JNFuture: Sderot’s indoor playground; seeing the Negev

JNFuture Arizona board members are currently in Israel on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM). They are sharing highlights from their trip on the JN Blog.

Day 3: First stop, Sderot indoor playground

Arizona JNFuture board members (back, from left) Andy Becker, Stephanie Kelman, Jennifer Starrett, (front, from left) Penelope Karp Abad and Talyah Sands visit the indoor playground at Sderot. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Starrett

Arizona JNFuture board members (back, from left) Andy Becker, Stephanie Kelman, Jennifer Starrett, (front, from left) Penelope Karp Abad and Talyah Sands visit the indoor playground at Sderot. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Starrett

As we walked in the door, we were greeted by the donor wall where we spotted names from our community such as the beloved Zinmans and the Karps. Represent! This JNF vision turned reality, like many others, started with a primary objective and ended up having a ripple effect of positive benefits beyond the initial opportunity.

We spoke informally with a local mother named Chava, who brought her young boy to celebrate his friend’s birthday party. Chava lives in Ashkelon, which is about 15 minutes from Sderot by car, and, like us, it too was her first time at the playground. [She generally doesn’t make it to Sderot.] Chava hadn’t heard of JNF before but when she learned that we were all volunteers visiting from the U.S., she instantly connected the dots and her face filled with emotion. “Aize yofi” she said, which in Hebrew means “how wonderful.” Standing in an entrance hall to one of the bomb shelters and both experiencing the amazing facility for the first time, we exchanged some more admiration for the great privilege it provides for the area. We probably would have chatted all morning but it was time for the JLIM bus to take us to our next destination.

– Andy Becker, JNFuture Arizona vice chair

Day 3: Part 2

I’ll remember Day 3 of JLIM by the familiar faces and striking emotions felt as we toured JNF visions in the Negev.

We spent the morning at Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative center for people of all ages with cognitive and physical disabilities, named in memory Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog’s son who inspired the creation of this magical place. Avnet Kleiner greeted us (he is a liaison between JNF and the center) — a familiar face that joined a JNFuture Social Club parlor meeting (June 2015) in Phoenix by Skype as he was delayed in his travels to Phoenix. It was a treat to meet Avnet and hear the story of Aleh Negev again on site and with the dedicated employees and incredible patients they serve. Avnet spoke of the work of Aleh Negev based on one thing — love. When you take that approach to serving people with disabilities, he said, miracles happen. The open heart that Avnet and his colleagues embody left me in awe, with so much respect and appreciation for fellow humans who truly exemplify selflessness and justice. The patients receive quality, innovative care that is truly a global model.

Off to Halutza. We visited this new Negev community of familiar face No. 2, Yedidya Harush, who visited Phoenix in April. It was impressive to see the pieces of this community come together — permanent and temporary housing, a beautiful synagogue, and farm land managed by young farmers who receive incentives to begin their livelihoods here. The structure of a medical center was being bolstered up in the community to provide a source of health-care services and to attract additional residents to the area for jobs and to settle their families. The communities they are building are reminiscent of the times of the original settlers of Tel Aviv.

JLIM participants visit Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative center for people of all ages with cognitive and physical disabilities.

JLIM participants visit Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative center for people of all ages with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Next stop, one of JNF’s newest partners, a young grass-roots nonprofit called HaShomer HaChadash. The New Israeli Guardians are committed to upholding the ideals of Zionism by protecting the land of farmers and ranchers in the Negev and Galilee whose lands are threatened by raiders. This organization recruits and trains volunteers to guard farms and ranches to stave off threats of crime. The sense of collective responsibility that the organization instills in the young people it works with is an inspiring social justice movement.

Another inspiring day! I am energized by the love and care these leaders have for the people and the land of Israel.

— Talyah Sands, JNFuture Arizona chair

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