Feb 15, 2014  By Alyse Golden Berkley  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Negev bound, with a message

As a member of Jewish National Fund's speaker's bureau, Makor, I have certain responsibilities; at the same time, I have many blessings. This year, my journey begins with an airport pick up by Noa Gefen, our partner with SPIHS (The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites), and my friend. After lots of warm hugs and salutations, our conversation turned to updates of our projects together and how we may better showcase them to the world.She gladly invited me to join her on a special private tour with a potential very major donor from the United States not yet connected with the Jewish National Fund. I endeavor to change that.

On Wednesday, days prior to the official start of the Makor Mission, I was given the unique opportunity to bring new potential donors to the Central Arava. They work in the produce industry and are very well-respected for the unique produce that they introduce in the United States. In addition to providing them with the opportunity to share in our JNF projects in Israel, I hope to open doors to potentially establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with our farmers in the Negev.

Our day was artfully planned by Shahar, who works for JNF in Israel and leads many of our tours.  He could not have been more accommodating, professional and gracious. Our first stop was a quick tour of Sapir where we watched a short video of the resources in the Central Arava, followed by a meeting with Hanni, the Director of AICAT, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training

We were privileged to observe classrooms filled with students from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Imagine how wonderful I felt when we entered the classroom with Vietnamese students and the Translator immediately recognized me and greeted me with such a warm hug!  And even more special, he told me that when we last met, his family had been so against him coming to Israel, but now, as a result of the special time he has spent here with AICAT, his family now wants to join him in Israel!  Muslims becoming Zionists!  Who knew?!

Shahar had arranged for an intimate lunch with Eyal Blum, the Mayor of the Central Arava, at the delightful home of the owners of La Parrigita, where we dined on organic vegetables grown right at Sapir and homemade quiches and pastries. The conversation was lively as our guests and Dr. Blum discovered the acquaintances that they have in common, and the latest and greatest innovations and opportunities in the produce industry.  Our meal concluded after our host foraged his garden in order to make the most amazing tea we had ever experienced!
After lunch, we traveled to the Yair AgriculturalResearch and Development Center and met with Mayan, who delighted in showing us the newly opened Visitors Center.  She gave us a very comprehensive tour of the hot houses, and showed us their latest experiments with cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and gourds.  This was particularly of interest to our potential donors, as the varietals were very unique, yet familiar to them.  There were discussions about growth, testing, packaging and shipment that were "fruitful."

We concluded our very long day with a private tour of Fresco Hatzeva Farm, where organic produce is grown, harvested, cut, washed and packaged for market. Our tour was personally conducted by CEO Elon Stern and his sons after we donned special attire and were sufficiently sanitized. Quite an amazing opportunity for all. Our final treat concluded our tour when we sat down and enjoyed the wonderful spreads and spices that they are currently marketing. This also delighted our guests, who discussed a potential working relationship with Fresco.

Shahar brought us back to Tel Aviv exhausted, yet exhilarated. I am personally very grateful for this unique opportunity, and to be in a position to help grow the Negev and strengthen our JNF presence in building a better Israel.