Dec 19, 2019  By Rabbi Jason Fruithandler  Category: Travel,

Three things a rabbi learned about JNF on his mission to Israel

The author, center, with other members of the mission.

I just got back from a JNF-USA mission to Israel. Before attending, I was under the impression JNF-USA planted trees, collected tzedakah money, and occasionally brought a very large map of Israel to my Hebrew school. I always assumed it did more but never had an inkling what. These past few days I have learned so much about JNF-USA. I'd like to share it.

1. It is exceptionally well run. From a numbers point of view it keeps its staff as slim as possible and is able to boast 84 cents on the dollar going directly to programming and affiliates. However, its small staff size is not a problem. JNF is able to hire the most committed, efficient, and effective professionals. It creates a culture and expectation of data-driven results, high impact outcomes, and on top of it all, kindness!

2. In the vein of effective work JNF-USA does almost no work! Ha! What I mean is it does its work through affiliates on the ground. In North America, it effectively helps North American Jewry buy into the
The author, center, learning about plant growth.
story of Israel and allows us to be part of that story by sharing our dollars and resources. It takes those resources and finds passionate, committed, and effective Israeli leaders and organizations to work with. Those organizations and leaders then have the support they need to make Israel not just viable, but a place that will thrive for the next 70 years and beyond. 

3. I learned a new story of Israel. Seventy-plus years ago the old Keren Kayemet Yisrael started planting trees because it was a legal way of declaring ownership and possession of the land.  Of course, Israel, like the rest of the world, still needs trees, and the new organization, JNF-USA, still plants them. Now, to secure the land in the new frontier in the north and the south. 

Currently, 80% of the Israeli population lives on 20% of Israeli land. JNF-USA, in conversation with Israelis on the ground, realized the Galilee in the north and Negev in the south were the answer. Through careful conversation with citizens on the ground JNF understood that for a community to be an exciting place to live, it needed good education for the children, good job opportunities for the adults, a culture and community to add meaning, and an effective health and emergency infrastructure

JNF-USA's affiliate partners provide exactly that. In Be'er Sheva, they are partnering to create a new river park/promenade. Already before the construction is complete, developers have started construction on enough apartments to house 20,000 residents. Many of these are already pre-sold. In communities in the north and south, JNF-USA supports youth organizations that provide meaning and connection throughout the country. They support an organization called Makom that helps Israeli authentic micro communities maximize their impact and connection on the frontlines of Israeli development. Through this affiliate, JNF-USA has been able to positively influence over 500,000 Israeli lives. These are just a few of the incredibly impactful partnerships JNF-USA has formed that allow North American Jewry to support the cultivation and growth of a viable Israel in the places that need support most. 

The last thing I learned is that I’m only scratching the surface. JNF's team of effective, efficient, and passionate staff are continually working hard to make JNF's lofty goals a reality. I, as a rabbi, am personally excited to begin anew my relationship with JNF-USA. I am a passionate Zionist and a proud American. By supporting JNF-USA I get to be a part of the dream that is Israel.

Rabbi Jason Fruithandler is the rabbi at the synagogue at the Woodbury Jewish Center in Woodbury, NY.

The author planting a tree.