JNF Solidarity Mission Ties Americans to Israel
by Meira Maierovitz Drazin, JNF Staff
Each of the participants of the Jewish National Fund Solidarity Mission boarded the plane to Israel with some extra carry-on items: anxiety, anticipation, fear and excitement. On the return flight they lugged a different but equally heavy suitcase - an understanding of how the Middle East crisis affects every detail of life in Israel and an intensified commitment to Israel and to JNF's work with the land and its people.
"Although I had heard of JNF before the trip, I had only loosely associated the organization with trees," said Dorothy Calvin of San Francisco. "Seeing the security roads, the reservoirs and dams--how hard they fight to save every drop of water--as well as the tree nursery in the middle of the desert, was just so eye-opening and so impressive."
One third of the mission participants were already JNF donors, one third were only marginally involved prior to the trip and the other third were new to JNF. Whether new or old members of the JNF family, the participants bonded with a heightened sense of urgency, raising over $670,000 for JNF projects in Israel.
"JNF's objective is twofold right now," said Russell F. Robinson, JNF Chief Executive Officer, "One, is our projects--our top priority now is dealing with the water crisis and the security crisis. Second, and more important, is our showing solidarity with the people of Israel."
The mission focused on people-to people connections, allowing the American participants to meet with the people who actually benefit from JNF projects.
"One of the most powerful results of the trip for me was understanding the scope of JNF involvement in Israel," said Julia Mellow of Chicago.
Participants visited the JNF-funded Malkiyya-Avivim Security Bypass Road, which created an alternative to the potentially dangerous Israel-Lebanon border road. "The new road has given me peace of mind," said Sharon Barhum of Kibbutz Malkiyya. "I now don't worry so much about the children riding the school bus. It has also increased tourism to the kibbutz."
The itinerary included wading in the depleted shores of Lake Kinneret where participants could see the effects of the drought. Later they attended the dedication of a new JNF reservoir on Kibbutz Affikim in honor of Shelters for Israel by Holocaust survivors Lou and Trudy Kestenbaum of Los Angeles. The Affikim Reservoir will provide almost a million cubic meters of water per year to northern Israel.
While visiting the JNF tree nursery in Gilat, participants learned that every tree planted in Israel is touched by human hands and that JNF planted over 220 million trees in the Twentieth Century.
Other highlights of the trip included the "Wings" graduation ceremony and air show of the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) 26 new pilots; a private reception at the home of Moshe Katsav, President of Israel; a briefing by Richard LeBaron, Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy just hours after President Bush's landmark speech about the need for new Palestinian leadership; visiting the residents of Gilo and other Israeli families as well as JNF forests and handicap-accessible recreation areas.
The Mission participants ranged in age from 18 to 80 and came from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maine, Florida, Oregon, Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts, Missouri, California, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, and Tennessee. Each returned with the shared feeling of how important it is to be committed to Israel.
"We were constantly told by Israelis how grateful they were that we showed up," said Richard Prince of Short Hills, New Jersey, "Imagine that! We get the praise just for showing up! The credit goes to the Israelis. I was struck by their spirit, strength and integrity."