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Contact: Jodi Bodner
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Cleveland Foundation to help Green Israel
Bach Family funds JNF project in the Negev

Six years ago, when Cleveland resident Stanley Bach passed away, his family created the Bach Family Foundation to keep alive his charitable ways. His daughter, Debby Harlan, says the foundation got off the ground slowly with small but meaningful contributions that included the Geauga Rescue Village for stray animals; The Gathering Place, for anyone touched by cancer; and the Hebrew Free Loan Society which helps people get started in business.

But now the Bach Family Foundation has helped Jewish National Fund in Cleveland launch its campaign to support the central park area at Be’er Milka, a new community rising in the western Negev, with a lead gift of $200,000 the Foundation’s largest contribution to date.

“My husband Larry always kept a blue box on his desk,” said Debby Harlan, Stanley and Margie’s daughter, “but I had never been that involved. Then, this past summer, the whole family went to Israel on a multi-generational mission with our rabbi. I hadn’t been there in 40 years and my husband and son had never been. We just all fell in love with it.

“Well, there is no more receptive person to what JNF does than someone who has just come back from Israel,” she continued. “What they are doing in the Negev just made so much sense to us. We really believe in JNF and you get to see where your money is going with your own eyes. So we’re helping fund this park.”

This year, on May 21, JNF in Cleveland is bestowing its highest honor, the Tree of Life Award™, on Harlan Diamond, a community resident. Proceeds from the dinner are going to the park at Be’er Milka and Diamond is naming a garden in the park in honor of his parents, Dr.Leo and Babe Diamond.

Be’er Milka is one of the new communities that make up Israel’s new frontier The Negev Desert. The TOL Award is a humanitarian award given in recognition of outstanding community involvement, dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship, and devotion to peace and security of human life.

A little more than a year ago, Jewish National Fund embarked on a worldwide $500 million challenge to develop the Negev into a hospitable environment that will become home to an additional 250,000 people over the next five years.

JNF is partnering in this revolutionary endeavor with the Israeli government which has committed $3 billion to developing the Negev, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, Daroma, and the Or Movement.

On the evening of May 18, the Harlans will be hosting an event in their home. Ofir Fisher, founder of the OR Movement, will speak on the work being done to populate the Negev Desert, often called Israel’s last frontier.

Only 30 years old and still single, Fisher, the son of famed Cantor Dudu Fisher, leads a grassroots organization of Israelis who believe the Negev is “a treasure chest” of opportunity for the people of Israel. Under his leadership, Or has, to date, settled more than 600 families in the Negev and Galilee regions. In the south, the organization has established seven new communities and expanded existing ones.

The Negev’s history and its promise for the future combined to prompt Fisher’s initial interest. After completing a six-year stint in the IDF, culminating in his service as a captain in the Israeli submarine corps, he and his friend and partner, Roni Flamer, were determined “to do something significant for the State of Israel.” In 1999, they and five other friends established Sansana, a new religious community in the Negev. One year later, the Or Movement was born.

Fisher said he wanted to promote growth in a region where “$150,000 can buy a dream house rather than a tiny apartment in Tel Aviv. Young people cannot afford to purchase homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. It’s completely unaffordable and I’m afraid they will leave Israel.”

But in the Negev, JNF is creating an economic development fund to co-sign loans making it possible for Negev home buyers to receive 100 percent mortgage financing.

The Negev is essential to Israel’s future. It represents 60% of Israel’s landmass, but only 8% of its population lives there. Overcrowding and a strain on resources in the center of the country -- 92% of Israel’s population resides on 40 % of Israel’s land further underscore the importance of this plan. Additionally, there are an estimated 170,000 Bedouin the Negev whose population is expected to double in the next seven years. But their educational and medical standards are very low and unemployment hovers at 90%. Opening up the Negev economically will positively impact their future as well. This is a vision for all of Israel, one in which Jewish people everywhere can participate.

“Ever since the state was reborn almost 58 years ago, David Ben Gurion said that the key to the future of the State would be development of the Negev desert,” said Chuck Whitehill, president of JNF Cleveland. “Until now, fighting for safety and economic viability had relegated Ben Gurion’s vision for the Negev to a back burner. But today we are no longer a people seeking only a safe haven and hoping to survive; we are a people who must lift themselves up to be a light unto the nations. The 21st century Zionist dream is here and now.

“That is why JNF’s focus must be to lead international Jewry to focus on the development of the Negev,” he continued, “and we are personalizing it here in Cleveland by adopting one of the new communities’ central park. Supporting JNF allows us in the Diaspora to feel a passionate attachment to Israel while transforming the Jewish state for those who live there.”

Currently about 12 young families housed in caravillas are the reality in Be’er Milka situated near the Egyptian border. Infrastructure has been prepared for 50 lots with plans for the community to grow to 100 families by 2008 -- a secular agricultural community populated by young couple from all over the country families who will use a central park and playground every day, all day.

The village is close to an ancient well, which gives it its name (Milka’s Well), and is situated where the Lavan Stream merges with the Nitsana Stream. This is an area of sand dunes, some of which are protected as an official nature reserve, The Agur Sands Nature Reserve. Throughout the whole region are remains of ancient settlements, from as far back as the prehistoric period. Especially noticeable are the ancient agricultural systems in the river valleys, with terraces, water reservoirs, irrigation channels and farmhouses. Among the remains that have been discovered, quite a few are from the period of the Kings of Judea.

For information on this and other JNF projects, call the local JNF office at 216-292-8733. To plant a tree, visit www.jnf.org

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Jewish National Fund is a non-profit organization founded in 1901 to serve as caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners-Jewish people everywhere. Over the past century, JNF has planted over 240 million trees, built over 180 reservoirs and dams, developed over 250,000 acres of land, created more than 1,000 parks, provided the infrastructure for 1,000 communities and educated students around the world about Israel and the environment. Today, JNF is putting its century of experience to work with the Blueprint Negev initiative, supporting Israel’s newest generation of pioneers in developing the Negev Desert - Israel’s last frontier. For more information on JNF or to plant trees in Israel, call 1-800-542-TREE (8733) or visit www.jnf.org. To contact your local office, please call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.

 

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