We continue the discussion the Zionist Congress in Basel started
A few weeks ago 1200 people rolled out of their beds early in the morning to attend a breakfast event at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. Why? Because the organizer, JNF-KKL has that kind of power and magnitude. (http://www.jnf.org/)
The breakfast event featured Ron Prosor, the keynote speaker, who is currently serving as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. With his great sense of humor, blended into speaking about the most serious issues, Ambassador Prosor had much to explain to us about the UN, an organization that stands for nothing and does nothing, which so many wish its doors be shut forever. To say that Mr. Prosor is doing a terrific job on behalf of the State of Israel is an understatement. He does not cave to the atmospheric pressure of this dysfunctional family of nations, under which he works. He claims that under the radar there is huge respect for Israel in this anti-Israel body. Many times the Arab nations will be voting against a proposition brought forth and from which they can benefit just because Israel is involved in the proposal and its process. The Ambassador’s representation of Israel in such a difficult environment could be summed up with what he so often states: “when I walk the corridors of the UN building I walk tall knowing who I represent and what the country I represent stands for.” Israel can greatly benefit if every person who represents Israel and those who are in her corner would religiously say the same.
That brought me to think about the connection JNF-KKL has with Mr. Prosor’s attitude.
Reestablishing the [third] Jewish commonwealth began in 1901 with a dream, on the fourth day of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The delegates had spent the day debating a proposal for the establishment of a national fund to purchase land in Ottoman Empire-controlled Palestine, as had been suggested at the first Congress four years earlier by mathematics professor Zvi Hermann Schapira. Till then Theodor Herzl’s dream to reinstate the Jewish homeland remained just that – a dream. But Herzl was unwavering, determined that before the 5th Congress came to an end, a national fund would be established. The motion passed and the congress called for the establishment of the fund to be called Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le’Israel) (JNF-KKL), and that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” And so the dream became reality and the reality grew ideas and endeavors pursued all in order to accomplish the goal, a Jewish State.
One of the most ubiquitous endeavors was the collection box, the pushke. Haim Kleinman, a small-town Galician bank clerk, suggested to Yona Krementzky, the first head of JNF-KKL, that a collection box be placed in every Jewish home so that contributions could be made to JNF at every opportunity. In the period between the two World Wars, about one million Blue Boxes were found in Jewish homes throughout the world.
In its over a century of activities in Israel, JNF-KKL has been a leading force in the development and problem solving of Israel’s forestry and ecology, water, community development, security, education, research and development and tourism and recreation.
That got me thinking: if JNF-KKL’s initial work has been successfully accomplished and Israel is now a blooming and flourishing country, what does the future hold for it?
What is on the JNF-KKL plate for the next 100 years? What are the challenges it has set to meet, where is it going from here?
To get answers to my pondering I spoke with JNF present and JNFuture leadership.
Whereby, at the time of the Fifth Zionist Congress, Jews began to understand that they have to have a homeland, and now, when the homeland has been established, Jews must understand that this homeland must be defended and preserved. That can be done by building a future generation that will keep the torch of Zionism burning hot.
Speaking with Lisa Elkan, a 32 year old, owner of Lisa PR, a Marketing and Public Relations firm, it is clear that JNF-KKL is building such a future generation. Lisa, whose father was born on Israel’s Independence Day – 14th May 1948 – was hardly involved with Israel until, in 2007, she partook in the Birthright Program, because a friend convinced her to go. “To me, that was a life altering experience,” Lisa told me. “I saw the country, I made friends and the follow-up happened soon after I returned to the USA.” One of the people she befriended on the trip called Lisa and asked her to help establish the JNFuture Group in Los Angeles. Lisa became the chapter’s Marketing Chair and got involved on the National Board and Young Leadership. In 2011 Lisa took a trip to Israel to see, firsthand, what the money that she helps raise in the USA achieves in Israel and how it is used. She loves her involvement and the people who are involved with her, many of whom she met on her Birthright trip. Their collective goal is to bring awareness of the group and have others join them. JNFuture is following the footsteps and vision of Herzl and the Zionist Congress delegates.
I then spoke with Douglas Williams, Los Angeles, Chairman of the JNF Annual Executive Briefing Breakfast.
For Douglas, and for that matter for every Jew, JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people. “Israel is our equity. Once Jews come to visit Israel they realize they have equity in the Jewish Land.” JNF is all about building Israel and the future generations of Jews who will continue supporting Israel, Douglas told me. “We are constantly working to disable the anti-Israel discourse.”
One major project JNF recently took upon itself is the “Blueprint Negev Initiative.” This ambitious project will turn the Negev into a green land just like the Galilee, just like Scottsdale, Arizona, says Douglas.
JNF recognized that the development and expansion of the town Be’er Sheva is the key to making the Negev an attractive place for a new generation of Israelis to call home. The centerpiece of JNF’s efforts in Be’er Sheva is the development of the 1,300-acre Be’er Sheva River Park, a world-class, innovative urban renewal project, modeled on the famous San Antonio River Walk and similar environmental reclamation projects. The river park is becoming an anchor for tourism and commerce and is transforming Be’er Sheva into a green, vibrant, modern city. JNF is about to transform Be’er Sheva into the true capital of the Negev. (Article from the Summer of 2011 describing the vision – , page 19 “Be’er Sheva is Booming”)
JNF also runs Alternative Spring Break in Israel, a FREE trip for Jewish college students and young adults (ages 18-30) to volunteer in Israel, as a follow-up to their Birthright trip. It is an exciting week-long trip allowing its participants to make a personal impact in Israel. Participants are responsible for raising a minimum of $1,500, which supports the project on which they will be working on as volunteers during their trip. (http://support.jnf.org/site/)
The knowledge of what Israel and Zionism is all about is a key component of preserving Jewish culture, claims Douglas. “If we cannot get them at school, if we cannot get their attention in the Synagogue then we give them that precious opportunity to become acquainted with the Jewish Homeland. After they return from Israel we continue inviting them to programs that aim to reduce the assassination of Israel by explaining what it means to be Jewish, what is the meaning of the state of Israel.” This will create many Lisa Elkans’.
JNF-KKL’s call to duty is to ensure that Israel remains vital and prosperous and OURS! What it means is cultivating Zionism and cultivating the land where Zionists live.JBF spreads its wings to every aspect of Israel.
Here I go back to Ambassador Ron Prosor who is walking the corridors of the UN tall. “We have to respect ourselves so others will respect us,” he says. JNF helps us to walk the corridors of Planet Earth tall for being Jews and having a magnificent homeland, Israel! And that is just the beginning; our hands are strong and our arms outstretching.
With JNF, it is fearless Zionism.