Thousands of Israeli Youth Take Part in JNF's Massive Negev Chanukah Camp-out
30,000 Introduced to Vision for the Future
Contact: Jodi Bodner • JNF Director of Communications • 212-879-9305 Ext. 221 • email@example.com
January 3, 2006 New York, NY-- Billed as the country’s largest gathering for youth according to Israeli news reports, more than 30,000 Israelis, ages 16-25, turned out for part or all of Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael’s “Lighting up the Negev” Chanukah extravaganza last week.
Held from December 26-29, the three-day event included hiking, community service, camping out, learning about the Negev and what it has to offer, and enjoying the massive concerts held at Golda Park on two evenings.
Designed to showcase the Negev’s potential to the younger generation with the ultimate goal of populating it, the event was organized by Chugai Sayarut, Israel’s pioneer youth movement, and sponsored by JNF with a major grant from Jarvis and Connie Doctorow of Riverdale, NY, through the Doctorow Family Endowment Fund. The Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and Ben Gurion University also sponsored the event.
“The government of Israel has pledged $3 billion towards the development of the Negev,” said Sharon Davidovich of Chugai Sayarut, the Chanukah event chair and a past Israeli emissary for JNF of America, “and JNF has undertaken a $500 million worldwide campaign for Negev development. JNF of America, KKL in Israel, The OR Movement and Daroma are all partners in this bold initiative and are working together with a strategic plan of developing the Negev -- raising the funds, creating the infrastructure, providing housing, finding employment opportunities and doing what it takes to make the desert habitable for an additional 250,000 people.
“In America, it’s called Blueprint Negev,” he said. “Already seven new communities have been built, we’ve strengthened 12 existing communities and employment is on the rise. Now we must educate young Israelis and let them know what opportunities await them once they move there.”
More than 200 guides and 500 buses were on hand to escort the groups to the educational sites and communicate Ben Gurion’s vision of settling the Negev; explain the sensitive desert environment and how JNF is working to address water issues; show how the IDF works to balance their military training with the environment and their plans to settle their hi-tech bases in the Negev which will substantially increase the region's population; illustrate the connection between Israel and the Diaspora; and help them begin to understand the Bedouin who call the Negev their home. At each of 20 sites, group leaders explained the significance, the history and future development of the area and the importance to the Negev’s future.
At the Shomriya paratroopers base and the Nitzanim Givati infantry base, participants were given an inside view of the army and its processes and helped in fire training. At Yerucham, a development town that JNF is bolstering with an injection of $5 million to build a recycling center, lakes and a new central park, they painted houses, planted 500 new trees and cleaned the city. At Mitzpe Ramon they cleaned out a riverbed and built a bicycle path. Other stops throughout the days included Park Eshkol, the second largest national park in Israel; and Mitzpe Gevulot, and Mitzpe Revivim, two of the first three settlements established in 1943 to insure a Jewish presence in the Negev. These two sites have been restored with the assistance of JNF, to educate visitors about the early Negev settlement and agriculture experiments giving one a feel for the community life 50 + years ago and creating educational opportunities.
After four days of heavy rains, the sun was shining and there were blue skies with temperatures in the 70’s -- great conditions for hiking and touring. JNF flags and signs greeted visitors at all the sites.
“People who don’t know the Negev think that you can’t live here because there is no water in the desert,” said Hugai Zioni from the Ministry of the Environment in the Southern Region, “but here, the children see that the fields are green, the orchards are plentiful and there is life in the Negev. ”
“Most people think that Israel is just Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa,” said Elan Myara of KKL, “because they have never been to the Negev. This event gives the youth the opportunity to see the beauty of the land. We want them to understand the history of the Negev, that pioneers from the early 40’s could live here, that nomads from hundreds of years ago developed water systems for agriculture and today people live here and it is our future. There are jobs in the Negev, new transportation systems, educational institutions, etc. By being here these children can get a sense of life and the beauty of the Negev. What better advertisement is there than these 30,000 kids who have seen what our plans are and can now go back and tell their friends, their families!”
Katia, a new immigrant from Uzbekistan living in Netivot, thanked the people who put it together. Lehi from Arad said he loves living in the desert and called it magical. Said one IDF instructor: “We should do this every year. The Negev is one of the most beautiful places in the country and I come from the center of the country. Today was one of my most positive experiences. There was a group of visitors from South America and they were really interested in what was going on in the Negev, what people do, how the area was developed, the history, they were full of questions. Maybe some day one of them will come live here. Who knows I might have influenced someone. I may have contributed to aliyah."
After chock full days, the activities shifted to Golda Meir Park, a JNF park, for the gala concerts. Despite the cool, winter desert temperatures spirits were high as there was a Chanukah candle lighting, fireworks, and a laser light show featuring the names of the organizations and agencies involved. Two large screens next to the stage and another in the park displayed the audiovisual presentation of the Negev followed by IDF concerts and special guest artist, Shotei Hanevuah.
Said Maj. General (res.) Uzi Dayan, before the festivities: “I am proud of everyone who put this together and those that participated. It is a great event and it is fun to be here. The Negev is our plan for the future and we need to develop a stronger connection with the area. We have to think about the future of Israel and the future of Israel is here,” and he pointed to the thousands waiting for the concert to begin.
Ronald S. Lauder, JNF's president appeared on the screen and left the attendants with this thought: "Blueprint Negev is alive and real," he said. "Now all of us are partners in 21st century pioneerism."
Captions: Top and bottom: Thousands gathered each night for the concerts staged at Golda Park featuring laser shows and artist Shotei Hanevua.
Middle photo: Groups hiked the Negev by day and learned about the Negev and all it holds for their future.
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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 www.jnf.org.