Jewish National Fund

Your voice in Israel

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JNF Solidarity MIssion to Israel Leaves NEXT Week

July 27th-31st Trip Aims to Bring Life and Tourism Back into Israel 

In times of high alert, Israel suffers from more than just the threat of rockets falling from the skies.  Israel’s economy suffers as well.  This is seen most dramatically in the cancellation of tourist reservations and the absence of those dollars that otherwise would have been spent - in hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, galleries, etc.

To show support for Israel’s people, Jewish National Fund’s L’Chaim Solidarity Mission will be departing for Israel on July 27

     “It is crucial that we show our support for and unity with the Israeli people,” said JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson.  “I hope all join with me and mission chairs Lauren Mescon, Melinda Wolf, Vivian Grossman and Vice Chair Rabbi Brian Glusman as we lead this important journey. Now more than ever, we must stand with Israel and her people.”

     The L’Chaim Solidarity Mission will allow participants to engage with residents of the Northern Negev who will share their personal stories and experiences, hear exclusive security updates and attend insider briefings with top Israeli officials, volunteer at JNF’s Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot, speak with Iron Dome IDF representatives for a unique look at this remarkable system, and help deliver much needed supplies to Israeli fire fighters and IDF soldiers while hearing their stories of bravery and courage.

     No matter the conflict, Israel is open for business. At the present time, more than 100,000 foreign tourists are on holiday in Israel, enjoying the many attractions and activities the country has to offer. Along with the worldwide Jewish community, JNF stands with Israel, and will continue to show support by moving forward with its scheduled trips. Presently, the JNF-JDate Singles Mission to Israel which left the US July 13 and returns July 19, reports that all of its travelers are enjoying a wonderful experience while searching for love and having a great vacation.

     Another annual mission made up of young professionals from across the US, the JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission, also departs for Israel July 27-31.  

     The L’Chaim Solidarity Mission is open to all and the special land-only portion is priced at $900.00. Flights are not included but may be arranged upon request. The single supplement price is offered at $400. For more information or to register, visit or contact René Reinhard at or at 212.879.9305 ext. 235.

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Safety and normalcy during these difficult times

While rockets continue to fall, Jewish National Fund has been working with our partners across Israel to protect citizens and to help create as much of a sense of normalcy as possible.

CEO Russell Robinson said, “All across Israel, from Sderot to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, we are providing the resources so that people can be safe and continue to enjoy a good quality of life. While these are not ideal times, I pray for the safety of the people of Israel and all who have the yearning for peace.”

JNF is actively supporting Israeli firefighters, who have been on duty 24 hours a day responding to rocket-ignited fires and rocket-related accidents across the country. (Donations are needed to purchase much needed firefighting equipment and provisions for fire stations.)

To encourage people to continue to maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives, JNF’s heritage sites partner, the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, is offering free admission to many of their sites in the north, including the Atlit Detention Camp, HaReut museum, Kineret Courtyard, Ayalon Institute, Mikveh, Sarona Visitor Center, and Yellin House, among others.

Noa Gefen, executive vice-chairman remarked, “We hope that people will come out to these great historical locations and use this time as a nice break from the situation that surrounds their homes.”

Since rockets first began to rain in southern Israel, JNF has kept its Sderot Indoor Recreation Center open 24 hours a day it was also used as a command center initially by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) following the destruction of a plastics factory, located a short distance away from the recreation center.  The 21,000 square foot center doubles as a bomb shelter and can accommodate more than 1,800 people on a rotating basis.

Activities for young people are being provided by JNF partner Green Horizons, a youth leadership group.  Green Horizons has arranged for hundreds of children from Be’er Sheva, and areas along the Gaza border to take hiking trips in the north, a region that continues to be calm and where kids can enjoy a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere in the beautiful outdoors of the Galilee.

Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village for young severely disabled adults, located in the southern region, recently experienced a rocket assault on its compound. Fortunately none were injured but activities are now taking place in secure rooms to protect residents there.

Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a JNF partner and a fully accredited study abroad program for international high school students, is continuing its academic itinerary with some adjustments to ensure student safety. Emergency drills have been performed in the event a siren sounds during classes. Officials there are closely monitoring the security situation and in frequent contact with parents.  

We are all praying for an end to the current situation and return to normal life as soon as possible.

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This afternoon the world learned of the killings of the three teenagers in Israel, Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. Our prayers and thoughts go out to their families and to all who knew and loved them.

In a way, their loss is one that we all share. Each of us came to know Naftali, Gilad and Eyal in the last two weeks through the global campaign #BringBackOurBoys. Their story and captivity brought people together from many backgrounds and nations to support their release. It was indeed an unprecedented display of emotion and community not seen in some time.

However, the fact remains that these young men were abducted and struck down for no reason. They were not soldiers but Jewish students who loved Israel, desired to learn Torah, and had their entire lives before them.

In tribute to their lasting memory, Jewish National Fund will create gardens to honor Naftali z”l, Gilad z”l and Eyal z”l.

In the meantime, we will honor the customs of our forefathers and grieve with the families who have lost so much. Our prayers are with them all.

May the families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.

May the families know no more sorrow.

Jeffrey E. Levine
President, Jewish National Fund

Russell F. Robinson
CEO, Jewish National Fund

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New Radio Station for AMHSI

Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) will inaugurate its very own student radio station and music recording space on its campus in Hod Hasharon, in time for the arrival on Wednesday of 150 high school students from across the US who will be in Israel for a six-week college-prep program. 


The state-of-the-art radio station was made possible by generous donations from Gisele Ben-Dor and Eli Ben-Dor, AMHSI partner Jewish National Fund (JNF), and TLV1, the cutting-edge English language internet radio station broadcast from Tel Aviv.

The AMHSI Ben-Dor Radio Station will be broadcast from the Rappaport Music Room, on the Hod Hasharon school campus in central Israel.

Specially designed to help students gain a broader view of the world and develop a deep appreciation of history, international relations, geography and literature, the AMHSI program inculcates in its students valuable learning skills and perspectives that assist throughout high school and prepare them for college-level academic demands.

"The AMHSI Ben-Dor Radio Station will enable students to develop and broadcast original radio content for international audiences," said Rabbi Leor Sinai, Co-Executive Director at AMHSI.  JNF CEO Russell Robinson is enthusiastic about the potential the professional radio station brings to the international high school, and what this means for JNF and for AMHSI. "JNF is very proud to be a part of the AMHSI Ben-Dor Radio Station,” said Robinson, “as it will give students an opportunity in gaining a real radio experience that is second to none, as well as facilitate a new and exciting form of communication between AMHSI students in Israel and the Jewish world."

TLV1 Founder Avner Shelem shares in the excitement. “For us passionate radio enthusiasts at TLV1, it’s important to provide an authentic radio experience to as many young people as possible. Radio is very much alive and is developing in new directions, thanks to the increased use of mobile devices. With the help of AMHSI students, this radio station will become a popular outlet of self-expression and creativity.”  

"While students are encouraged to keep a journal or blog about their experience at their ‘home away from home’ in Israel," said Head of School Rabbi Philip Nadel, "never before have our students had such an incredible opportunity to explore and broadcast their personal AMHSI experiences to the world – through radio."

Students, along with occasional alumni, faculty, and special guests, will be able to operate the radio station in cooperation with, and under the guidance of, leading professionals from TLV1.

The unique radio course to be offered to AMHSI students consists of a hands-on curriculum that incorporates research and interviewing skills, choosing topics for podcasts, technical instruction on audio editing software, preparing a show inventory taking into account production considerations, and field recordings. Students will visit the TLV1 Radio studio and will be introduced to linguist Guy Sharett’s popular recording of Streetwise Hebrew.

The instructors of the summer program will be Guy Sharett and Nadav Ravid. Sharett, well-known for his popular and alternative teaching of Hebrew and Israeli culture through graffiti, street signs, tombstone reading, and sewer covers in the streets of Tel Aviv, is a former journalist with Yedioth Ahronot and Channel 10. Ravid is a radio host and co-founder on He is also program manager at TLV1 and a radio teacher at the IDC Herzliya.

"I believe this is really taking the school to the next level in terms of a campus technology upgrade,” said Sinai. “It will also get the good word about Israel out there on the radio and on podcasts which the students’ families and friends, as well as the school’s alumni and others back at home, are going to want to tune into. This is a great step for Israel engagement as a whole."

For further information about Alexander Muss High School in Israel, please see or contact Sarah Vanunu at +972-54-5474-306


About AMHSI:  AMHSI, a partner of JNF, is a renowned and fully accredited study abroad program for international high school students in Israel, where the land of Israel becomes a living classroom. Since 1972 the school has run year-round programs of varying lengths, offering students the opportunity to live, study and travel in Israel, learn about the history of Israel and the Jewish People, while keeping up with regular class work from home schools. AMHSI is the only non-denominational, pluralist English language academic experience in Israel for high school students that offers high school and college credits.  


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‘Fireman’s Fireman’ Remembered in Jerusalem

New Truck Dedicated in Memory of LA Firefighter

By June Glazer

No. 38 is the newest fire truck in Jerusalem. Weighing in at 12 tons of red fiberglass and pulled by a 240 horsepower engine, it is capable of driving over steep hills, rocks and ditches, and is perfectly suited for the terrain of Israel’s capital city and its surrounding forests.

Last week, family and friends gathered at a fire station in Jerusalem’s Givat Mordechai neighborhood to dedicate No. 38 in memory of fallen American firefighter Captain David L. Bailey, from Los Angeles County, California.  Captain Bailey, who died in the line of duty in 2012, was known as a “fireman’s fireman,” and the truck, which will bear his name in perpetuity, testifies to the esteem in which he was held by those who knew and loved him.

“Dave was one of the most highly certified firefighters in the Los Angeles County Fire Department,” said Sam Heller, Bailey’s good friend and the force behind acquiring the fire truck for the Jerusalem fleet. “At his funeral, which was attended by over two thousand firefighters, the fire chief who spoke asked all those assembled to rise. Then he listed multiple accreditations and one by one asked the firefighters to remain standing if they held that accreditation. After going through a long list of possible accreditations all fighters were seated, to which the Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief said, “If Captain David L. Bailey was among us today, he would still be standing. That’s the kind of professional firefighter Dave was.”

Bailey, who joined the department in 1994 and made captain in 2009, was certified in Urban Search and Rescue, Swift Water Rescue, Homeland Security, and HAZMAT; was a HAZMAT certified instructor, recruit instructor, and Explorer Academy instructor; and was part of a FEMA team that deployed to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami there in 2011. He died at age 50 when he collapsed while leading wild-land fire training for prison-inmate firefighters.   

Bailey’s wife, Lisa, donated the truck together with Heller and his wife, Marlies, through Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Friends of Israel Firefighters with a matching donation from the Israeli government.  The dedication took place in the presence of firemen from the Givat Mordechai station. 

“The average fire truck in Israel is 15 to 20 years old and lumbers along at a speed of only about 50 kilometers [35 miles] per hour,” said Yael Levontin, who is the Friends of Israel Firefighters liaison for JNF.  “The trucks lack air conditioning and equipment that is essential for extinguishing fires such as modern hoses and nozzles, Nomex masks, and breathing apparatuses.  The situation is even worse when dealing with forest fires since conditions there require that vehicles have superior traction and flexibility of response as well as a compact physical profile.”

No. 38 is adapted to the needs of Israel’s fire-fighting services and is particularly suitable for use in forests thanks to its compact size, speed, and special equipment, according to Levontin.   

In fact, it was a devastating fire on Mount Carmel in Israel’s northern region that got Heller thinking about donating a fire truck in Bailey’s memory.  The deadliest forest fire in the country’s history, in 2010 the fire claimed 44 lives and more than 17,000 people had to be evacuated.

“I was aware of the Mount Carmel fire and when Dave died it just clicked with me,” said Heller who was born in Israel but immigrated to the US with his family when he was a young boy.  

“Neither Dave nor I had ever been to Israel, but this cause, in this city, would have been very meaningful to him,” said wife Lisa.  “We’re Christian, but Jerusalem is a holy city, no matter what religion you practice.  This dedication would have made Dave very happy.”  

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"We are not the first but maybe one of the first nations ever who really found the way to cultivate the desert and make it bloom," said Alon Badihi, executive director of the Jewish National Fund.

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Extreme Makeover Be’er Sheva River Park: From Garbage Dump to Eco-Wonder

The city of Be’er Sheva, whose population in the greater municipal area is close to half a million, is fast overcoming an image problem. The city had been long regarded by Israelis as a sleepy, run-down development town; a dusty pit stop on the way to Eilat.


That is no longer the case. In the past few years the city has experienced a makeover that almost defies belief. Museums, theaters, high-rise upscale apartment buildings, high tech parks, giant malls, and new parks and restaurants have appeared around the city. The former dilapidated town is gradually undergoing an aesthetic gentrification and the city’s outer suburbs are nestled on green hills dotted by cool water fountains. 

Nothing demonstrates this transformation as dramatically as the Be’er Sheva River Park. As if by magic, the park was created in an area described once as the “armpit” of the city, in what was a dry riverbed near the southern entrance of the city piled with wrecked cars, garbage and sewage. It took months of cleanup with trucks going in and out to dispose of the rotting trash that had accumulated over decades.

The garbage is now gone and in its place is a picturesque eight-kilometer long park with lush green lawns, colorful trees, impressive landscaping, bicycle paths and a promenade. Besides the expansive green at the park entrance, it’s the many species of birds egrets, plovers, curlews that cheerily announce to visitors that here is an oasis in the Negev Desert. Nearby are archeological and historical sites. Also planned is an artificial lake with recycled water, a sports center and a botanical garden. When completed, the park a joint project of Jewish National Fund, the Israeli government and a number of private sponsors will double the size of New York City’s Central Park.

The park’s “piece-de-resistance” is the newly inaugurated Irving and Danielle Grossman Amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art 12,000-seat open-air theatre - the newest and largest of its kind in Israel.

Jerome (Jerry) K. Grossman, an attorney and past president of JNF’s Delaware Board of Directors and the Mid-Atlantic Planned Giving Chair, came to know Irving and Danielle Grossman (no relation) in the 1980s when he started providing legal representation to both the couple and their business, Beacon Container Corporation, a box manufacturing company. Irving passed away in 2004. Before Danielle passed away in 2008, she and Jerry had many discussions about what to do with her estate.

As the Grossman’s executor, Jerry and his wife, Susan attended and spoke at the ceremony. “Irving and Danielle were both strong supporters of the performing arts,” he said of the couple. “It would have given them great pleasure to see this magnificent facility.”

“They were both very charitable individuals,” said Jerry. “In connection with estate planning, Irving and Danielle decided that they wanted to do something in a charitable way with part of their estate. Over the years, the focus of their charitable giving changed. They were always interested in Israel, but not necessarily other Jewish organizations besides their synagogue.”

At the official naming ceremony on April 28, Mayor Ruvik Danilovich referred to the role of the Jewish National Fund in its support of the Be’er Sheva River Park. Danilovich remarked, “It sounds almost surreal that an organization based thousands of miles away managed to persuade the Israeli government to get involved in a project. They saw the opportunity and the vision, and only then did the government get involved.”

Although not yet completely built out, the Be’er Sheva River Park has already changed both the look of the area and the real estate market. Along the promenade new apartment buildings are going up that are the most expensive in the city.

The park is still a work in progress, with much to be done to complete the rehabilitation of the area. As Mayor Danilovich said at the inauguration of the amphitheatre: “Who would have imagined this day, this beautiful park emerging from this neglected dump? People are finally realizing that Be’er Sheva is an attractive metropolis in terms of culture, education, tourism and jobs. This is really the future.” 

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Nefesh b’Nefesh Passover Family Journey with JNF

Israel’s Most Recent Residents Get Glimpse of the
Plentiful Opportunities that Exist in New Frontier

By: Rivkah Lambert Adler

During the recent Passover holiday, 300 English-speaking recent immigrants, or olim, who live in places like Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and Modi’in, had a chance to experience life in Israeli cities they wouldn’t normally visit. The goal of the day, which was organized jointly by Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Nefesh B’Nefesh, was to offer a fun family trip while giving olim the chance to be exposed to both the resilience of Sderot and the beauty of the Negev.

Among their shared goals, Jewish National Fund’s strategic partnership with Nefesh b’Nefesh encourages olim to consider moving from the center of the country to the Negev or the Galil. In these relatively underpopulated regions of Israel, there are many untapped opportunities for building strong communities.

Two hundred olim started the day at JNF’s Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot. Through the lens of this JNF project, families learned more about the heartbeat of the city and what goes on in Sderot besides the rockets from Gaza.

With their seven children, ranging in age from four to 18, Daniella and Josh Rudoff of Beit Shemesh were among the group who visited the Rec Center. Daniella, who works as a marriage architect helping singles find their future spouses, was incredibly impressed with the facility JNF built in Sderot.

“The center was really amazing,” she said. “Our kids loved it and didn’t want to leave! There was rock climbing, basketball, air hockey, foosball and a completely stocked media/computer room. For the parents’ sake, there were baby swings in the cafeteria. It was a beautiful trip and we even got a free family portrait. One thing that impressed me was the flooring, which was soft enough to be safe for the kids to run around and play, but firm enough to provide safe footing if the sirens go off and kids have to run to the shelter.”

Another hundred olim started the day visiting the bullet factory at the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot. “The planning team worked hard to pick sites with Zionist meaning, that would entertain but also inspire the participating families,” related Meirav Atias who coordinated the logistics of the day on behalf of Nefesh b’Nefesh.

At the ammunitions factory, participants learned the incredible story of 45 kibbutz residents who worked for two years in total secrecy, eight feet underground, to manufacture 2.25 million bullets for use in Israel’s War of Independence.

Dovid and Tanya Stein of Ramat Beit Shemesh chose to visit the bullet factory with their three children, ages five, seven and nine. Dovid reflected that, “The visit made us feel a lot of pride to be part of the land of Israel and the Jewish people. We’re very glad we went.”

During the second half of the day, eight buses filled with all 300 olim, each sporting a specially designed hat provided by JNF, met at the Children’s Festival at the Be’er Sheva River Park, a 1,300 acre central park built by JNF. “People I talked with on the trip know Jerusalem, but never knew this existed just 1 ½ hours away,” said Alon Badihi, executive director, Israel Operations, JNF USA.

The trip positively impacted not only the North American participants, but participating staff as well. Said Badihi, “It was incredibly moving to see the families celebrating Passover in Sderot and the Be’er Sheva River Park. Providing them with this day was for me, as an Israeli citizen a way to say thank you to our brothers from North America who left a world behind them, choosing Israel as their new home.”

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As our group walked through the quiet streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat - a final look at the city as we prepared for the flight home to LA - we picked fresh rosemary to use in the Havdalah prayers. We stopped at the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings, where our guard and medic, Ido, took pictures of us and answered questions about his license to carry a firearm after being stopped by a local policeman. And we played ultimate frisbee in a nearby park with a group of Israelis and Americans living in Jerusalem. These smaller details, ordinary in their scope and impact, are my last memories from a recent week’s stay in Israel.

As a first-time visitor to eretz yisrael, most of my impressions, I feel, have yet to sink in, but the connections I made and felt with Israelis met on our journey, with the land of Israel itself, and with other members of my group, will surely have an impact on me as Jewish adult, as time goes on.

After our arrival on Monday morning, we drove north to Haifa and settled in at Kibbutz Short, in Galil, which would serve as home base for the first three days of our trip. Our group was comprised of eight Americans and two Israelis. Lior Chacham, our Israeli guide, led us in introductory games, while Jessica Leibovitz, our trip leader from Jewish National Fund’s Los Angeles office, explained to us various “action areas” that serve as part of JNF’s broader mission, from water recycling & reclamation, to education & support of therapeutic services, to forestry and fire prevention. As a first time visitor, I could not have asked for more knowledgeable guides to give us an introduction to the people, the land, and history of the state of Israel.

Jess, our trip leader and a Campaign Executive and former director of Israel advocacy and education at JNF’s West Coast office, was a passionate advocate for education on topics regarding the projects we would be helping to work on during our stay. As a graduate student pursuing degrees in both Jewish education and nonprofit management, Jess completed her initial year of study at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, after completing her undergraduate work at University of California, Santa Barbara. During our interview together, she told me about the natural compatibility with her background in education and nonprofit management and the goals espoused by JNF.

“Many of those who are focused on education [at Jewish institutions] end up teaching in religious schools,” she told me. While the first year of her program entailed much of the training received by rabbinical students, Jess told me that, upon graduation, she was looking for a more focused position in the nonprofit world. Having grown up in the LA area, she returned to California to complete her studies and has worked at JNF for the past two years.

As a group of 18 to 30 year-olds on one of JNF’s Alternative Spring Break trips, we were able to see the impact of many of the JNF action areas Jess told us about firsthand. Through our initial day’s work at a community garden called Bat Galim in one of Haifa’s poorer neighborhoods, we witnessed both young and older residents of the city come to the garden, either to work or take a stroll, and take respite in the natural beauty of the garden amidst urban sprawl. Pulling weeds at the nature preserve at Yokneam, we were exposed to a vast, abundant farmland that now serves as a place for people living with disabilities to come and experience the outdoors, as well as perform basic tasks like gardening and receive education about ancient farming practices.

The site, administered by a nonprofit that partners with JNF called Lotem, even has a fully wheelchair accessible winepress, which sits atop a hill with a gorgeous view of the countryside. One of the site’s caregivers, Aviv, and I talked about the importance of disability rights and accessibility both in the United States and Israel, and the ability of nonprofits to help leverage change.

Just down the road, at Nahal Hashofet, where we were followed in our bus by Aviv’s gliding greyhound, we met with Raz, who at eight years old was in a near-fatal car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. He led our group on a nature walk through the first fully wheelchair accessible hiking trail in Israel, stopping intermittently to teach us about local plants, manmade caves at the site and to chide us about taking too many “selfies.”


Despite being gone for only a week, my sense of time was perceptibly altered during my time in Israel. Arriving in Jerusalem, I witnessed religious life in the old city, where I was brought by my roommate, Jason, on our first night in the city.

On our last day of the trip, on Shabbat, I attended an orthodox service catered to Americans staying in the Jerusaelm, where a mechitza was erected to separate male and female congregants and the rabbi’s sermon was given in English. Jason was given the honor of holding the Torah scroll (hagbah) and lifted it to the congregation after which the clasp, mantle & silver ornaments were replaced. Jason, Lior and I listened to the rabbi speak about the blessing for the new moon and the importance of the month of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. As he spoke of G-d’s “giving” of the month of Nissan to the Jewish people as a time for renewal, I reflected on my own time in Israel, brief as it as.

Having learned about, and had the opportunity to work on, exciting projects through local nonprofit agencies and the JNF, I was given the ability to glimpse parts of Israel not normally accessible to a Westerner on their first trip to the country. The opportunities I had for meeting ordinary Israeli citizens, for seeing the countryside and some of the city life awoke in me a part of my Jewish identity I had not previously experienced. During one of our group exercises at the end of the day on Kibbutz Shomrat, our guide, Lior, had us take part in an activity where we categorized Jewish values.

As we compared our different groups’ lists and where we placed our priorities, I realized that “visiting Israel” ranked high on my list, where perhaps it had not prior to this trip. Not having been raised Jewish, I considered the value of “raising one’s children to be Jewish” for perhaps the first time in my adult life. And I talked with my group about the personal importance placed for me on reading Jewish books, which helped me as young adult to begin to understand the culture which I had been born into.

by Elliott Vogel

For those who are interested and would like to learn more about participating in one of JNF’s Alternative Spring Break, please visit

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My Israel ASB Experience

Sunday, March 23, 2014 - Packed and ready to drive to the airport. There are 10 people in the group, 8 participants and 2 female staff. We leave Los Angeles as a group with one mission: get to Israel and help make a difference in the lives of people who live there. After a brutal 15 hour flight, JNF’s ASB Bus 7 has finally arrived in Israel! We get off the plane.. and all 10 of us are obviously already best friends. We join our Israeli tour guide and medic for the week and begin our first day in Israel—orientation at Kibbutz Shomrat in Galil (in the North). We learn a little more about each other and why we are choosing to spend our time in Israel over spring break— choosing to do service.

Tuesday came along. I woke up at 5:45 am and just wanted to explore. I went for a run around the Kibbutz and really felt the “community feeling” of it. Everywhere I looked, there was life. There were flowers blossoming, dogs running freely, and Israelis coming to start their day at work on the Kibbutz. I felt a rush in my body. With each breath I took, I felt at peace. After a delicious breakfast, we made our way to the Bat Galim community helped out in the Bat Galim Community Garden— a garden that is there to help youth stay out of trouble. The garden is in a disadvantageous neighborhood and we came to strengthen it a little by gardening and adding mosaic tiles to walls. The most amazing experience was when this elderly couple came to have a picnic lunch on one of the benches in the garden…WHILE we were working and gardening. I really felt that I was a part of something, helping to make somebody’s home a little brighter.

Later that day, we made a quick stop to see the breath-taking views of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. After, the group went to a site called Atlit, which is a detention camp set up by the British Mandate (I had NO idea about this). It was built for illegal immigrants to who had to stay in this prison, which I thought was kind of ironic.. escaping from the Holocaust to be put in a prison. However, we were told that it was a “good” prison.. and that the prisoners were safe and happy.. But despite the photos of happy prisoners, walking through the camp made my hairs stick up.. such a feeling I wish no one has to experience ever again.

On Wednesday, we went to a site called Lotem— for disabled youth at risk… and again we helped volunteer on their farm. We went on a hike with a disabled wheelchair bound 20 year old (who was involved in a car accident 12 years ago). I had tears when he told me that although he was excused from his service in the IDF, he still felt responsible to do service for his country and voluntarily leads hikes in Nahal HaShofet. The hike is completely wheelchair accessible, in fact it is THE ONLY ONE in Israel. Although there are stairs along the hike, ramps also go around so that those who are not able to walk can still enjoy this hiking trail. Something amazing is that only ONE tree was cut down to make this wheelchair accessible hike possible.

Thursday was beyond any rush I have ever felt. We traveled to the Carmel Forest and helped clear out trees that are at risk for starting more fires. I climbed up a tree and used a non-electric saw to slowly cut down a huge branch that could potentially start a brush fire in the future. Although the process of sawing was long, I felt invincible. The guide of the forest was so proud of my dedication and supported me with words until the branch finally cut off. His appreciation made all the scratches on my body well worth it. After the forest work, the group went to the actual site of the 2010 Carmel fire.. a fire that killed 44 innocent lives. We were lucky enough to actually meet with and talk to a firefighter who lost his best friend in the fires. He told us his story about how his friend, Danny Hayat, was among the first to respond to the blazing fire and how Danny had the chance to escape (knowing he had 2 kids at home and a 9-month pregnant wife). But still, Danny honored his badge and saved others before himself. In my eyes and in Israel’s eyes, he is a true hero. His story brought an abundance of tears down my eyes. We were told his wife ended up naming his daughter Ella (she gave birth 2 weeks after he perished).. We left the memorial site sad, but with death comes life. The group traveled to Neot Kedumim to plant a tree.. to plant life in Israel and something that gave me chills beyond words can even explain was that I ended up planting an Ella tree not too long after.. Coincidence? I think it was more a sign to plant life in Danny’s honor.

 Then on Friday, Bus 7 traveled to Bustan Hama’ayan, Jerusalem’s “green project,” which is a site where, after a family lost their only son, community activists decided to take a garbage dump and transform it into a beautiful urban green space. Again, we gardened and planted trees. Together we were creating a peaceful space for the community and adding life to Israel’s roots. This was a very moving experience. After helping in the garden, the group went to Machane Yehuda Shuk (Jerusalem’s outdoor marketplace) and shopped. We were asked to bring a little something for Oneg Shabbat and most of the people in the group shopped for food and snacks. However, I wanted our group to go home with something more than Rugelach cookies and wine (as delicious as those may sound!!). I decided to get each person a bracelet with a Magen David Star on it, so that even after we go back to America, we will always remember our short, yet meaningful stay in Israel. After going back to the hotel and changing for Shabbat, we traveled to the Kotel ha-Ma’aravi and had a chance to open our Shabbat at the Western Wall— a wall that Jewish around the world see as the most sacred building in our history. We hear whispering prayers of people with their lips to the wall. We hear tears, laughter and rejoicing. I had a great opportunity to lead a group of young Israeli women in a circle of dance, singing our favorite Shabbat melodies. Although we may have had a language barrier among us, it was clear to see that the singing and dancing was our universal language.

On Saturday, we continued to rest and relax. We went for a walk with the group and saw the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court; and after went to a park to breathe in some fresh Israeli air. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say that we had an amazing Shabbat experience in Jerusalem. After Shabbat, we went to Ben Yehuda Street for a delicious shawarma dinner and as a group drove over to Ben Gurion Airport. From the terminal in Tel Aviv, Israel, we made our way back to Los Angeles, California. However, note how I did not write, “our way back home.” This is because in my eyes, Israel will always be my home.

-Sandy Elyassian

JNF ASB Participant, March 2014