Feb 18, 2013  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Let me begin with a story

"Let me begin with a story"....  this quote followed me around my JNF Alternative Winter Break (AWB) 2012 trip through the Negev.  On this trip we spent most of the time in the desert touring and helping out with projects that JNF is involved in. Every place we visited we met the Israelis who lived and worked in the land, and heard their stories. We heard about the true Sabraim who moved to the Arava to farm, the couple who moved to israel from Chicago to become caretakers of an important historical fortress, and the AWB alum who made aliyah to help out the Ethiopian community.  All of these people believed in David Ben Gurion's vision of making the desert blossom and so they moved to the negev. These tales sustained us volunteers as we were pruning weeds, painting houses, cleaning up ruins, and building sustainable irrigation ponds.
The stories were heartwarming, but these pioneers' accomplishments left me in awe. With the help of JNF the people have slowly began turning the Negev into an oasis. We left each day feeling an ache in our muscles but knowing we helped improve the area.

In addition to helping out we toured some of the many locations where JNF has improved the lives of the local populations.  I think it is important to note that even with waking up at seven every morning and not returning to the hotel until seven at night, our trip just barely scratched the surface of everything that JNF has a hand in in the negev.  It is unbelievable to think that it is just a small percentage of everything that JNF is a part of in israel.  We visited a research and development center in the far south, the indoor playground built for the children of Sderot, and an ecologically friendly kibbutz, that all are thankful for JNF's help.  Every guide that we met told us his story and the story behind JNF's involvement in the specific program. Everyone ended by telling us what an impact JNF has had on the community.

When I signed up for this trip, I was unprepared for the experience I was about to have. What I thought was just signing up for a free trip to Israel, turned into something so much more.  I, like so many people in the Jewish community have been to Israel, and I was even fortunate to take a gap year.  Most of my time spent in the country has been spent in the Mercaz (the center of the country). My impression of the desert was of a camel wandering and the boardwalks of Eilat. I was not expecting to fall in love with the desert and all of the resilient people who inhabit the terrain.  The people's fierce spirits match the awesome power of the desert. With the help of JNF, these people are harnessing the power and turning sand into cities and fields. The desert will be the future of Israel and thanks to JNF, it is ready to be populated.

Lauren Blachorsky, President of the Israel Club at Queens College