Year in Review: 2010 Highlights and Accomplishments
The past year has seen much progress in JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign, a far-reaching and visionary plan to transform the Negev Desert—which represents 60% of Israel’s land mass but houses only 8% of its population—into an attractive place for a new generation of Israelis to call home. New communities are being created to offer an alternative to Israel’s crowded and expensive center, while existing Negev cities that have suffered for decades from high unemployment and stagnant population growth are being revitalized.
Be’er Sheva River Park:
Work moved forward on this massive recreation area and waterfront district twice the size of New York’s Central Park that is driving the revitalization of the Negev’s largest city.
- Miles of promenades, gardens, and bike paths were completed along the once-polluted riverbank, which will eventually be filled with high-quality purified water.
- Beit Eshel, a historical site adjacent to the park, was restored, and plans for the transformation of the Abraham’s Well historical site into a major tourist attraction were recently completed.
- The J. Lew Schepps Recognition Center at the Gateway to the Negev—a plaza that welcomes visitors to the park and honors major donors to Blueprint Negev—was dedicated.
- A cornerstone ceremony was just held for the Pipes Bridge, which will connect the Old City of Be’er Sheva to the park.
- Ground will be broken shortly on a 23-acre recycled water lake that will be ringed by restaurants and shops and offer boating, bird watching, and other activities.
- Detailed planning is underway for a 12,000-seat amphitheater at the park, which will be the largest in Israel.
The park has already begun to transform Be’er Sheva. New apartment buildings have risen with terraces facing the cleaned riverbed, no longer the city’s dumping ground. The old Turkish city is undergoing a renaissance, with gaslights flanking the refurbished cobblestone streets and new restaurants, galleries and stores. Be’er Sheva’s population, which had been in decline for decades, has seen a 7,000-person increase in recent years.
- In the new communities of the Halutza region—located in the sand dunes on Israel’s borders with Egypt and Gaza—JNF helped Gaza refugees create new homes by installing basic infrastructure for water, sewage, and electricity, and clearing land for housing sites and agriculture. Halutza was founded in 2005 by a group of families evacuated from Gush Katif who decided to rebuild their lives and their communities in a remote corner of the desert that had never before been inhabited or farmed. They immediately assumed the challenge of making Halutza’s barren sands flourish, and in no time desert fields boasted impressive yields of organic produce ready for export. The rapidly expanding region is attracting new residents from throughout Israel and is poised to grow to more than 20,000 people. Construction has also begun on parks, entranceways, synagogues, schools, and other public buildings.
- In Givot Bar, the first stage of construction on the 15-acre Wingate Park was completed, which included an amphitheater that will be used as the region's flagship center for shows and cultural events, walking paths, and bike trails. The second stage of construction, set to begin soon, will involve landscaping extensive lawns and shaded spots, paving, and building playgrounds and recreational facilities. The community, founded in 2004 with just 25 families, has grown to 70 families with nearly 400 on a waiting list, and 120 additional housing sites have been made available for purchase.
- The new community of Tlalim recently inaugurated a central park and beautiful entranceway.
- A central park was dedicated in the Negev community of Sansana.
- Work was completed on Beit ZVI, a 2,000-square-foot building that will be used by the Yerucham-based volunteer group ZVI (Zeirim Be’Yerucham, or Young Adults of Yerucham). Located 25 miles southeast of Be’er Sheva, Yerucham has suffered for decades from an image problem and lack of employment opportunities, with a population of young people who didn’t want to settle down in their hometown. ZVI was founded to engage young adults in volunteerism and community service programs that bring about social, educational, and economic change in Yerucham. After being based out of a small office at the local community center for five years, the group will now have its very own headquarters, which was funded by JNF and the Ministry of Development of the Negev and the Galilee.
- An inclusive playground (to accommodate people with disabilities) was constructed at JNF’s Ofakim Park in the Negev development town of Ofakim.
Negev Employment and Relocation Services:
- Together with the OR Movement, an original Blueprint Negev partner, JNF sponsored internships for 49 Israeli university students through the Negev Internship Program, matching them with companies throughout the Negev. Many alumni of the four-year-old program have become full-time employees after their internships, helping to reverse the post-graduation migration trend out of the region. More than 200 students have participated to date.
- JNF and the OR Movement unveiled the Gateway to the Negev Information Center in a beautifully restored Turkish building in the Old City of Be’er Sheva. The center provides visitor information, relocation assistance, and employment services to people interested in touring or moving to the Negev.
Tourism and Recreation:
- The advanced planning stage of development for Yahel Park was completed. Together with Kibbutz Yahel and through the support of Jack Freeman of Orlando, FL, JNF is establishing a recreational and educational park in the heart of the Southern Arava Desert, a tranquil, green retreat just off the Arava Highway that will be a perfect stop for tens of thousands of travelers on their way to and from Eilat and the Sinai Desert. It will feature a petting zoo, farmers market, lake, restaurant, playground and a variety of activities and attractions for adults and children. The park will bolster the kibbutz’s existing eco-tourism industry, providing much-needed employment opportunities that will attract new residents and contribute to the growth and sustainability of the kibbutz. Ground will be broken on the park soon. In addition, 39 new housing sites are being developed.
- Bike paths were built in and around Timna Park, a scenic red rock valley in the Arava Desert that is home to the world’s most ancient copper mines. JNF has played a significant role in transforming Timna into a major tourist attraction, with a man-made lake, interactive museum, and a host of educational and recreational activities. A new visitor center is planned at the Chudnow family entranceway.
For more than a decade, JNF has pioneered innovative solutions to stretch Israel’s water supply, leading to a 12% increase in the water economy. To expand and accelerate this vital work, JNF established the JNF Parsons Water Fund, a comprehensive $100 million initiative to increase the supply of high-quality water by more than 440 billion gallons by 2020. The Fund invests in a variety of water-related ventures, including building reservoirs, promoting water recycling, drilling aquifers, rehabilitating rivers and streams, and supporting educational initiatives.
- The Hatzeva Reservoir was repaired and reinforced after intense flash floods caused damage to it and several other reservoirs in the Negev and Arava.
- Construction began on the Sderot Reservoir, which will provide farmers in the northwest Negev with more than 660 million gallons of inexpensive recycled water to irrigate thousands of acres of crops. Water will be purified by an upgraded treatment plant, preventing the pollution of the nearby Shikma River Nature Reserve and the Coastal Aquifer.
- The Dovrat Reservoir was completed and dedicated. This recycled water reservoir provides more than 260 million gallons of water that is utilized for agriculture at Kibbutz Dovrat in northern Israel.
- An agreement was signed with Israel’s Ministry of Defense for the development of the country’s largest constructed wetlands at the Ramon Air Force Base in the Negev. Ground was recently broken on this cutting-edge water treatment system, which will replace an outdated, inefficient plant that can no longer handle the volume of waste water generated on the base. The wetlands will purify the base’s waste water by duplicating the biological processes that occur in natural wetlands, a highly cost-effective technology that requires minimal electricity and maintenance. The recycled water will then be used to irrigate the 7.5 acre park created by JNF for the families at the base, saving 80 million gallons of fresh water a year, and can provide 66 million gallons of water for local agriculture. It will serve as a model for water treatment and reuse at remote communities throughout the country.
- A constructed wetlands system in Dimona was completed that will save 26 million gallons of fresh water. A research and development component is now being implemented at the site to study future uses of wetlands technology in arid environments.
Conservation and Education:
A rainwater harvesting program was implemented at 14 schools in Israel. Tanks were installed on school rooftops to collect and reuse rainwater that would otherwise be wasted, reducing each school’s reliance on other sources of water by 77%. Students are involved in the planning and management of the system and participate in a dynamic educational curriculum that teaches them about the water crisis in Israel and the need for conservation. This effort will foster a new generation of responsible citizens and will result in an estimated savings of more than 10 billion gallons of water over the next 10 years.
Drilling began near Kibbutz Shamir in northern Israel to access an untapped large-scale aquifer a mile below the earth’s surface. The initiative is expected to extract 6.6 billion gallons of potable fossilized water each year once it is operating at full capacity. Water will be piped into the Jordan River, which feeds into Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)—Israel’s largest fresh water reserve that is severely depleted— adding six to seven inches to the lake’s water level annually. In addition, it will be diverted to local farms for irrigation. This new water source will be a lifeline for the hundreds of agricultural families in Israel’s “Fruit Basket” whose livelihoods have been compromised by cutbacks in fresh water quotas due to the drought.
Security/Quality of Life
JNF’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center opened its doors in March 2009. The 21,000-square-foot secure indoor playground and community center has brought a welcome sense of normalcy to the residents of Sderot—who have endured continual rocket attacks from the bordering Gaza Strip for nearly a decade—providing young people with a fun place to simply be kids and parents with the peace of mind that their children are playing in a safe environment. Play areas double as bomb shelters, ensuring that all occupants can quickly reach safety in the event of a rocket attack. Visited daily by hundreds of children of all ages, the center’s attractions include a soccer field and volleyball court, movie theater, disco, rock climbing wall, snack area, computer center, and jungle gym. It hosts weekly performances, disco nights, tutoring workshops, and programs for seniors, and is utilized for field trips, community events, summer camp sessions, and as a meeting place for social service groups. A therapy program was recently launched at the playground for Sderot residents. In addition to constructing the $5 million center, JNF funds support monthly operational costs, equipment purchases, program development, security, staffing, and maintenance—all to ensure that the center remains a vital part of life for the entire community.
Research and Development
An agricultural R&D center was completed at the Yair Experimental Station in Hatzeva. Farmers from around the area visit to learn about the innovative agricultural techniques and technologies being developed at the station to suit desert climates. Areas of study include alternative soil-bedding concepts, irrigation and fertilization regimens, plant protection issues, greenhouse climate, cultivation methods, organic agriculture, and fish breeding.
- JNF continued to fund student scholarships to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, the Middle East’s premier center for environmental education and research. Founded on the principles of international cooperation, partnership, and coexistence, the school attracts Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, American, and European students, and encourages regional collaboration to deal with environmental challenges that know no borders. A new dormitory at the school is in the planning stages.
- Three hundred 18-30-year-olds volunteered in Israel on JNF’s Alternative Winter and Spring Break trips, raising almost $350,000 for Blueprint Negev. Since the program’s pilot year in 2006, more than 1,000 young people have spent their vacations in Israel doing everything from painting low-income housing projects to gleaning surplus harvests for needy families to creating urban community gardens for Ethiopian immigrants. To be eligible for ASB, participants must raise at least $975 for Blueprint Negev using an online fundraising tool to reach out to family and friends. The trip is then subsidized by JNF donors. For the last two years, JNF has received a grant from Repair the World in support of its Alternative Break trips.
- JNF continued its support of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), the only pluralistic, accredited academic program in Israel for English-speaking North American high school students. Ground was broken on the first of three new dormitories planned at the Eshel Hanassi Youth Village, the site of AMHSI’s second campus. In addition, four scholarships were awarded for study at AMHSI through the JNF Milton and Beatrice Shapiro Scholarship Fund.
- JNF continued to fund the Green Horizons youth group in Israel, which has provided informal educational programming for 20,000 children in more than 30 cities, towns, and communities over the past 30 years. Through weekly activities and monthly trips led by professional guides, participants build self confidence, independence, leadership skills, and an appreciation for the natural beauty of their country.
- JNF sponsored the participation of 10 classrooms in the Children Plan a Park program, a joint initiative of JNF and the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). The unique environmental education program allows school children in the Be’er Sheva area to be partners in the planning of the Be’er Sheva River Park and play a decisive role in designing an environmental and social space within their urban neighborhood. Through a variety of educational activities, students learn about the importance of environmental protection, resource conservation, and the need for balance between preservation and sustainable development.
Support for People with Disabilities
- JNF continued its support of Lotem Integrated Nature Studies, which offers environmental education activities for people with disabilities.
- A hydrotherapy pool complex was opened at Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art rehabilitative village that offers unparalleled medical care and vocational training for adults with disabilities. In addition, JNF continued to sponsor programs and treatments and expand the village’s green spaces.
- JNF continued to fund scholarships to the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit. A chair lift was also installed to aid people with limited mobility in mounting the horses.
- An inclusive park was dedicated at Ilanot, a site north of Tel Aviv that served as an experimental tree farm in the 1950’s. With new trails, a maze, and features like wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, the site was designed to allow visitors with and without disabilities to experience it in the same way. The park was created with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County in NJ.
Friends of Israel Firefighters
- Orders were placed for six compact fire trucks, adding to the 52 vehicles purchased by JNF over the last three years that have been deployed in communities throughout Israel. In addition, firefighting equipment, rescue tools, and protective clothing were purchased.
- A state-of-the-art command center was completed at the newly constructed Acco Fire Station in northern Israel, with the support of the Indianapolis Federation, The Charles M. Morris Charitable Trust of Pittsburgh, PA, Charles Perlow of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh community.
- The transformation of the softball field at Kibbutz Gezer into a first-class baseball field is almost complete. The upgrades—including expanding the field, installing a new backstop and fences, and landscaping the surrounding areas—are part of JNF’s Project: Baseball, a campaign to foster the growth of baseball in Israel, where the number of fans and players is on the rise but adequate baseball fields are scarce. The plan involves building state-of-the-art baseball, softball, and professional-caliber fields throughout the country to provide recreational outlets and entertainment opportunities for Israelis of all ages. The field at Gezer—located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—is Israel’s first, and is used by players throughout the region as well as the national softball league.
- The Sportek baseball field in Tel Aviv was renovated in time for last summer’s Maccabi Games.
- JNF’s Wall of Honor was dedicated at Ammunition Hill, site of the pivotal 1967 battle that made possible the reunification of Jerusalem. The Wall is a tribute to the heroism and courage of Jewish soldiers who have fought in defense of their countries throughout history. Individual plaques are purchased to commemorate the military service, past or present, of loved ones, and proceeds support the development and renovation of the museum and battle grounds at Ammunition Hill.
- The Galina—a reconstructed boat similar to the vessels that carried illegal immigrants to the shores of Palestine during the British blockade—was dedicated at Atlit, the detention camp-turned-museum in northern Israel, thanks to the generosity of donor Sy Israel. The boat’s interior will soon be converted into an exhibition space.
- A monument to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was dedicated in Jerusalem’s Arazim Valley. The Living Memorial, designed by award-winning Israeli artist Eliezer Weishoff, is a 30-foot high bronze sculpture of a waving American flag that morphs into a memorial flame. It rests on a gray granite base, which includes a metal beam from the original Twin Towers. Surrounding the memorial is a circular stone-tiled plaza that offers visitors a place to reflect. The memorial is the first outside New York that lists all the names of the people killed in the attacks, as well as their countries of origin. The monument and plaza were made possible through the generosity of Ed Blank and the Bronka Stavsky Rabin Weintraub Trust.
- Rabin Park, located near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was renovated and upgraded.
- Other parks were completed and dedicated, adding to the more than 1,000 parks developed by JNF throughout Israel: Nofey Prat Park, supported by Ben and Susan Guttman; Peduel Park, supported by the estate of Evelyn Gross; Kiryat Bialik Park, supported by the estate of Ingrid and Anton Bigman; and Shomriya Park, supported by numerous donors from southern California.