There is a saying that the best way to connect to the land of Israel, is to put your hands deep into its rich soil. Perhaps, the reason is that once the earth leaves its trace on your fingers the spirit of all those who came before you — who walked on the land, planted and toiled over the several millennia of history, and sacrificed their lives to return to Israel — is forever imprinted on you, and you have placed your imprint on the land of Israel.
It’s that feeling of connection to the land and people of Israel that has driven Jewish National Fund over the past 117 years. Since our founding, we have served as the shofar and voice of the Jewish people, and a part of its history: remaking, reshaping, and reinvigorating a land and a people.
As we prepare to sound the shofar in our homes and congregations across the world, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, we once again look towards Jerusalem, pray for peace, and work to remake, reshape, and reinvigorate ourselves for the New Year. On Rosh Hashanah we read from the Book of Genesis, where the Almighty calls upon Abraham to take his beloved son, Isaac, with him to Mount Moriah. When summoned, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” While we know the story concludes with the confirmation of Abraham’s faith. Each year, Jews reread this Torah account to reaffirm their commitment to our faith, as well as their hope of a better world for all.
Here I am. These three little words are so meaningful.
Those words are why we responded so quickly to help our land and its people when we are needed the most. Recently, communities bordering Gaza have experienced attacks on their homes, fields, and crops — suffering many millions of dollars in losses and destruction, in addition to the immeasurable emotional trauma. These towns have faced months of extreme terrorism.
We are here. We continue to answer the call. We are building new trauma resilience centers, providing animal assisted pet therapy for children, and funding new bomb shelters, firetrucks, fire extinguisher wagons, and other life-saving equipment.
Here I am. These words are part of the soul of the Jewish people. Each year they inspire 50,000 young Zionists volunteers of all ages to farm along remote locations on Israel’s borders so that they can plant their hands deep into Israel’s soil and renew their connection to the land.
Prime Minister David Ben Gurion once said, “It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneering vigor of Israel will be tested, and this will be a crucial test.”
Sixteen years ago, no one would have imagined that there would be nightly sold-out beer making classes at a microbrewery in the Old City of Be’er Sheva. Yet, today, this is a reality. The bustling sidewalk cafés, bars, and restaurants have bloomed throughout the Negev’s capital city, thanks to JNF’s vision. The path towards revitalizing and breathing new life into Be’er Sheva started as a dream. We envisioned turning the Be’er Sheva River from a toxic waste site into an expansive public green space that would attract new residents and young families.
Now, on a typical day, young couples can be seen taking wedding photos at the lush Jewish National Fund Be’er Sheva River Park — where headlining musicians play sold-out concerts at the 13,000 seat amphitheater, and a 25-acre lake, Israel’s largest man-made lake, will soon be built. The blast of Jewish National Fund’s voice has ripple effects. Be’er Sheva is now Israel’s fastest growing city, attracting hi-tech companies from around the globe. Israelis from the center of Israel and olim [new immigrants] are choosing Be’er Sheva as the place to lay down roots and build their lives.
In the Galilee, the northern part of Israel, so much has changed in recent years. Thanks to Jewish National Fund’s Go North initiative and our Western Galilee Tourist Information Center, many individuals are proudly planting deep roots in Northern Israel. In Ma’alot-Tarshiha, a community of 22,000 people in the midst of the beauty of the Galilee, the city has grown by leaps and bounds with the help of JNF, and new construction sites are popping up everywhere you look. At the heart of the city is Lake Montfort, Israel’s first ecological tourism lake park, which offers attractions including walking trails, an ice skating rink, camping, pedal boats in the lake, restaurants, and so much more. In the vicinity there is also an extreme park, amphitheater, and a serene cascading waterfall. Soon, new high-end shops will be built to draw both tourists and residents for the forthcoming lakefront hotel and apartment buildings to accommodate the growing fascination with this picturesque region.
As you are reading this, work is underway on the completion of the town’s new fire station, set to go into operation this fall. This fire station will boast an increased staff, state-of-the-art communication systems, and new fire trucks to keep the developing town and region safe—all part of making a community feel like home.
Perhaps the shofar sounds the loudest for young Israelis, as they play a significant part in the defense and protection of the land of Israel for the Jewish people everywhere. With the majority of the Jewish Israeli population conscripted, serving in the Israel Defense Forces is a rite of passage and an integral part of life. Their years in the IDF are where they make lifelong friends and connections, build character, and learn important life lessons, all paramount to their growth as an individual and their integration into society. Serving helps them find employment, get approved for a loan to buy a house, and, quite simply, make friends.
Up until recently, it was not possible for some to fulfill their dream of service in the Israel Defense Forces. For those with special needs and disabilities, the IDF was something they watched their friends and family leave to join—and they were left behind. Today, young Israelis with special needs are able to serve their country. Our Special in Uniform program has given them the opportunity to be considered an equal and now they are doing their part like everyone else.
Jewish law teaches us to take care of all in need, and to repair the world by practicing Tikkun Olam. Make this New Year count. Join us, and together, we will renew our connection to the land and people of Israel—our eternal homeland.
On behalf of all of us at Jewish National Fund, I wish you a very happy, sweet, and peaceful New Year. L’Shana Tovah Tikatevu.