Four JNF-USA Delegations, One Love for Israel
Tuesday, June 06, 2017
Four JNF-USA delegations came for a one-week tour of Israel, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification.
Four JNF-USA delegations came for a one-week tour of Israel, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. The delegations included key donors, a young leadership group and Christian lovers of Israel. Every group had a different program and different goals, but they are all united in their love for Israel. All in all, there were 200 people across all four groups, and came together on two special occasions: the national Jerusalem Day ceremony held on Ammunition Hill, and a moving memorial ceremony at the 9/11 Twin Towers Memorial in the Jerusalem Park.
The Young Leadership Track delegation included 35 young Americans, the next generation of community leaders. With the Positively Israel: Interfaith Mission group, the focus was on multiculturalism. The President’s Society Mission included about 70 important donors. The Spirit of Israel delegation included 65 participants, among them JNF USA donors and friends.
The delegations were accompanied by JNF-USA executives, such as CEO Russell Robinson, Outgoing President Jeffrey Levine, Incoming President Dr. Sol Lizerbram, and Vice President of Campaigns and Major Gifts Chairman Bruce Gould.
Building the Negev Together
The Positively Israel mission toured Israel for a week. The group members, both from Jewish and general communities in the USA, visited Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre, Atlit, Ein Hod, Caesarea and many other sites. Along the way, they met Israelis of different religions and were impressed by the unique connection between the cultures and faiths.
For Carlos Arzola, this was his first visit to Israel. “I had read about Israel, and I saw pictures, but all that does not reflect the country’s beauty”, he said. “As a Christian I read the bible often and it moves me to visit the places I had read about. The most fascinating thing was meeting people from all over the country. We’ve met people filled with love for Israel and passion to see it grow. It is the people who make a nation.”
Kimberly Frolander from Alabama has been to Israel many times, but she said that coming with the JNF USA delegation gave her an opportunity to get to know other aspects of the country. “JNF is rebuilding the nation, and it’s amazing to see it. For me, as a Christian, Israel feels like home. I feel a special connection to God here, something that you just don’t feel anywhere else.”
Frolander told us that for her, the opportunity to participate in the ceremony at Ammunition Hill, together heads of state, was the most moving part of the visit. “I felt like I was part of this big celebration for the acts of God that brought about the reunification of Jerusalem,” she said.
On the last day of the visit, the group went south, to the Negev. They visited the Soda Stream production plant at the Rahat industrial zone, where they saw a wonderful example for coexistence, beneficial to all parties. They met the workers at the plant - Jews and Bedouins, and heard about their life together in the Negev.
Debbie Rulnick, who runs the visitor center, talked about the successful plant, which manufactures a home carbonation appliance to make your own soda. The plant has 2000 employees from Israel’s diverse ethnicities, half of them from the Bedouin community, particularly Bedouin women, and about 80 employees from the Palestinian Authority. The group members met with Natasha from Be’er Sheva, Khulud from Rahat, Nabil from Ramallah, Nir-El from Be’er Sheva and other employees who told them about themselves and their different backgrounds.
Rulnick told them that Soda Stream products are sold to over 25 million consumers in 45 countries. “We are proud of our contribution to the Negev’s economy and of the fact that we help connect the different communities together”, she stressed. “Our product contributes to people’s health and helps protect the environment by reducing plastic bottle production”.
One of the delegates, Robin Marino, said that she had always dreamt of visiting Israel “Thanks to the JNF delegation I got to know the country and I feel connected to it,” she said.
The last time Michael Baum from Arizona visited Israel was 50 years ago. “One can certainly say that this place has changed a bit since then,” he said with a smile. “I expected this country to be anxious and stressed, and was delighted to see that all in all, things are pretty calm here. To truly understand Israel, you have to visit here, you cannot just learn about it from afar.”
The delegation was headed by Nora Gonzalez from Texas and Ann Zinman from Arizona. “Ever since I was a little girl in Mexico, I’ve always felt this deep love for Israel” said Gonzalez. “For me, the opportunity to lead a group of Jews and non-Jews in a visit to the Holy Land really means coming full circle. This is a reminder that it doesn’t matter where we came from, and what we believe in, we all have one God. It is very important for us that the Jewish People knows it has many supporters. We want to show the Christians who the Jewish People truly is. We feel connected here not just to the history and roots of our faith, but to Israel’s contemporary challenges as well. It is a privilege to support Israel and be a part of its vision.”
Planting Roots in Israel Members of the young leadership group did not come to Israel as tourists here to visit the main attractions of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada. They traveled all over the country, got to know the communities living in Israel’s geographic periphery, learned about JNF USA’s contribution to the development of Israel and also inaugurated new projects.
“I’ve been to Israel before, many times, but coming here with the JNF delegation made me feel I was with family, people who care about the same things that are important to me,” said Civia Caroline, 35 years old from Los Angeles. “During our journey together, we became close friends. Obviously, it is very meaningful that the visit took place around Jerusalem day.”
The delegation visited Ben Gurion’s hut in Sde Boker, the Ramon Crater, the pioneering Haluza communities, the Aleh Negev Rehabilitation Village and Gush Etzion. On their last day in Israel, before returning to their respective homes, the members of the young leadership group planted trees together at Neot Kedumim.
“Planting a tree in Israel is a very special experience, and to me, the trees signify Israel’s future growth,” said Andy Stein, 29 years old from Chicago. “During this past week we’ve learned so much about JNF and we’re in awe of all the wonderful work it does here.”
Shahar Hermelin, JNF USA’s director of tourism, guided the group in Neot Kedumim. Under the shade of a carob tree, overlooking ancient landscapes, he told them about the region and gave them a brief geographic review.
“Connecting the young generation to Israel is an important cause,” commented David Dekalo from Chicago. “I had visited Israel many times before, but coming back here with this group is truly significant. We all want to be involved in what’s going on in Israel, getting our hands dirty and being active partners.”
Lucas Hawthorne from Portland had never been to Israel before. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Because I never expected Israel to be so green. I discovered a vibrant and lively country.”
For Lauren Isaacman, 37 years old from Chicago, this was the first time she had ever planted a tree in Israel. “A moment before we head back to the States, planting trees is symbolic of the roots we struck here, and that’s exactly the essence of our delegation.”