects the next generation to new possibilities

Living in busy cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, one doesn’t get the opportunity often to pick carrots straight out of the ground and work on a farm. For Cynthia Ferman, a trip to Israel’s Negev Desert allowed her to see a side of Israel most young people in the central part of the country don’t get to see.  

“It was like a day in the life of an Israeli farmer,” said Ferman, who grew up in South Florida and has lived in Tel Aviv for the past four years. “Having the opportunity to spend the day being a farmer in the land of Israel, helping out real farmers and getting to experience what it’s like from their perspective was fantastic. This trip exceeded my expectations. It was a very satisfying feeling – being connected to the land and being really connected to our food source.”

About 40 young leaders participated in the inaugural event of JNFuture Israel when they drove down to Halutza in the Negev on the Egypt and Gaza borders to meet with modern-day pioneers and help them in the greenhouses that enable fruit and vegetables to thrive in the desert.

JNFuture is a new group that was recently launched in Israel to bring together young leaders living there who are committed to Zionism, environmentalism, volunteerism, and community development in and for the land of Israel. The group’s first trip to Halutza had olim (immigrants) and Sabras (born Israelis) working side-by-side in B’nei Netsarim picking leaves off the eggplant bushes to help them grow.

“Jewish National Fund is doing great things across the country and I think people want to help in various ways and would like to get more involved, but don’t know how to,” said Ferman. “Providing an avenue to bring people together and get them to help, to participate, is excellent. There’s a real need for it. For JNF to fill that void is great and it’s reassuring that there’s something for olim to get involved in and have the opportunity to help build our Jewish state.”

JNFuture participants with freshly-picked eggplants

Adam Bellows is the organization coordinator for JNFuture Israel. He was very involved in the organization before he made Aliyah from Cincinnati, Ohio, four years ago, and he wanted to stay connected to community building.

“JNFuture makes it so easy to get people out of the city and into something different, and we plan to do many different trips to see what’s going on in places we wouldn’t normally visit,” said Bellows. “It’s not about the nightlife and the partying and the going out every night. It’s the hiking and the urban farming, building the Negev and protecting the north, and basically everything that hasn’t been finished yet.

“It’s about developing the next generation of pioneers. We chose this place [Halutza] because these are real pioneers working the land, the original Zionist dream – they’re making the desert bloom – and we definitely wanted to see that and be a part of it for a day,” Bellows added.

Ari Fruchter, who is originally from New York and has lived in Israel since 2007, joined the trip to meet new friends and see a new part of Israel that was outside his comfort zone and far from his home in the country’s center.

“I met with a range of interesting and passionate people,” says Fruchter. “I was also interested to see how JNF is encouraging new farms in the desert. I wanted to have the experience of volunteering and helping the farmers working there. I was expecting to go on an interesting adventure and my expectations were more than met. I would definitely do this again.”

Picking carrots in the desert was a highlight of the day

Connecting with the JNFuture was a ‘no-brainer’ for Natalie Solomon from Birmingham, Alabama, who has been living in Israel for the past two years.

“It’s really simple. JNF is active Zionism. They don’t only talk it; they do it. I don’t want to sit here and talk for days about Zionism. I want to take action. That’s what JNF is creating with this group,” she says.

And that’s exactly what JNFuture’s inaugural event was all about – looking to engage young Jewish leaders in the organization’s vision of developing the land for future generations. At the end of the excursion, the volunteers got back on the bus with armfuls of freshly-picked eggplants and carrots, tired, but exhilarated from a rewarding day, and headed back to Tel Aviv.

“We only brought one busload with us, but we had at least five more buses’ worth of young Israelis who wanted to attend this trip,” said Jay Shultz, a founding member of JNFuture Israel. “Clearly this demonstrates the interest young adults have in connecting with the southern area of Israel, and focusing on issues of community development and environmentalism. JNFuture Israel has a very bright future.”