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Operation Northern Renewal - Forest Damage

Jewish National Fund Operation Security Blanket

Wednesday August 30, 2006

Report on the Damage to JNF Forests

We received a report from the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection detailing the damage to the JNF forests as a result of the devastation. The information is provided by the Nature Reserves and Parks Authority and JNF staff in Israel.

Planted forests (JNF) — During the war, as a result of about 400 fires caused by missiles, more than 3,000 acres of planted forests went up in flames. Of this total, about 1,750 acres were on the Naftali mountain ridge (about 70% of the forest) and 500 acres were in the Biria forest near Tzfat. The direct fire fighting costs exceeded NIS 20 million (use of fire fighting aircraft and fire retarding materials).

Natural forests and open areas — A total of about 50 fires caused by the war were dealt with in nature reservations and national parks. About 10,000 acres were burned, of which about 3,750 acres were in areas of nature reserves and national parks. Of these, about 1,375 acres were in the Golan Heights, about 2,225 acres in Northern Galilee (in the Mount Miron fire about 300 acres were burned, representing about 15% of the area of the forest) and 125 acres in Lower Galilee.

The damage was to a large spectrum of living things, from plants damaged directly, invertebrates, lichen, snails, reptiles, birds (great damage to fledglings that could not yet fly and flee from the fire), mammals' dens, young deer, and sometimes even adult mammals. The damage was systemic to the entire food chain.

The damage to flora, in both the short and long term, is the most conspicuous. The burned forests will recover slowly, and until this happens dense undergrowth will replace the adult forest. There will be a change to the composition of the vegetation, and the hairy cassia and kinds of rockrose will dominate the scene, at the expense of varied kinds of undergrowth. In the burned areas the chances increase of domination by invasive species, such as the blue acacia.

Physical damage — Roads made for the purpose of fire fighting. Such roads were made in the Hulah Reservation. After the fire there will be soil erosion in the first winter, until a layer of undergrowth covers the area.

Wednesday August 23, 2006

JNF's Vice President of Campaign Travels Up North


20060823bud_1.jpgBud Levin, JNF's Vice President of Campaign, traveled up north on August 17. These are his thoughts.

Why would 15 KKL foresters from the south and center of the country rush to the northern border of Israel and volunteer to help the forest fire-fighters and foresters battle the inferno in the Galil? For that matter, why would the fire-fighters and foresters from the north risk their lives to save the KKL forests? Seventy-two hours after the Katushas stopped raining down on Israel, the leadership of JNF was there to learn first-hand the story of how a group of KKL employees risked their lives to save the precious forests of the north.

The damage was everywhere. Four thousands rockets had been fired by Hezbollah into the Galil. The cities of Kiryat Shemona, Safed, Maalot, Haifa, and many others suffered severe damage. The murders of both civilians and soldiers were a shock to us all.

20060823bud_2.jpgOn Thursday morning, we flew in a plane out of Rosh Pina to view damage from the air. Then we drove by van to witness, up close and personal, the results of four weeks of rocket attacks in the north.

The damage to the cities was extensive, but the clean-up had already begun. We were amazed at the return of life to the cities by Thursday morning. The resiliency of the Israelis is not to be believed.

But the forests were a different story. Probably three thousand Katushas landed in the open forests. Everywhere we looked there were patches of burnt trees. These areas will take years to replant and decades to mature. It is amazing that we didn't lose any of the KKL people during the attack on the forests. They told us that rockets were landing everywhere, and there was no place in the forest to seek shelter. If you don't believe in divine intervention, then this miracle is hard to explain. After every attack the fires were ignited and the fire trucks and forest trucks raced to control the blaze. Were it not for their heroism it could have been much worse; we could have lost almost all the greenery in the north.

One of the incredible stories is about the pilots who dropped fire retardant on the fires. Again, it is hard to believe how we didn't lose any planes or people. They not only had to fly under the Katushas, they also flew under outgoing Israeli artillery fire. By the way, we ran out of fire retardant in the first week of the war, and our fundraising efforts funded the purchase of the emergency supply for the next three weeks.

But what about the heroes that we met that Thursday morning — why did they risk their lives for trees? More than that, why did volunteers from Kiryat Shemona, Safed, and other communities rush to the fires and volunteer — even as rockets fell — to help save the forests?

The answer is Zionism. About 100 years ago, after 2000 years of yearning to return, pioneers came to plant the forests and create the greening of Israel. Just look at the pictures on the walls of our KKL northern headquarters just outside of Kyriat Shemona. There we saw the early days of the State when bare rocks made up 95% of the landscape.

You could see the emotion in the eyes of the KKL foresters. They said each tree was like a baby to them. Many had been with KKL for over twenty years. They had planted and nurtured many of those damaged forests. Saving those trees was like saving their own family. I know it sounds corny, but the Zionism of these guys showed in each of their faces. The answers that they gave to our questions told all that we needed know. We have never been more proud of being volunteers for JNF and never have I felt as strongly that JNF must support Israel — the land, her people, her past, and her future. These brave men of the KKL forests embody the spirit of the country. They are Zionism at its best.

Wednesday August 16, 2006

Preparing for Restoration of Northern Forests

With a cease-fire in place, JNF-KKL has begun to prepare for the restoration of the forests that were destroyed by rocket attacks.

Professional ground and air teams are currently assessing, mapping, and categorizing the damaged areas, a process that will continue for about three weeks. Forests will then be cleaned and prepared for replanting. In many cases, foresters will wait to see the degree to which the forests will renew themselves naturally before they begin to plant new trees. JNF-KKL nurseries have already started to germinate approximately 200,000 new seedlings with increased fertilization to accelerate the process.

More than 3,000 acres of planted forests and natural woodland containing over 750,000 trees of various species, as well as 12,500 acres of pastureland, were damaged during the fighting in the north. Most of the damage was in the Naftali mountain range, where 1,875 acres or three-quarters of the total forested area were burned; and in the Birya and Beit Keshet forests, where more than 500 acres were burned.

Since the start of the war, 12 JNF-KKL firefighting ground teams and 100 workers and volunteers have dealt with 600 forest fires. They were aided by nine fire trucks and planes that sprayed forests with fire retardant chemicals.

"From the beginning of the war until now, we have used more fire fighting materials in helicopters than in the past two years together," said Dr. Omri Bonneh, JNF director of the northern division. "During this period we have dealt with more fires than the entire number of fires in the past five years."

The cost of repairing the direct damage to the forests has yet to be determined. Funds will be needed to prepare new seedlings, care for the trees, prepare the ground for replanting, purchase and maintain firefighting equipment. In addition, millions of dollars are needed to renovate damaged security roads, campgrounds, parks, and lookout points.

"The damage caused to the green areas in the north is tremendous and even replanting the same number of trees will not restore the area to its previous state," said JNF-KKL Chairman Efi Stezler. "The forests will still need over 50 years to reach the state they were in before the fighting began. Professionals from JNF-KKL have been in the area since the beginning of the cease-fire and have begun restoration of the ground. The main tasks that KKL-JNF has taken upon itself in the coming years are restoring the north and developing the Negev."

Monday August 14, 2006

Diary of a Forest Ranger

helicopter.jpgMy name is Ofir Gamliel and I live in Moshav Ahihud in the north of Israel with my wife Carmit and our two daughters - Carmel, aged four-and-a-half and our baby, Clil, who is 9 months. As part of my job as a forest ranger for JNF-KKL in the Galilee, I'm responsible for planting trees and putting out fires in the region.

When the Katyushas started landing in the JNF forests, fire-fighting became my top priority; in fact it took all my time and attention. Like most people, I thought that the Katyusha attacks would stop within a day or two — I certainly never imagined they would last so long and cause so much damage to our woodlands.

Within a short period of time, an emergency center was set up at the Mahanayim Junction, and JNF-KKL crews from all over the country checked in and were sent on fire fighting missions.

We got into a war routine: the alarm sounded, we put on our flak jackets, the attack boomed in, the rocket's exact landing place was located, and then we rushed to extinguish the fire it caused. Nearly every time a Katyusha landed in a forest area, a substantial portion of it was burnt, turning the green to black. The dust and smoke and destruction brought tears to the eyes of all our workers.

For me, this last period has been very difficult. I've been totally occupied with putting out the fires and directing the fire-fighting planes, functioning on very few hours of sleep and missing my family and my home.

Thursday, August 10, 2006, was an especially hard day. A Katyusha landed at the Naburiya Spring which is on the scenic road through the Birya Forest. There was a real threat that the whole forest — which is a main symbol of the region — would burn down. Because of the difficult topography, the fire climbed up the mountain at an incredibly fast rate, and on its way destroyed both the young and the mature trees that were recently planted there. It also presented a concrete danger to the fire-fighting teams at the site. I told everyone to leave the area and then checked that indeed they all got out safely.

Meanwhile, Chimnir's firefighting planes arrived at the area, piloted by Aharon Berenson and Gideon Shatil. They tried to put out the flames but their efforts were unsuccessful. At the Birya Fortress, our forester from the Golan Heights, Effi Na'im, was in charge of the fire-fighting, working with the Golani Junction team. I told him he should leave his post as I didn't want him to be trapped by the fire. In the end, the fire reached the Birya Fortress and was stopped there.

Up above the fire, looking down at it from an observation plane, was Dr. Omri Bonneh, head of JNF-KKL's Northern Region. He gave a "live broadcast" of the fire's progress, and I used his report to guide the firefighting crews on the ground. After his plane landed, he and I together spent the rest of the day into night, surveying the burnt area and estimating the damage. At that stage it was reckoned that 1,000 dunams (250 acres) of young and old woodland in the Birya Forest had been destroyed by the fire.

Since the start of the war, I've been spending a great part of my time with Dr. Bonneh and have become all too familiar with the expression of sorrow on his face when he considers the loss of so much of the most beautiful forests in the Galilee, the forests of the Mountains of Naphtali and of Birya. With the ceasefire and the end of hostilities, we have so much work ahead to turn the black into green once again.

Wednesday August 9, 2006

More Press for JNF's Work in the North

On Monday, the LA Times published an article called Blazes Scorch Israel's Forests, which included a mention of JNF's work.

Omri Bonneh, director of the northern region for the Jewish National Fund, which oversees Israel's forests and employs its own firefighters, said the blazes had damaged stands of pines 50 to 60 years old. He said about 2,000 acres of woodlands had been burned — an amount that would be normally lost to fire over five years.

"It is severe damage," Bonneh said. "It will take a long time to rehabilitate."

The loss is especially painful for the Galilee region, which is edged with woods and hills and coursed by small rivers that make it a magnet for hikers and ecologically minded tourists.

"This region is defined as the green lands of Israel," Bonneh said. "That's why it's important for us to protect the forest and do our best to rehabilitate the forests that are destroyed."

He said officials were already drawing up plans for restoring the forests through planting, if new trees didn't sprout through natural growth. Today, JTA published an article detailing the damage of the fires as well.

"It's an ecological catastrophe. Animals are dying. Trees are getting burned," said Orit Hadad, an official with the Jewish National Fund in Israel, where it is known as Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael. "Even if every tree is replanted, to bring these forests back to the state they were in will take 50 to 60 years."

That means that most of the survivors of this war will not live to see the landscape return to its prewar state.

Among the hardest-hit areas have been the Naftali forest range near Kiryat Shmona, where more than three-quarters of the forest was obliterated, and the Birya Forest in the Western Galilee, near Safed, where more than 600 acres have burned.

Less is known about how the animals that live in this largely rural area have fared. Firefighters have found the remains of many slow-moving animals, such as snakes and turtles, in burned areas. Larger animals that managed to escape likely will suffer from loss of food sources and a sharp reduction in available grazing lands, experts said.

"We're very aware of this problem of disruption of the food chain, even if there is not much we can do," said Michael Weinberger, a JNF forest supervisor in the Central Galilee and Golan Heights.

The JNF says it will try to replant as many trees as possible after the fighting is over. Each acre will cost an estimated $5,500 for the first two years to resoil, replant and treat, officials said.

For now, the focus is on putting out the fires.

If you would like help, you can donate to help purchase emergency equipment for fire fighers. You can also donate to Operation Security Blanket as a whole.

Tuesday August 8, 2006

JNF Firefighters in NY Times Article

20060808nytimes.jpgThis morning, Jewish National Fund was discussed in a New York Times article discussing the fires raging in the forests of Northern Israel. Below is a large excerpt of the article, but if you would like to support the JNF/KKL firefighters you can help by donating to our emergency equipment campaign.

Photo by Michael Kamber for The New York Times

The greening of Israel, a largely arid country, has been a major part of the Zionist ethos. Many of the forests that are now under fire were planted by the Jewish National Fund in the 1950's, during the early years of the Israeli state.

At least one major forest in northern Israel has lost up to 75 percent of its trees. Across the border in southern Lebanon, forest fires also rage, from Israeli bombs. In the dry heat of summer, the land is especially vulnerable.

Mr. Romach has brought firefighters from other parts of the country to expand local forces. In normal times there are three shifts of 75 firefighters a day in northern Israel. These days there are more than 180 on each shift.

He coordinates his operations with those of the Jewish National Fund. The fund, which predates the state of Israel and is supported by the government and private donations, is the official caretaker of the land, including the nation's forests. It has its own force of about 100 firefighters.

Mr. Romach said that during the current crisis the firefighters had been working long days without sufficient staff or equipment. They are sent to as many as 100 fires a day, including those in residential and public buildings as well as forests and other open areas.

Although many of them are not equipped with flak jackets, they sometimes find themselves putting out fires even as Katyusha rockets fall nearby.

Small planes, usually used in the north for crop-dusting, are being employed to help put out the fires. Pilots release tons of a red flame retardant to contain the fires. The flames in the most serious fires have reached as high as 130 feet.

But Mr. Romach said he had run out of money from his regular budget to hire the planes. The Jewish National Fund has provided extra emergency money to cover operations for now, but it was not immediately clear when additional government financing would come through. The fund has been raising money abroad to buy additional safety equipment and trucks.


The firefighting teams include Jews and Arabs. "There is a type of coexistence under fire," said Dr. Omri Bonneh, the Jewish National Fund's director for Israel's northern region. "They work together, shoulder to shoulder. The volunteers from nearby that come out to help are also both Arabs and Jews. They bring us food and water and encourage the firefighters."

Mr. Romach expressed a more skeptical view. He said that there was evidence that some of the fires had been caused by arson and that there were suspicions that some local Arab residents might have set them to protest Israel's military action in Lebanon. No arrests have been made.

There is great damage to the north's landscape, but it is unclear just how severe the long-term environmental damage will be.

"The ecological system is used to living with fires," said Raanan Boral, the head of the environmental protection division of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. "It is part of life for the system. Some trees get burned, and so do some nests. Some animals don't have the time to flee, but the system can rehabilitate itself. It takes time and it is not nice to look at, but it is not an irreversible disaster."

To help the firefighters in Israel's North, you can give money to our emergency equipment campaign.

Friday August 4, 2006

High demand for JNF Summer Camps will continue

From Brigadeer General Uzi Dayan

Dear Russell,

Just returned from the Galilee where I met with the families of the kidnapped soldiers.

It was a tough day in the north - 10 Israelis were killed.

The fourth summer camp session will open Sunday (Aug. the 6th). We're also organizing teams to go from one shelter to another and work with the children.

Is there a way to raise money to more summer camps? The demands are sky height and the kids and their parents are so happy and satisfied......

Best! Uzi.


From Yaron Lousky, Director of Chugai Sayarut

Dear Uzi,

The third summer camp session is currently in its fourth day of operation. Enrollment, as in the first and second session, exceeded our capacity to receive children.

During the second session, we accepted hundreds of children, children from the north and south.

20060804teens_2.jpgThe response from the children and parents is much greater than can be imagined. Taking the children away from the north achieved a great deal of good and the activity is in high demand.

I believe that, as an educational organization, our greatest contribution lies in continuing the summer camp operation until the end of the war (it is important to note that no summer camps operate in August during normal times but these are not normal and we will move ahead - we have no choice - we will move ahead).

In addition to the summer camps, I am organizing vehicles with 5-10 counselors in each group who will go to the shelters and work with the children who remain there.We hope to have many groups like this providing games , services, food and giving these children some normal, fun activity for the families during this terrible time.

In closing, it is important to note that the situation has led to the recruitment of 8 new (MILUIM) of our 10 coordinators and there is no one to lead and prepare the regions for the beginning of the year for our regular activities of our youth movement.

This is a very problematic situation that severely damages our ability to start the year (1 September) and attract participants.

If the reserves mobilization continues for two more weeks, we will be facing a very severe problem.

Best regards


Here's What They're Saying In Israel

Paul Ginsburg, KKL/JNF Head Forester, Northern Region:

We are all working 12- to 16-hr. days, crews on fire trucks and on the ground. Forests that have taken 50 years to grow, that saw two generations of foresters, are burning. All that we do is under the threat of Katyusha attacks. The work is stressful and heartbreaking but there is also real pride in what we're doing and terrific team spirit. We are tired but not broken. But, for the first time in the 20 years that I've been living here, I feel vulnerable.

Sharon Barhom, resident, Kibbutz Malkiyya on the Lebanese border:

Two weeks ago we decided we needed to get our children out of here. So we left the kibbutz, went to Tel Aviv, and a stranger opened their home to us. But we decided to go home despite the constant noise of bombing, because it's our home. It's not easy but we are so lucky to have such a great country, such great people and such a great army. We just want them all to come home safely.

As a mother you keep thinking whether what you're doing is the best thing for your children — that is the stress we live with — are we keeping them safe and secure? So was bringing them back here the best thing? I don't know but we can't leave home forever. This is a conflict for me. So we are in the bomb shelters, keeping the kids busy with activities.

As far as the economy goes, I ran the guest house here at the kibbutz—we have 44 rooms. They're all empty now. This conflict has been a death penalty for that. I don't think we can recover from this. We may need to find someone who has money to run it.

One more thing. Every day for the past four years we've been using the security roads that JNF built. I always thought of them as civilian roads, built for our safe travel. I never realized how important they are for the military and how they have helped the army travel without being seen by Hezbollah. Without these roads, I think the war would be even more dangerous. And what JNF is doing now is just overwhelming. We are living in fear but we know that there are people out there who want to help, who are helping. Thank you so much. You are doing holy work.

Art Silber, Treasurer, JNF, who just returned from a trip to Israel:

I just returned from Israel and I want to speak personally about my experience. I was staying in Haifa with relatives and we were on their porch having breakfast. We heard two explosions; the second one was the one that killed 8 people working in the railway station. The siren went off; it is a sound I will never forget. We ran down to the shelter—a concrete room 9 feet long and maybe 4 feet wide. It had a steel door that slammed loudly behind us and a pipe for air supply. Then we remembered that their mother was alone in her apartment, so we jumped in the car and drove through the streets to get her and bring her back.

Driving through the streets, you don't know whether a rocket is coming at you. I felt a sense of fear that I have never known and hope to never know again. We ran in and out of that shelter many times, coming up for breathers and running back down every time we heard a siren. I can't tell you what that felt like; I don't have words to express my fear.

There is no way we here in America can understand what it's like to be there, to hear a siren, to feel fear, to hear an explosion. What we're doing here really means a lot to them over there and I have been involved with JNF a long time and I really appreciate being able to say that.

Thursday August 3, 2006

Thank You, From Kids at Camp

Below are the translations of handwritten thank you notes we've received from kids at JNF Summer Camps (Donate). The image of letter itself can be found by clicking on the "read more" link.

Thank you for taking us away from our homes, it was very nice of you.
-David Slutzky, Tiberias

Thank you for bringing us somewhere that is safe. Thank you for taking care of us and giving us everything we need in order live a normal and fun life.
-Noa Salman, Gesher HaZiv

Dear JNF! Thank you for taking us out of the bomb shelters and for not leaving us stuck in boredom. I think it was a very nice thing to do because I also met really nice new friend. I hope you organize another summer camp lie this one.
-Tal Cohen, Gesher HaZiv

Dear JNF,
Thank you for donating an interesting and fun summer camp and for getting us out of the bomb shelters.

-Hagar Eyal, Mitzpeh Hayod Daled

Dear JNF,
Thank you for getting us out of the bomb shelters. This week was a lot of fun and I would like to say thanks on our behalf and on behalf of all Jews of the world because I know that there are a lot of us, but that’s what is good about you, you don’t just take care of one, you take care of all. Thank you very much.

-Tali Lutzatti, Tal-El

Dear JNF,
Thank you for helping us. You have donated money to the summer camp and gotten us out of the shelters. In short, thank you.

-Noam, Mitzpeh Matat.

This is an extended entry. Click here to

Wednesday August 2, 2006

OSB Campaign Update

Thanks to the amazing support of JNF donors, we have now raised over $2.4 million for Operation Security Blanket. It is a wonderful show of support for the Israeli people, but our work is not over yet. The war continues and the needs of Israelis are only increasing. We encourage you to give support to summer camps, security roads, emergency equipment or the campaign as a whole.

We're also happy to announce that we have been listed on CNN's list of charities supporting civilians affected by the war and have received a great deal of support from JDate. JDate has listed us on member homepages since the first days of this crisis and has also sent out an email to support our cause.

New Photos from Camps Up North

We just received a new batch of photographs from the camps up north. These children would not be here without the support of JNF donors. If you'd like to help fund these camps you can make a donation here.


Tuesday August 1, 2006

Fires are Still Raging Up North

Over 4,000 acres of forests, grazing land and nature reserves in northern Israel have been destroyed by fires ignited by Katyusha rockets. Controlling these fires is not a simple task.

As municipal firefighters respond to rocket attacks in cities and towns, Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael forest rangers work to extinguish the fires that are consuming forests planted over 100 years ago. They move from blaze to blaze as rockets fall around them, contending with shrapnel and un-detonated explosives.

The destruction of nearly one million trees has meant the death and displacement of forest-dwelling wildlife.

20060802fires.jpg 20060802fires_2.jpg

Monday July 31, 2006

Emergency Equipment Supplied by JNF

20060801vest.jpgAndy Michelson wore one set of the bulletproof jackets and ceramic helmets we are providing to firefighters in the north. The equipment is both bullet- and shrapnel-proof and has already saved lives. If you'd like to give money to provide these jackets and other emergency equipment to Israeli firefighters you can do so here.

Friday July 28, 2006

A Day Up North With Andy Michelson

20060728andy_1.jpgOn Thursday, July 27, 2006, Andy Michelson, Director of the American Desk at KKL in Israel traveled to northern Israel to assess the situation. Together with Paul Ginsburg, director of the Forest Department in the northern region, he surveyed the sites hit by Katyusha rockets and the burnt forests. Here is his diary of the day:

Thursday night, July 27, 2006

After a day so full of experiences I hardly know where to start. I saw brave men yesterday. Some who work for KKL some who don't. Men who are trying to save our forests. Men who are trying to keep the north green, often risking their lives to do so.

Firstly, I smell, even after a long shower. I smell of smoke. That woody, burnt smell from sitting around a campfire, only I wasn't at a campfire. Today I visited Israel's northern border and spent time seeing for myself what JNF/KKL is doing at this important time.

I smell from the forest fires I "visited." The thick black smoke not only enters the clothes you wear; it seems to enter the very pores of your skin. I almost feel that it has entered my blood.

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk in "safe" Jerusalem thinking of the brave men and women in Israel's north. I felt that I had to go there and see for myself and in my small way show some support. So I arranged with Paul Ginsburg, KKL Forest Ranger in charge of our Northern Region, to spend the day "tagging along" with him. He said that starting time was 8 a.m. from the Forward Command Post that KKL opened at the Machanayim Junction, north of Rosh Pina.

He said 8am, and I was not going to be late, so I left my house in Jerusalem at 5 a.m. just to be sure.
I didn't want to have him, or anybody else, wait for me. So north I traveled. By 6:30 a.m. traffic in central Israel was starting to flow (most people start work at 7:30). After I passed through the Megiddo junction I noticed traffic getting thinner and thinner. After the Golani Junction it was thinner again, and by the time I got to the Kadderim Junction I felt that I was one of the few left on the road traveling north. It seemed that everybody knew something that I didn't: one should not be traveling north at this point in time.

I arrived at the Forward Command Post (HaPak in Hebrew). It was set up the day after hostilities started when KKL realized the need for our men in the field to be in a forward position with all the necessary equipment and support. I didn't know what to expect.

It happened the moment I opened my car door — boom — did you hear that? Or that? Boom!! Boom!! B O O M!!!

Where had I landed? Nobody seemed to notice. Sounded like huge claps of thunder. Thankfully off in the distant hills. But still. Boom...Boom... and nobody was paying them any attention. By the end of the day I too was "experienced" enough not to jump at each boom though I was still not experienced enough to tell if the boom was one of ours or one of theirs.

This is an extended entry. Click here to

Summer Camp is Now in Session

The first session of summer camp for the children of the Northern and Southern conflict zones is in full swing. Hundreds of kids from Kiryat Shimona, Naharia, Haifa and Sderot enjoyed a visit to the zoo, swimming and evening movies.

These children participated at no charge, funded fully by JNF of America donations.

The need to send children to summer camp remains high, and JNF will begin a second session this week.


Over 600 IDF soldiers (Golani) are being camped at a JNF Camp in the north. The camp is too far north to be used as a youth camp, and has been closed since the start of hostilities. These soldier are on a rest at the camp after having served in Lebanon, they come down to Lavi camp for a rest, and then go back up to serve. This is an experiment today, but it seems that the camp will now operate on this basis for the foreseeable future.

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Thursday July 27, 2006

JNF Lay Leader Visits Summer Camp

kids-at-osb-camp_1.jpgDr. Stephen Wolnek, a resident of Pt. Washington, NY, is a Vice President of JNF, honorary president of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, and on the Board of the Jewish Community Relations Council was in Israel from July 19-25. He traveled there on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight, which is always a moving experience, but this one was more so given the crisis. Five hundred people greeted them at the airport.

From there he went straight to the Nes Harim camp site in American Independence Park, where he spoke to some families from up north who were camped out escaping the rocket attacks. One man, who lives in a hi-rise building in Haifa, said that when the sirens sounded it took them so long to get down to the ground floor and then the bunker, that the Katyusha could have landed already.

He spoke to two kids from Sderot, there with their grandmother who spoke only Russian. The 4-year-old girl couldn't stop talking about her activities in the camp. The 10-year-old boy talked about the Kassams that reached Sderot but spoke matter-of-factly, like he had grown accustomed to living like that.

Then he met bus-loads of 150 kids in grades 1-8, who had arrived from the north—Haifa, Carmiel — without their parents

He spoke to a group of 12-year-old girls who were so relieved to be there and away from the bombing. Each had at least one sibling in the army. Their parents were still at home. They were looking forward to all the activities and reprieve from the fighting.

A group of boys from Sderot were so happy to have the time out—it was unexpected, this luxury of being away from the shelling. They had heard about it in the papers and on the news and were looking forward to the activities—swimming, the zoo. Steve said it was clear it had been well thought out and these kids would be well taken care of.

He then traveled with the Conference of Presidents and had intensive briefings with government officials including the Prime Minister

He went to Haifa —it was half empty—ghost-like. He said the damage from the little pellets that rain out of the Katyushas "made an automobile look like Swiss cheese."

On to the Rambam hospital where he met the only surviving soldier of the original ambush, very badly injured. He met with the parents of wounded soldiers.

"As far as the importance, the significance of what we're doing with Operation Security Blanket," said Stephen, "it's vital. In this type of situation, instead of seeing kids cowering in bomb shelters, they're smiling and relieved. The camps are very much appreciated and needed."

Wednesday July 26, 2006

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