JNF: Beyond the Blue Box
Caretaker of Israel Innovates for Today and Tommorrow
By Jodi Bodner
Just look at its New York board and you can sense a sea change happening at Jewish National Fund (JNF). Though well-entrenched, with an established demographic representing a variety of professions to include Wall Street and Real Estate, JNF’s newer members signal that it is no longer your grandfather’s organization.
“While participation of the individuals who have been on our board for a while is key to our continued success,” said NY Board President Jeffrey Levine of Levine Builders, “so too is incorporating the next generation. To that end we have launched the aptly named JNFuture which is attracting a younger generation. By introducing JNF’s good work to this demographic, we are ensuring that this organization will continue to grow.”
Your grandparents might remember Jewish National Fund (JNF) through its iconic blue tzedakah boxes and certificates for planting trees in Israel. But over the past 106 years, the non-profit has evolved into a worldwide environmental leader that does so much more. Here are some other things you might not know about JNF:
- In 1901, JNF began to purchase the land that largely determined the borders of the modern State of Israel.
- After 1948, JNF helped create new communities in Israel – including what is now Tel Aviv - so that Jews from around the world would have a place to call home. Scientists at JNF R&D centers discovered drip irrigation and new means of growing plants under arid conditions, bringing green to the desert.
- JNF took the leadership role during Israel’s water crisis and continues to build new reservoirs to provide viable solutions to Israel’s water shortage. The 200 reservoirs and water recycling centers built to date have increased Israel’s water supply by 10% and provide water to 1.5 million Israelis every day.
- JNF has planted 240 million trees, making Israel one of the only countries in the world to end the 20th century with more trees than it had at the beginning.
- As a global environmental leader, JNF sponsors international conferences on desertification, shares afforestation methods, funds research on arid land management, and leads the world in water purification techniques.
- JNF has created over 1,000 parks and recreational areas, and is working to upgrade these facilities to make them inclusive to visitors with and without disabilities.
- JNF has built security roads along the Lebanon and Gaza borders to provide safe travel for the areas’ residents.
- JNF educates students around the world about Israel, the environment, and their connection to the Jewish homeland.
Today, Jewish National Fund is putting a century of expertise to work with Blueprint Negev, supporting Israel’s newest generation of pioneers in developing, inhabiting and preserving the Negev Desert – Israel’s last frontier. Blueprint Negev will lead to a 70% growth in the Negev’s population, help close existing economic and educational gaps and reduce the unemployment rate, create quality of life for all residents, and build a stronger Israel.
Even while it is doing all these things, JNF places great emphasis on connecting diaspora Jews to Israel. Its missions to Israel are provocative, inspiring and unique – as one participant has said, “anyone can take you to Israel; JNF makes you want to go back.” JNF is a sponsor of Birthright trips to Israel through Shorashim and for the past three years has sent almost 500 18-30-year-olds to Israel on its Alternative Spring Break program, forging a visceral and lasting connection for the participants to the land and people of Israel.
“We spent a day working on a farm, located on the edge of the Ramon Crater,” said Jenn Lonschein, a participant from the 2008 trip. “I spent hours filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with volcanic sand and then carting them around to a compost heap. During this time, one of the farmers was so impressed with our motivation that he asked us, “Where were you 50 years ago?” This simple question reminds me that the State of Israel is still young and there is so much work to be done developing the land and communities to ensure that it will thrive in the future. It may be located halfway around the world from my everyday life, but Israel is also my home and I feel that it is important to give back in any way that I can.”
As Levine said, JNF believes JNFuture is the gateway for the next generation to JNF. JNFuture reaches out to individuals in their 20s and 30s through programming and events, missions to Israel and forums with young Jewish leaders to engage and increase support for JNF’s initiatives.
JNFuture chair and founding member Ben Jablonski, a 24-year-old Australian-born investment banker, has assembled a dynamic group of young New Yorkers from around the world to support JNF’s work in Israel. Their vision is to come together, regardless of religion or politics, to make life better and greener for all Israelis.
“With the growth of the global economy and media, the world is more interconnected than ever, and JNFuture reflects that,” said Jablonski. “We’ve got young Jews coming together who hail originally from Montevideo, Melbourne, Pittsburgh, and Addis Ababa. What unites them is a love for Israel, commitment to the environment, and the desire to have a blast.”
In that spirit, JNFuture is holding the first Shabbat in Central Park ever on June 20, 2008. Go to www.jnf.org/jnfuture for more information.
Join close to a million contributors around the country who have learned that Jewish National Fund is the central address for partnering with the land and people of Israel. For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.