JNF Wire: Young Professionals Discover Stories Behind the Sites in Israel
July 22, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
Young Professionals Discover Stories Behind the Sites in Israel
By: Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod
Members of JNF's 2016 JLIM (JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission) in Israel.
Jack Roldan is spending time in an Israeli prison this summer. So are Ian Sachs and Maia Aron. They’re visiting the Underground Prisoners Museum in Akko, where British forces imprisoned Jewish freedom fighters in the years leading up to Israeli independence. Roldan, Sachs, Aron and 23 other young professionals from across America are part of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) summer 2016 JLIM (JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission).
As the group wanders from room to room of the historic prison, now a museum, they learn the story of the prison break here in 1947. Seeing the barbed wire and steel bars, feeling the blazing sun in the exercise courtyard and stepping over the thin cloth mats that were the only sleeping surface, and hearing their own voices echo off the stone walls as they sing Hatikvah facing the gallows where Jewish rebels were hanged singing the same song, the story of the struggle for the Land of Israel becomes even more real – a story which they’re still writing.
Sachs, from Paradise Valley, Arizona, has been to Israel previously on Birthright and on JNF’s Volunteer Vacation six months ago, but this mission stands out for him. “To actually be here and watch the people that it affects is a completely different experience.” This trip has let him go behind the scenes in a way that he never has before, seeing the work of JNF and the lives affected by its projects all over the country.
Chair of the Arizona JNFuture Young Professionals board, Sachs (in photo at left in blue shirt) believes that without experiences like the prison visit, he couldn’t bring back “the passion that makes all this possible” – sharing personal stories of the many sites that the group has packed into its week-long agenda.
According to mission mentor Joshua Berkowitz of Fort Lauderdale, FL, that’s exactly the point. He says the goal of the JLIM missions – there’s been one each summer for the last six years – is to turn these young professionals, already JNF donors and active in their local community as well, into storytellers, sharing tales of Israel’s past and present as they work for its future.
“What we're doing is teaching them to connect their own Israel story with the stories of people who've been building Israel each step of the way. That way, they can bring their personal connection back to the people at home.”
For Shelly Czopp of Fountain Hills, Arizona, not all the stories are about strangers. Visiting the Atlit Detention Camp, also in northern Israel, she wondered out loud if her great-grandmother had been through the camp. All Czopp knew was that she’d arrived on a boat to what was then British-mandate Palestine.
After the tour, the guide looked up the name in the site’s database (publicly available at http://en.maapilim.org.il/) and discovered that Atlit had indeed been the first stop for her great-grandmother, Bluma Czopp.
“My great-grandmother walked through those showers. The way they set up the museum was really meaningful. You really walk in the footsteps of someone who'd be going through the camp. You’ve just come from Europe and [now] you’re here again; it was almost like a concentration camp.”
In order to join the JLIM mission, participants were nominated for their community involvement; all paid their own way to Israel. The program is partly underwritten by contributions from Dr. Toby Mower of Denver, CO, with more funding being undertaken each year by alumni themselves.
The biggest difference between JLIM and a program like Birthright, says Berkowitz, is that JLIM participants are adults working in the community.
“Birthright is the next generation,” he explains. “They will do things sometime in the future, and Birthright is preparing them with some seeds. But this [JLIM] is the now generation.”
To personalize the experience more fully, participants are also expected to read up on Israel’s history, prepare presentations and facilitate discussions about topics that resonate with them. In an upstairs room of the Akko Prison, away from the chains and solitary confinement cells, a group leads a discussion of a biography of Menachem Begin, emphasizing the warrior and leader’s emphasis on personal responsibility.
This is a message which resonates for Jack Roldan, of Denver, CO, (at right on tractor) who says that since his first visit to Israel in 2014, he’s spent six months in Israel seeking meaningful ways to get involved. His goal, he says, is “educating people about Zionism and Israel and to really shift perceptions that have been misinformed... helping them understand the real Jewish people.”
Participants visited sites all over Israel, both historic and contemporary. For Maia Aron of Miami, FL, the trip has driven home the fact that “JNF is about a lot more than planting trees. They build communities; they help people with different abilities; they preserve historic landmarks such as this prison and the Atlit [Detention Camp].”
Aron (pictured at left), who’s been to Israel over ten times, was particularly impressed by new JNF communities like B’nei Netzarim in Halutza, in the southern Arava desert, founded in part by families who were evacuated from the Gush Katif region of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“There was nothing there a couple of years ago; now you have a whole new community. They have a synagogue, they have greenhouses for growing vegetables and fruit in the sand. Who else does that in the world? Only Israel. Only JNF.”
Leaving the prison, participants stare one last time at the barbed wire, perhaps more grateful than ever for little things like hats, water bottles and the warm lunch waiting for them on a little dairy farm just outside Akko. Grateful for freedom and a land to call their own.
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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.
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