As nations go, Israel is a relative youngster. The first generation of Israelis born in 1948 is just now beginning to retire, having witnessed Israel evolve from meager beginnings to a developed first world country in the short span of sixty six years. 

For American Jews celebrating Israel Independence Day, or Yom Ha’atzmaut, on Tuesday, May 6, the special meaning and history of this day is both significant and personal. Created only a few years after the Shoah, or Holocaust, Israel became a gateway for survivors and their descendants to return to the Jewish homeland and begin a new life, after so much had been tragically lost. Few Jewish families living today in the United States, albeit the world, cannot account for some loss directly related to the Shoah. Israel became their new hope; a homeland Jews could call their own, literally and figuratively, and never again be left unprotected and defenseless.

Perhaps it was that spirit of survival which motivated Israel’s pioneers to focus on the future and engage in a long term plan to use science and technology to master a desert landscape that offered only sand and heat. Today, Israel betters the world with partnerships that help transform formerly arid environments into agricultural food centers, produce solar energy power as an alternative to expensive and polluting fossil-fuels, and bring life-saving water to communities in need of fresh supply. Much of the success for this knowledge-sharing and project funding is due to Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its partners.  

 We recently returned from an eight day adventure in the Holy Land; leading 45 participants on JNF’s Spirit of Israel Mission, and the wonders and joys we experienced are immeasurable. For those who’ve never been, it is a must-see destination. Only by visiting can you really “feel” what Israel is all about and get a sense of the history and energy that now exist in what is essentially, a tiny nation. Though it has a population of just over 8 million, it’s only the size of New Jersey, the fifth smallest US state.

Our trip brought first-timers and those returning, Jews and non-Jews, mixed couples, young and old, and even a couple on their honeymoon! We walked in the footsteps of prophets, engaged in thoughtful discussion with dignitaries from the left and right, danced the night away on a cruise over the Sea of Galilee, experienced the vibrancy of Tel Aviv, were amazed by Jerusalem’s light and sound show, visited the Western Wall and journeyed through the tunnels beneath it.  

After walking the ancient streets of Jerusalem, we visited Akko and Tzfat paid tribute to those killed in the Shoah (Holocaust) at Yad Vashem, remembered the victims of 9/11 at JNF’s Living Memorial in Jerusalem and traveled to the Central Arava in the Negev Desert and visited the new Medical Center and the Research & Development Station; both located in a remote area, now drawing residents with new opportunities. It was incredibly inspirational to meet Ethiopian and Cambodian students studying at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), a program which brings together students from around the world to study agricultural production. After finishing their course of study, they return to their home countries to share their knowledge and become ambassadors of Israel’s technology.  

At the Ayalon Institute, a secret bullet factory established by the Haganah in 1945, we witnessed ingenuity and resourcefulness at its finest. Each member of our group personally climbed underground into a secret chamber to hear how 43 kibbutz members covertly produced 2.25 million bullets from 1946-1948 — that provided Israel enough military strength to survive its independence.

While it’s important to remember that Israel, like other countries, including the US, was born out of necessity and war, it entered the 21st century as a true environmental champion, leading the way in technology and innovation, and maintains a thriving business climate. Israel has more companies on the Nasdaq than any other nation except the US.

We are both so proud to celebrate Israel’s 66th anniversary, and encourage everyone to take notice of what this small nation has accomplished. JNF’s vision is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all of Israel’s residents and developing the land for future generations. We invite you to join our journey, learn more about JNF’s work and our missions. For more information, please visit jnf.org or contact Sara Hefez, New England Director at shefez@jnf.org or 617.423.0999 x811.

(L-R) Nadav Tamir, Policy Adviser to the President of Israel, Shimon Peres; Sharon Freedman, JNF National Campaign Director; Michael Blank, JNF Boston President; Larry Cohen, JNF New England President.

 

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