Monthly News from JNF’s Advocacy & Education Department

Whoever said summer was quiet?  This summer was filled with travel across the U.S. to visit camps and consult with educators; we also traveled to Israel. Sixty teens participated in Jewish National Fund’s Roots Israel community service program, 216 teens went on AMHSI’s summer session, and 80 educators from around the US traveled with JNF to the KKL-JNF World Education Conference to see JNF’s work in Israel firsthand.  We are excited to begin the 2019-20 academic year, and look forward to connecting with you and providing you with resources to teach about Israel and JNF, as well as opportunities to travel to Israel with JNF.


Our new Jewish year 5780 begins this month.  From our Education team to yours, we would like to wish you a wonderful new year filled with blessings and peace!! Shana Tova u’Metuka!


D’Var Torah: Blessing for a New Year



Prepared by Lisa Biton

Israel Studies Educator

Alexander Muss High School in Israel

[email protected]


As summer turns to fall and we prepare for the new school year at Alexander Muss High School in Israel-JNF, my mind always turns to lesson-planning and my goals for the new year.  One of the first questions I ask my students the very first day is: “Where should we begin our study of Jewish history?”  Does Judaism start with creation?  With Abraham?  With Moses and the 10 commandments?  All these answers are valid.  I choose to start my year with Abraham. 


The first time we meet Abraham is a bit of a shock.  We know nothing of his history, what kind of person he is, or anything more than a basic family tree.  Suddenly G-d appears to him and says, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  The Hebrew used is the command “Lech Lecha.”  Anyone who has ever learned a second language can attest that often translations lose the power and true meaning of the original text.  So how can we translate this command?


At its most basic English translation it seems easy.  G-d tells Abraham to go forth, to leave, to change his surroundings from everything he is used to.  But why use the double command?  Why say “go to yourself,” rather than just “go”?  The great Rabbi Rashi explains that the best translation is, “Journey for yourself.”  The command is more than just to leave.  G-d is asking Abraham to leave his family, his homeland and everything he knows, but he is also demanding more than that. 


When people, like our students at Alexander Muss, choose to leave their homes and schools in America to study abroad in Israel, they are doing more than just leaving. By living in a foreign country, by changing their situation, they are opening their eyes to a whole new perspective on the world.  Sometimes the only way to discover our path for the future is to separate ourselves from the past.  Only by leaving the safety of their childhood home can our students truly question the path and beliefs they will follow in the future.


The Torah commentary in Etz Hayim prefers the interpretation, “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.”  While a physical change of location can be influential in challenging ourselves, G-d’s main command goes much deeper.  He knows that Abraham has so much to offer the world, but if he blindly follows the culture and world he grew up in, then he will never find his true self.  We cannot rely on others to tell us who we are; we must constantly challenge ourselves to follow the sometimes lonely journey of self-discovery. 


As we head into the new year, I offer you the same blessing.  May you use this new year to challenge yourself, whether it’s exposing yourself to a new culture or language or taking the time to learn a new text or read a new book. And just as Abraham took the leap to leave the comforts of his home, our students at Alexander Muss High School are about to venture far from their homes into a brand-new challenge here in Israel.  May it be a great year!


Sign Up Now for Your Tu BiShvat in the Schools Materials



JNF’s Tu BiShvat in the Schools program provides educators with Tu BiShvat activities, resources, and programs to teach students about the spiritual and environmental significance of the holiday.


This year’s updated program and curriculum is centered on how we make the desert bloom. With the help of Jewish National Fund, Israel has transformed the Negev Desert - a region with very few natural resources - into one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters. Students will learn about these achievements and participate in classroom experiments to understand how these larger concepts work in real life. We also include a poster showcasing the major changes in the desert throughout Israel’s history.


The curriculum is divided into three sections: 

  • Texts from multiple sources regarding the importance of trees in Judaism and linking them to the importance of the desert.
  • "A Tree Named Steve", a book that discusses our relationship with trees and the importance they play in our everyday lives.
  • Science experiments that allow students to connect with organizations and ideas that have made it possible for the desert to bloom. There are various levels of experiments to appeal to students from pre-K through high school. 

There is no cost for the program, however, we do expect schools to hold a tree planting campaign, encouraging students, classrooms, and families to plant trees in Israel.To receive our materials, please email Eliana Dalfen, Project Coordinator, at [email protected] with the number of students in your school and the number of classroom posters you need. The deadline to sign up for your materials is September 28, 2019.


Reflections on the JNF Summer Educators Mission

By Robyn-Lee Rabin, Ginsburg Solomon Schechter ECC, Northbrook, IL




I was approached to attend the JNF-USA Educators trip to Israel. I thought to myself, JNF…..TREES!  I’ll have to sell more trees! Was I in for a surprise!


Hiking through Nachal HaShofet was a real eye opener. We were introduced to a young man in a wheel chair who had suffered an injury in a car accident. He explained to us how JNF-USA had used his input to improve the trails through the park, so that he can enjoy the trail in his wheel chair. It was a sign of deep commitment to all people: that everyone – regardless of their ability -- is able to hike and enjoy the beauty that the trails and forests have to offer. The first evening, in a beautiful setting at Kibbutz Ginosar, we all joined together in a drum circle and Israeli dancing. It was a beautiful evening as we danced together with women and men from all over, united by being educators in the land of Israel with a love for Israel.


The days were packed with information, education and fun. It was inspiring to be part of the music, photography and dancing workshops. The take-away lesson for me was that children learn in so many ways and we need to consider all aspects when teaching children.


The Jeep tour and view of the Golan Heights was breathtaking. It is a constant reminder how small the land of Israel is, and how fierce and brave the Jewish people are. I was reminded constantly throughout the trip of the challenges that the Israeli people face, the level of bravery, and how proud I am to be Jewish.


The trip to Hula Lake was beautiful and tranquil as we watched the birds in the beautiful setting. I was so interested to learn about the migration of birds from Africa, Europe and Asia and how Hula Lake has become the site to watch and track birds.


As a preschool teacher I was particularly moved by the JNF Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot. I looked around at the children playing and the mothers chatting. While the children and mothers should have been enjoying a hot summer day outdoors, they were playing indoors for safety. This hit hard! Children are growing up surrounded by the stress of parents and teachers keeping them safe. It was comforting to know all members of the community were safe in the indoor playground should they have to seek cover.


In conclusion, what I learned about JNF-USA is that it is about so much more than just planting trees. I had no idea of the scope of the work that JNF-USA does. I look forward to sharing the details of this trip with the parents and teachers at my school and look forward to spreading the “works” of JNF-USA and contributing to JNF-USA.


 Thank you for such an educational and inspiring opportunity!


My Summer With Roots Israel

by Claire Cohenerum






Roots Israel taught me more than I ever could have expected, especially what it means to be a good Jew. Aside from saying prayers and visiting the Western Wall on Shabbat, I felt that the community service we did truly encapsulated the meaning of Judaism. Spending the day with asylum-seeking child refugees and children with special needs completely changed my perspective of not only how lucky I am, but how my life allows me to have the opportunity to meet and help such amazing people as I did on this trip. Observing the impact that our group had was absolutely heartwarming, and it strengthened my connection to Israel and its people. Every place we went was welcoming and informative which made our work all the more rewarding. Cutting away branches and brambles alongside friends was enjoyable work, and even more so when we looked back to see that we had helped a region protect itself from the devastating forest fires that Israel can experience.


Additionally, it was absolutely incredible to participate in this work side-by-side with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. The staff was energetic and made every adventure the most fun and educational it could possibly be. The friends I made on the trip were kind and just as passionate as I about helping the community, making my time in Israel full of laughter and amazing memories. I made friends for life on this trip and now have an unbreakable connection to Israel.


Roots Israel is a 3-week community service travel experience for teens facilitated by Jewish National Fund and Alexander Muss High School in Israel.  For more information or to sign up for next year, contact Marni Heller at [email protected].

Photos from the Field

Temple Chai parachute training


Teachers from Temple Chai religious school in Scottsdale, AZ learning how to engage their students with the parachute game.




Campers at B’nai B’rith Camp in Portland, OR spent their Yom Israel learning about Israeli geography, water resources, and major cities.  They simulated the National Water Carrier by splitting into teams and running a relay race to get water from the north of Israel to the south!

Meet Our JNF Education Team



Effie Ostroff, Israel Programs Admissions Director, IL, MI, WI


Effie Ostroff currently serves as the Israel Programs Admissions Director in Chicago.  Born and raised in Israel, following her national service in the Israeli Navy, Effie went on to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and then continued her academic studies attaining a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Ben Gurion University. Effie has held several challenging and exciting leadership positions in international hi-tech companies like HP as well as with younger start-up companies. She has always wanted to give back to the community and loves doing this as a qualified educator (Beit Berl). Effie has several years of experience working with Israeli high school students and has taught at Kiryat Ono High School, one of the highest rated high schools in Israel. In the summer of 2015, Effie, her husband Dan, and their three children relocated to Northbrook, IL to continue the expansion of Dan’s internet technology business. Effie can be reached at [email protected] or at 847.656.8880, ext. 753.


For more information on how you can get involved with Jewish National Fund, send us an email to [email protected] or give us a call at 212.879.9305, ext. 245.