Apr 16, 2013  By Sharon Freedman  Category: Blueprint Negev,


As I celebrate Israel’s 65th year in existence, I reflect on what Israel means to me and why I spend each and every day supporting that magical country. My Israeli roots begin in 1905, the year my grandmother was born in Petach Tikva, and continues to my dad, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1930.
I myself lived in Tel Aviv for close to 20 years, working in the music industry, where I was so lucky to immerse myself in the incredible Israeli culture. Following my move to Boston, I was blessed to join the Jewish National Fund (JNF) family.

Being a part of that family for 14 years has continued to provide me with that special connection to my roots, allowing it to be my vehicle for helping the people and the land.
As JNF’s National Campaign Director, I was honored to lead its top professionals from around the country on a “JNF boot camp.” We were afforded the opportunity to understand, on site, JNF’s meaningful vision. As professionals, we’ve spent countless hours talking about our vision with our donors, but to see the work we do firsthand is incredibly inspiring.

Jewish National Fund professionals gather at the Carmel Forest memorial. 
A hallmark of JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign is the creation and expansion of new communities in the South, since the Negev represents 60 percent of the land but is home to just 8 percent of its population. It’s fascinating to travel down south, see only desert, and return a year later to witness the seeds of growth. We were fortunate to visit and meet the residents of Tzukim, Carmit and Giv’ot Bar where – through the revitalization of those communities – we attract young, energetic residents to the Negev and strengthen the economic and social fabric of the whole region.

JNF’s Rachel Klein and Sharon Freedman meet Ethiopian children in the Negev.

How exciting it was for us to visit our partners in the Bedouin community of Wadi Attir, which seeks to develop and demonstrate a model for a sustainable, community-based agricultural enterprise, adapted to a desert environment. It is designed to combine Bedouin aspirations, values and experience with sustainability principles, modern-day science and cutting-edge technologies.

Another visit was to the Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitation village, which is one of the most meaningful partnerships we have. The state-of-the-art village offers unparalleled care for people with severe disabilities in a warm, loving and dignified environment. In addition to significantly increasing their quality of life, the village provides job opportunities to residents of Ofakim and neighboring towns. Spending time at Aleh Negev brought tears to everyone in the group.

As we were training our professionals to travel back to their communities as ambassadors of JNF, it was very fitting to visit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and meet Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students who also serve as ambassadors in their respective communities. The institute is the first of its kind that brings together such a broad range of students to study the environmental challenges of the region, apply innovative solutions, and build a unified leadership base critical to economic, environmental and societal growth.

Throughout the mission, we were in awe of the significance of our work in water renewal. The JNF Parsons Water Fund is a $100 million initiative to increase Israel’s supply of high quality water, which was founded by the late Natan Parsons of Boston. Today, his wife Amy serves as vice chair as well as president of the Sapphire Society, JNF’s major women’s donor division.

During our trip, we visited the Ramon Air Force Base, located in the heart of the Negev Desert, to learn about the establishment of a constructed wetlands system. Because of its remote location, it is not served by Israel’s main sewage system, and until recently treated its wastewater in an inefficient manner that posed an ecological hazard. In addition to controlling pollution, the wetlands at the Ramon Air Force Base will provide 80 million gallons of recycled water a year, which will be used to irrigate nearby farms as well as the 7.5-acre park created by JNF for the families of the base. The base now serves as a model for efficient water treatment and reuse throughout Israel.

As we traveled the country, I wanted to make sure my colleagues understood that we are not a religious organization, we are not a political organization, and you don’t have to be Jewish to support JNF. You do have to love Israel, and hope and pray for peace. We simply connect people to our homeland because it’s who we are and it’s what we do every day.

I returned to Boston inspired, humbled, excited, empowered and so proud. For me, it is a privilege to be a donor myself, and a true partner in building the infrastructure and the future of our homeland.

I love the fact that our donors all share this love for Israel and – like myself – dream about keeping it safe, display the same commitment to alleviate the water crisis, and have the passion to follow David Ben-Gurion’s dream of developing the Negev.

I am a proud Israeli celebrating Israel’s 65 years of magic. Please feel free to contact me at sfreedman@jnf.org to stand with me, and Israel, at this crucial point in Israel’s future.

Sharon Freedman is National Campaign Director at Jewish National Fund.