Astronaut's Dream Takes Root
“The late Colonel Ilan Ramon had a dream that 14 million trees would be planted in Israel in the coming year… I too have a dream. My dream is to go back to Israel this summer. My connection with Israel represents such a large portion of who I am that I simply have to be there… When I was trying to come up with ways to pay for my trip, I knew that I wanted to do something that would benefit both Israel and me. I signed up for a program through Jewish National Fund called Plant Your Way to Israel™...”
So began the letter that 17-year-old Michael Bassin wrote to over 300 friends, family, and members of his synagogue, asking them to buy trees from Jewish National Fund in order to help him earn the money he needed to participate in a 5-week youth trip to Israel this summer. Through JNF’s unique Plant Your Way to Israel™ program, individuals ages five to 25 can help fund their trip to Israel by selling tree certificates. Each time participants in the program sell a tree for $36, the money is divided evenly with half of it going to plant a tree in Israel and the other half put into an account held by JNF on their behalf. The money accumulated in their Plant Your Way account can be used toward any trip to Israel, whether it is through camp, school, or with their family, and can be redeemed once a minimum of 10 trees is sold.
After participating in United Synagogue Youth’s Pilgrimage trip to Eastern Europe and Israel last summer, Michael Bassin was desperate to return to Israel this summer as part of USY’s Etgar trip-a 5-week program for older teens who have already been to Israel and want to spend more in-depth time getting to know the country. Michael, however, had already used his local Cincinnati Jewish Foundation’s one-time Israel grant of $4,000 to pay for his Pilgrimage trip, and by early February, it became apparent that he would have to search for alternate sources of funding to help his family cover the cost of Etgar.
“Believe it or not, the only kind of funding I found for someone in my situation was JNF’s Plant Your Way to Israel program,” says Michael. “It was right after the Columbia shuttle disaster and I realized that it was totally beshert (fate) because I could honor Ilan Ramon’s dream and contribute to it directly, and fund my own dream at the same time.”
“What really surprised us was how many people responded and took Michael’s initiative to heart,” says Michael’s father, Jeff Bassin. Altogether, Michael sold 143 trees and received a 33 percent return rate on the solicitation letters he sent. A number of people gave personal donations instead of buying trees, or used Michael’s letter as an opportunity to present him with an “early graduation gift.” The Bassins also reported that their non-Jewish friends were especially supportive of Michael’s efforts.
“One really funny thing happened when I opened a bank account to keep track of my Plant Your Way sales. The bank teller recognized me as the kid who had been interviewed on local TV news after my Israel trip last summer. When I explained I was setting up this account so I could return to Israel this summer, she not only gave me $36, but she went around the whole bank asking people to contribute to my Plant Your Way account-and several did!”
Michael says that he is “constantly reading about Israel, talking about Israel, learning about Israel and advocating for Israel.” He was President of his USY chapter at Northern Hills Synagogue in Cincinnati, running eight Israel programs over the course of the year. Last spring, he was elected Israel/World Affairs Vice President of CRUSY (Central Region United Synagogue Youth), and now organizes Israel programs throughout the region. He was appointed to the International USY General Board Israel Affairs Committee and is Vice President of Sycamore High School Hebrew Club (as well as an editor of the school newspaper.) Last summer he addressed participants at a local Cincinnati pro-Israel rally, and was even interviewed by local TV news and The Cincinnati Enquirer about his personal experience in Israel.
Michael remembers doing a fifth grade project on Jewish National Fund-the assignment was anything Zionist-and he has “always bought trees,” but he never thought that his own passionate Zionism would directly benefit from this quintessentially Zionist organization and its work planting trees in Israel. “Even though Plant Your Way to Israel wasn’t exactly what I was expecting in terms of finding funding for my trip, it ended up working out so much better because it’s so cool for me to think that I was able to pay for my Israel experience in such a proactive and meaningful way.”
PLANT YOUR WAY TO ISRAEL is a trademark of Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael), Inc.