JNF-USA Major Donors Hear from Two Negev Mayors at Exclusive Event
By JD Krebs
A group of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) major donors attended an exclusive event where they were provided with a briefing about the important work JNF-USA is undertaking in two key Negev communities.
After opening remarks from JNF-USA National Vice President, Major Gifts Nina Paul and JNF-USA CEO Russell F. Robinson, the organization’s partners (donors) heard from two mayors in the Negev who were developing their cities with JNF-USA’s support: Yerucham Mayor Tal Ohana and Arad Mayor Nisan Ben Hamo.
In an interview with JNF-USA Partners Liaison and Special Projects Coordinator Yael Levontin, Ohana said she was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude at JNF-USA’s willingness to support small businesses in her town during the pandemic.
“All over the region, it’s not an easy period for us, and the fact that in the middle of the crisis, people were thinking about us and willing to support Yerucham and the Negev region is incredible,” she says.
Even before COVID struck, JNF-USA was heavily involved in the region, with several major projects. Ohana points to the Young Adult House, which supports young married couples who want to move to the Negev. The increase in people moving to the Negev shows both the success of the program and the appeal of living in the Negev.
“We have good education, good daycare and early childhood services, different housing opportunities, and I am optimistic for the future,” she says.
JNF-USA has also promoted tourism in the Negev. “Nowadays, we see 400,000 people that are visiting Yerucham every year,” she says.
During Mayor Ben Hamo’s interview with Levontin, he notes that the relationship between JNF-USA and Arad has existed since he was elected mayor in 2015.
“I understood that we needed a strategic partner in order to fulfill the vision,” he said. “Once I met Russell, one of the biggest visionaries I know, we clicked. We both understood that together we can accomplish a lot of things.”
He cites Yehoshafat Park as a testament to what JNF-USA and Arad can do together. “Only 2 ½ years ago, it was an empty lot, and we said, ‘here we will build a park,’” he said. “Now, we stand there with a park with 300 units. It showed us that we can do amazing things in Arad.”
Ben Hamo says that he has maintained his close relationship with JNF-USA throughout the pandemic. “We shared the same worries, the same feelings. The COVID affected everyone, so we have a common thing to work on together.”
Both Ohana and Ben Hamo spoke about leading their towns through the pandemic and the importance of taking responsibility.
“We stood up as mayors, saying ‘give us the authority, give us the responsibility,’” Ben Hamo said. “We know our people the best. Arad is different from Tel Aviv which is different from Bet Shemesh which is different from Jerusalem, and you have to implement different things for different cities.”
Ohana agrees. “From the first moment, I understood that this is my responsibility, 100 percent,” she said. “I took action not because someone asked me or gave me authority; I just did it because I felt this is the right decision. My people trust me because they saw I’m there for them.”
In his remarks, Robinson noted that the communities Ohana and Ben Hamo serve are the same people that JNF-USA is so passionate about supporting.
“From Arad to Yerucham, powerful young people are leading the community because they want to make a change, and they know that JNF-USA is standing right next to them.”
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