Language and conflict aside, California and Israel have a lot in common. Both were pioneer destinations; desert land intent on becoming an agricultural mecca; areas of vast expanse rife for adequate and comfortable living conditions, yet so many insist on cramming into the better-known cities. There is the culture of each location, the beaches, the glamorous (and not so glamorous people)… And then there is the land. Yes, the land. A source of contention for California and Israel—but let us discuss Israel.
Long before Israel was a state, a Viennese journalist named Theodore Herzl troubled by anti-Semitism took action at the Fifth Zionist Conference and determined that a national fund should be established to work toward a Jewish homeland. This was not the first time someone had postulated this ideal—truth be told three Zionist Congresses had overlooked the recommendation despite burgeoning followers of the idea. But in 1901 the dream became a reality and the Jewish National Fund (at the time also known as Karen Kayemeth Leisrael) was established. The first fundraising goal, and quite formidable at the time, was £200,000. The fund was …”the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” So began more than a century of not only creating a homeland for the Jewish people but a country that modeled for the rest of the world a way to build something from nothing. Swamps were drained, trees were planted, and today oceans are being used to grow crops and create drinking water. One hundred and fourteen years later JNF is working hard to establish a better homeland and is a global environmental leader.
Phil Waldman is no stranger to the Jewish community of Orange County. Now he is in the final months of his term with JNF where he has helped to raise money in Orange County, Long Beach and Palos Verdes. According to Waldman, JNF has embarked on a 10-year plan to raise $1 billion,“That’s $100 million per year… It is ambitious planning on the part of [JNF CEO] Russell Robinson. Our local chapter has done well, but we still need to increase members.” And it is more than trees these days. Currently the Negev is center stage for a lot of JNF’s projects. Project Blue Print Negev, which has been working diligently to fulfill Ben Gurion’s dream of “making the desert bloom,” continues to turn waste into want. There is a renaissance of sorts going on in the Negev. Be’er Sheva has seen unwanted pipes turn into a bridge that is a go-to location for photos and weddings. The only thing missing in the blooming Negev says Waldman,“Is a top hotel chain.”
But it is not just the desert that is benefitting from JNF. In the north, towns on the border have been made safe thanks to innovative engineering that keeps roads safe. According to Waldman, “If Israel is establishing a new community or working on programs to provide better housing, medical care, or infrastructure, JNF is involved.”
Jewish National Fund is a United Nations NGO (non-governmental organization), and has worked to develop partnerships with a number of government and professional organizations to further cooperative relationships, conduct research, share technical expertise and obtain educational exchanges. If you would like more information go to: www.jnf.org.
Dr. Grajewski is a licensed psychologist who splits her clinical time between JFFS and a private practice in Irvine, as well as an adjunct Assistant Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Grajewski has been writing for Jlife Magazine since 2004.