Getting ‘Down and Dirty’ with JNF Volunteer Vacation

Eric Narrow


Life constantly presents paradoxical situations that challenge us to prioritize what really matters.  When you are young, you have time and energy, but no money.  As you grow into adulthood, you have energy and money, but no time.  Later in life, you find yourself with time and money, but less energy.  According to Forbes, millennials today should ensure that their charitable contributions, including their time and money, are making an impact.  For Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF), the fastest growing donors are young adults in their 20s and 30s, who are living up to Forbes’ recommendation while also solidifying their connection to building Israel’s future.


One way they see the impact is by traveling to Israel to witness it firsthand. A recent JNF Volunteer Vacation (JVV), which is a service-based trip for young adults 25-35, provided a unique way to view the work of JNF while exploring the dichotomy of Israel’s growing southern region. JVV places a heavy importance on the impact of experiential learning and volunteering, allowing inquisitive members of JNF’s young leadership corps to gain a new perspective on Israel’s diverse landscape, especially in the country’s southern region where the largest investment has been made.


 “Jewish Volunteer Vacation was my first involvement with Jewish National Fund and I came to understand the importance of JNF’s work,” said Rachel Firestone, co-chair of JVV.  Firestone immediately got involved with her local chapter, returning to Israel twice this year with JNF, following last year’s Israel@70 Young Leadership Tour.  “Through working with JNF’s many partners, you get an understanding of Israeli life outside of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which you don’t see on other types of programs for young adults.”


Rather than hear about JNF’s large scale work throughout the South, JVV participants spend upwards of five hours a day working alongside local partners helping to achieve Jewish National Fund’s vision for the future of the Negev.  With smiles of self-satisfaction on their faces, and caked dirt under their nails, the JVV participants learned the love that goes into maintaining local farms with the young farmers of Hashomer Hachadash, an organization that teaches Israeli teens to take care of the land.



As all enjoyed dining afterwards on an authentic poyke stew of potatoes, root veggies and chicken, considered an Israeli farm staple while out in nature and cooked over an open fire, some shared more thoughts on their time abroad giving back. “I used to volunteer so much as a kid, but I don’t have that opportunity today as a young professional.  When I heard about this trip, it was not just an opportunity to go back to Israel, but to do something worthwhile with my limited time,” said David Yaffe, from Queens, NY, following a hard day of volunteering, “Being here in Israel gives me such a great connection to the land, and as a young adult, it means so much more than when I was 18.  I’ve never had my hands so dirty, yet feel so good.” 


Spending an entire week in the Negev also gave participants a new understanding of just how much is going on in the Negev, and the vibrancy of these new communities. Considering that most young people visiting Israel would choose to spend much of their time in Tel Aviv, staying local in Be’er Sheva gave them an opportunity to experience the nightlife of the city as a local.  “It’s something you have to drink in because it doesn’t seem real,” said Allie Donahoo, the JNFuture San Diego Chair. “I knew that I had to see it firsthand and touch the ground and the impact doesn’t really sink in until you meet the community, work with them, and hold their babies. To be part of JNFuture, to know we are the next generation, there is a responsibility on us to make sure the land of Israel and Jewish National Fund continues on.”


While there are numerous opportunities for Young Professionals to engage with Judaism and Israel, JNFuture’s Volunteer Vacation offers a unique way to give back.  The investment these young leaders have made in Israel’s south will continue to solidify their appreciation and connection to Israel as change makers in the ongoing story of their ancestral homeland.


read more close