When you think of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), you might think of an organization that plants trees in Israel. You might even remember your mother or grandmother’s JNF Blue Box, probably kept in the kitchen, where change was collected to help grow those trees. Indeed, JNF still plants trees in Israel, 250,000,000 to date. JNF has also grown into a wide-ranging, world-changing operation. In a recent interview, Natick native Gali Gordon, coordinator of JNFuture/Boston and campaign executive, provided an update on the goals and accomplishments of JNF in the 21st century, as well as opportunities for students and young adults.
JNF was founded in 1901 by Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, for the purpose of purchasing land from the Ottoman Empire as part of the movement to establish the modern State of Israel. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, soon to be Israel’s first prime minister, declared Israeli independence upon the ending of the British Mandate. He did so, Gordon pointed out, “in the offices of JNF in Tel Aviv.”
Flash forward to 2017. JNF is encouraging young adults to take on leadership positions and engage their peers through trips to Israel and social/educational events sponsored by the JNFuture program. Local events have included Jewish Heritage Night at a Red Sox game, a Tu B’Shvat celebration and an evening of wine tasting. “We can have fun while supporting a meaningful cause,” said Gordon. “There are trips available with subsidies, volunteer vacations and service learning. You might work a harvest, pick olives in the Negev, help beautify an isolated community in the Kinneret on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or work in urban agriculture.”
“We understand that young professionals have limited time off,” added Gordon, “so we organize our trips with that in mind.” Trips include JNF Alternative Winter Break this Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 and Dec. 30 to Jan. 7. “These week-long trips allow students and young adults to have a service learning experience in Israel, to connect with the land and the people,” said Gordon. “They also have fun.” Upcoming trips include a mission in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday and a trip focusing on leadership development.
Gordon outlined JNF’s main action areas:
Forest and Green Innovation
This involves smart planting, carefully deciding where to plant and which kinds of trees are most conducive to improving the ecology of the land.
“This has been a priority since Day One,” said Gordon. “We are now focusing on the Negev upgrade.” Because of its distance from major cities, this desert area in Southern Israel has a shortage of medical, therapeutic and special education services. JNF has partnered with Aleh, an organization that provides medical and rehabilitative care for children with disabilities. The two organizations are building Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art communal rehabilitative village.
JNF develops alternative water sources, advancing Israeli agriculture and improving water quality through treatment, recycling, and collection of waste and runoff water, aquifer drilling and river rehabilitation. Over 250 reservoirs have been built, raising the amount of recycled water in Israel from 4 percent to over 85 percent. Over half of Israel’s agricultural water comes from recycled and reused wastewater, most of which is supplied by JNF reservoirs.
Special Needs/Inclusion, No Israeli Left Behind
JNF partners with Special in Uniform, which integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and, in turn, into Israeli society. JNF also works to ensure that Israel’s natural beauty, including national parks and trails, is accessible to all.
Maintaining Heritage Sites
Of the 150 sites JNF helps to maintain, some date back to ancient times, others to Israel’s rebirth during the first Zionist settlement in the 1800s and to the 1948 War of Independence.
Research and Development
JNF supports a school in the Negev with students from Southeast Asia and Africa where they study cutting-edge agriculture, solar energy storage and fish farming, knowledge they bring back to their native countries.
Recent successful JNF projects include:
- Building a specially designed outdoor park so that the children of Sderot can safely enjoy the outdoors. Sderot, in the Western Negev, has been subjected to constant rocket attacks from nearby Gaza for 15 years. Its people spend a disproportionate amount of time in bomb shelters; schools are built underground.
- Opening a state-of-the-art medical center in Halutza in the Negev.
- Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and inaugurating a museum to commemorate the decisive battle at Ammunition Hill in 1967.
- Bringing more residents to Northern and Southern Israel through Blueprint Negev and Go North.
- Expanding its support and programs for people with disabilities and special needs.
“JNF is investing in the future,” said Gordon. “A new initiative is the $1 billion Road Map for the next decade, which includes $225 million in investments in education and engagement with the next generation.”
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