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The Tree of Life

Wyclef Jean, the NY Board of Rabbis, JNF and the �Trees for Haiti" Campaign

By Henry J. Levy

Wyclef Jean.
Wyclef Jean.

Wyclef Jean, Grammy Award winning musician, humanitarian and Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti met with the New York Board of Rabbis at the Jewish National Fund House in Manhattan to discuss Haiti and his remarks were not only meaningful but eloquent. Wyclef and his organization, Yele Haiti, believe that to rebuild Haiti, agriculture is crucial. His manifesto includes planting trees and bringing back exports, similar to what Israel did. There was no better place to make these points that at the JNF. In fact, even before the January 12th earthquake, Yele Haiti and the JNF were discussing reforestation projects that they would work on jointly.

Wyclef, the son of a Nazarene preacher, who always wore a head covering, left Haiti at the age of nine. He grew up surrounded with scripture and was taught "God is love". He always wondered how his grandfather, who was a grower, lost his land to the government and how Haiti went from a first rate exporting country to last place. It was because of years of corruption but Wyclef views the current disaster as an opportunity to motivate the country and the people to move forward.

Wyclef, who lost fifteen family members and friends said, "I saw Haiti the day after the quake. Port-au-Prince was filled with bodies. I felt helpless. We can't leave bodies on the floor but there were no bed sheets, no gloves, no masks. We needed trucks. At the morgue there was no more room. At the cemetery people were fighting over burial holes". He mobilized Yele Haiti and its staff. His main helper, who just lost his daughter, drove his car to assist but was soon shot and killed for the gas in the car. Not only did he have to deal with death everywhere but figure out how to reach the 80% of the population cut off from assistance.

From left: Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, VP, NY Board of Rabbis; Joseph Hess, VP Gov�t Relations for JNF; Wyclef Jean; Congressman Charles Rangel, Russell Robinson, CEO, JNF; and Rabbi Eric Lankin, Chief of Institutional Advancement and Education for JNF.
From left: Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, VP, NY Board of Rabbis; Joseph Hess, VP Gov�t Relations for JNF; Wyclef Jean; Congressman Charles Rangel, Russell Robinson, CEO, JNF; and Rabbi Eric Lankin, Chief of Institutional Advancement and Education for JNF.

Wyclef said, "I want to thank Israel. If not for their hospital who knows what would have happened to so many who were helpless. I found a girl in the rubble, looking for her mom [who was dead]. I knew her feet were gone, even though I'm not a foot expert � only a guitar expert, but I felt responsible for her. One life makes a difference so I made sure a doctor checked her and he said she would be OK. She smiled at me and it was that smile that stayed with me representing hope for the future. Haiti needs that hope now."

Wyclef said that he looks to support from the JNF to help get Haiti back on track even if it takes 25 years. He knows that even if $18 billion is spent to get Haiti back to where it was it would still be at zero unless they get past sustainable projects to permanent ones. He said that we can't have our people saying, "Yo Moses, are you going to feed us today? At least Pharaoh fed us". He called for strong partnerships to help establish an agricultural base, build an infrastructure and tap into the power of the soul of the Haitian people.

Russell Robinson, JNF's CEO told Wyclef that he was so on target with his priorities. He said that over 108 years ago the first trees were planted in Israel as a way to hold onto the land. Also that when trees were planted it went beyond sustainability to permanent, just as Wyclef hoped. As far as taking a ruined land and developing it, he mentioned Mark Twain�s words of the Holy Land. He said that whoever was promised this land should know there is nothing on it, yet today you see a paradise that was built by determination. Robinson then pledged to work with Yele Haiti in JNF's areas of expertise.

Congressman Charles Rangel said that Jews from all over the world said, "Can I help?" He said that this disaster is not a Haitian thing but a humanitarian one and that "at the end of the day we are all God's children."

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, President of the New York Board of Rabbis, reiterated how the entire world is helping in this relief effort by telling of Indonesians that provided antibiotics which were unloaded and handed to a group of Baptists who then gave them to Israeli doctors in Haiti so they could heal the injured.

It was very uplifting to see and hear groups that are working together for a common humanitarian goal project the insight, dedication and will power to ensure success.

To learn more or volunteer visit: yele.org, or jnf.org.

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