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Celebrating Israel’s past, present and future

By Michael Blank and Larry Cohen - Special to The Jewish Advocate - "Boston Celebrates Israel"

As nations go, Israel is a relative youngster. The first generation of Israelis born in 1948 is just now beginning to retire, having witnessed Israel evolve from meager beginnings to a developed First World country in the short span of 66 years.

For American Jews in Boston and throughout the country who will celebrate Israel Independence Day ( Yom Ha’atzmaut) on Tuesday, May 6, the special meaning and history of this day is both significant and personal. Created only a few years after the Shoah, or Holocaust, Israel became a gateway for survivors and their descendants to return to the Jewish homeland and begin a new life after so much had been tragically lost. Few Jewish families living today in the United States, or even the world, cannot account for some loss directly related to the Shoah. Israel became their new hope: a homeland Jews could call their own – literally and figuratively – and never again be left unprotected and defenseless.

Perhaps it was that spirit of survival which motivated Israel’s pioneers to focus on the future and engage in a long-term plan to use science and technology to master a desert landscape that offered only sand and heat. Today, Israel betters the world with partnerships that help transform formerly arid environments into agricultural food centers, produce solar energy power as an alternative to expensive and polluting fossil-fuels, and bring life-saving water to communities in need of fresh supply. Much of the success for this knowledge-sharing and project funding is due to Jewish National Fund ( JNF) and its partners.

We recently returned from an eight-day adventure in the Holy Land, leading 45 participants on JNF’s Spirit of Israel Mission, and the wonders and joys we experienced are immeasurable. For those who’ve never been, it is a must-see destination. Only by visiting can you really “feel” what Israel is all about and get a sense of the history and energy that now exist in what is essentially a tiny nation. Though it has a population of slightly more than 8 million, it’s only the size of New Jersey, the fifth-smallest U.S. state. Our trip brought first-timers and those returning, Jews and non- Jews, mixed couples, young and old, and even a couple on their honeymoon! We walked in the footsteps of prophets, engaged in thoughtful discussion with dignitaries from the left and right, danced the night away on a cruise on the Sea of Galilee, experienced the vibrancy of Tel Aviv, were amazed by Jerusalem’s light and sound show, visited the Western Wall and journeyed through the tunnels beneath it.

After walking the ancient streets of Jerusalem, we visited Akko and Tzfat, paid tribute to those killed in the Shoah (Holocaust) at Yad Vashem and remembered the victims of 9/11 at JNF’s Living Memorial in Jerusalem. We traveled to the Central Arava in the Negev Desert and visited a new medical center and research-anddevelopment station there; both are located in a remote area but are now drawing residents with new opportunities. It was incredibly inspirational to meet Ethiopian and Cambodian students studying at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), a program that brings together students from around the world to study agricultural production. After finishing their course of study, they return to their home countries to share their knowledge and become ambassadors of Israel’s technology.

At the Ayalon Institute, a secret bullet factory established by the Haganah in 1945, we witnessed ingenuity and resourcefulness at its finest. Each member of our group personally climbed underground into a secret chamber to hear how 43 kibbutz members covertly produced 2.25 million bullets from 1946 to 1948 – that ammunition provided Israel enough military strength to protect its independence.

While it’s important to remember that Israel, like other countries (including the United States), was born out of necessity and war, it entered the 21st century as a true environmental champion, leading the way in technology and innovation, and maintaining a thriving business climate. Israel has more companies on the Nasdaq than any other nation except America.

We are both so proud to celebrate Israel’s 66th anniversary, and encourage everyone to take notice of what this small nation has accomplished. JNF’s vision is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all of Israel’s residents and developing the land for future generations. We invite all to learn more about JNF’s work and missions.

Enjoying a recent day together in Israel are Nadav Tamir, policy advisor to Israeli President Shimon Peres; JNF National Campaign Director Sharon Freedman; JNF Boston President Michael Blank; and JNF New England President Larry Cohen.

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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