Israel's 21st Century Pioneers and the Jewish National Fund Housing Development Task Force Making the Zionist Dream a Reality

By: Jessica Halfin

negev galilee

In Kibbutz Pelech, located in Israel’s scenic Western Galilee, 12 American volunteers, sunglasses on and sneakers tied tight, stand looking out at the view of the valley below. Among the boulders that line the landscape, one can enjoy a view that the neighboring kibbutz doesn't have—of Haifa, the Carmel Mountain, Akko, and the glistening Mediterranean coast line that connects them.

This view will soon be part of some 34 new houses for kibbutz members, all built and completed by Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF) and its revolutionary Housing Development Fund. The 12 visitors are members of JNF’s Housing Development Fund Task Force, and they came to see the newest project come to fruition.

JNF is completing similar projects all over the country, particularly in undeveloped regions like the Western Galilee, in communities near the Gaza border, and the Arava Valley in the Negev Desert.

For many of the task force members present, it’s not their first rodeo. Some, like Irene and Joel Spalter from Fayetteville, Arkansas, have taken part in other JNF missions in the past. Most recently, the Spalters played a key role in the installation of the Danielle A. & Irvine J. Grossman JNF-Arava Medical Center in the town of Sapir, and the new Nancy Simches JNF-Arava Emergency Response Center, conveniently located next door to the medical center.

For the Spalters, both retired medical practitioners, these are meaningful projects, and the least they can do. "It's our way of thanking and helping out the Israelis who live here and defend the State of Israel on behalf of all of us.”

And the help in Kibbutz Pelech is of no less importance. In an era when the government is unable to provide adequate funding for such projects, and banks simply aren’t providing loans that fit the bill, the kibbutz, which takes up to two years to select members who share their unique vision of togetherness, can greatly benefit from the help that JNF’s Housing Development Fund provides.

Today the kibbutz has a mere 210 new members, including children, but they hope to attract many more young families to join them over the next three years with Jewish National Fund’s aid. It is a boom expected to eventually quadruple their numbers.

Rick Krosnick, JNF Chief Development Officer, works hand in hand with his Israel office to lead this and other major JNF projects throughout the country. “JNF is a philanthropy and we can take risks that the Israeli institutions cannot,” Krosnick explained, adding, “We are able to say to the Israeli communities—‘we’ve got your back.’”

And the contribution isn’t just financial. With hands-on projects that have task force members deeply involved in the planning and building processes of the new communities, a new era of philanthropy is being ushered in. It is one where donors can go far beyond check-writing.

“We are now affording donors the opportunity to be a part of it all—to be a partner and help those dollars make an impact on the ground,” Krosnick said. “This allows people to go above and beyond, and it allows the level of engagement with Jewish National Fund to increase tremendously. Volunteers feel like they are a part of the communities here, and then they can go back home and say to their Jewish communities, acherai, ‘follow me.’”

Jason Zenner, the youngest member of the task force and a successful insurance agent from Chicago, has a clear vision of what he has experienced here. With a glimmer in his eye, he said: “This is real 21st century pioneering—where Israelis are deciding to leave the big city and come to the more remote locations to develop and protect the land. I would like to move here, 100%, but I love my job back in the States, so I can't see myself giving that up. JNF’s Housing Development Fund is my way to get involved from the United States. We’re giving these developments a backbone, and a safety net, and we are very happy to be able to do so in the name of true Zionism.”

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