JNFuture: Inviting young adults to help make the desert bloom

Jennifer Starrett, Jewish News’ marketing manager, writes about her Israel experience with the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission:

I grew up in what I consider a very Jewish household. I celebrated Shabbat with my family, went to Hebrew school and was always taught the value of tzedakah. However, even though I grew up knowing the importance of Israel for myself and my family, I never felt a connection to the land as a young teenager.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents had been to Israel, and my Birthright trip as a young college student was my first dose of what Israel was all about. During my second visit as part of a volunteer vacation, I met my husband and found even more reasons to love Israel. Yet, it wasn’t until this past August while on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM) that I truly found my connection and passion.

Halutza - JLIM 2015

JLIM 2015 participants visit Halutza, a growing farming community near the Israel/Gaza border in the northwest Negev. Photo courtesy of JNF

Before I went on the trip, I knew very little about the work that Jewish National Fund does. Like many people growing up, I remember the blue tzedakah boxes and received certificates for trees planted in my honor during my bat mitzvah and wedding. I realized this summer that JNF does more than just raise funds and plant trees; they build communities and help connect even more people to the land of Israel through their own programs and partnerships. In five days, we saw just a fraction of the impact JNF has had on the land of Israel, but what was even more inspiring was the potential for even more great projects and partnerships that have yet to be started.

This new playground in Be'er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project.

This new playground in Be’er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project. Photo by Jennifer Starrett

We saw small communities being built next to the border of Israel and Gaza where young families were able to learn how to farm and build their own land and businesses. In the Central Arava, we saw a medical center that was built with JNF funds, but envisioned by the people in neighboring communities because they were worried that the two-hour drive to the nearest hospital would deter people from moving to the area. In Be’er Sheva, a town that formerly had 2,500 residents, we saw a newly built, beautiful river park that has made the area into a thriving city, home to almost 200,000 people.

On JLIM, we also had the opportunity to meet the people JNF has touched. We heard from students at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), who traveled from all over the world including countries like Nepal and Vietnam to learn about the latest in agricultural techniques that they could take back home to their own communities. The impact that this school has had on students has gone far beyond teaching techniques and new methods of farming, but has also given them the ability to be advocates for Israel and the Israeli people once they return home.

We met with people who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, a partner organization of JNF, who made the choice to live in the Central Arava and learn to farm and create communities from the ground up. Only about 3,300 people live in this area that is approximately 6 percent of Israel’s total land mass. These residents are truly pioneers building formerly unoccupied parts of Israel into prosperous and lively cities.

By the end of the trip, my head was racing. There is so much that JNF has already done, and yet, there is potential for growth and exciting new projects and partnerships. I came back from this trip with more of an understanding for what past generations saw when they first began to build the Jewish state of Israel. As a member of JNFuture, the young professional division of JNF, I am excited to share with my generation a glimpse of what they can be a part of as a member of JNF and JNFuture. Together we can make the desert bloom.

JNFuture is holding its Arizona Fall Kickoff next week. Here are details:

JNFuture Arizona Fall Kickoff
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13
Where: ASU Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: Free event, but registration is encouraged at jnf.org/azkickoff
Learn more about the JLIM 2015 trip and how to get involved as a JNFuture member.
Hors d’oeuvres will be served (dietary laws observed).

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