What a trip! Of more than 30 trips to Israel, this was the most meaningful and emotional for me. There were 28 of us, both senior JNF staff and lay leaders from Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, London, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
Tel Aviv, the city I grew up in, was unrecognizable. Skyscrapers were everywhere, and construction cranes stood throughout the city—as well as practically everywhere else we visited in Israel. The country is truly blooming, life is vibrant everywhere, restaurants are packed to late hours— not to mention the beautiful warm sunny weather late in October.
The number and variety of projects and centres that JNF Canada supports is overwhelming. The first evening, we attended a concert at the Hassadna Jerusalem Music Conservatory for children from all levels of Israeli society, including new immigrants from around the world, at-risk children and special needs children. There was not a dry eye in the audience.
Our tour began with the grand opening of the Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman PTSD and Health Centre in Jerusalem, which was attended by many dignitaries, including Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz. It was an emotional morning as we saw projects and plaques acknowledging Hamilton Negev Dinner honourees Luba and Yves Apel, and doctors Hertzel Gerstein, Mark Levine and Sandra Witelson.
We toured the vibrant Mahane Yehuda Market and visited the Kotel and the recently unearthed tunnels, which are a must-see. Friday afternoon in Jerusalem is a time like no other place in the world, where one feels the Divine spirit descend from above. On Shabbat, we walked to several parks built by JNF Canada and visited The King David Hotel.
The next day, we visited the Jerusalem Hills Therapeutic Centre, a home for youngsters who are victims of abuse and neglect. The professional staff here are doing holy work as they take care of these boys and girls, hoping to provide a pathway back into society. A sign on the wall read, “Dream, Dare, You Shall Succeed.”
On our way to the north, we planted trees at Eshtaol forest and visited Beit Shulamit, a cancer hospital being built in Afula, observed thousands of cranes and flamingos at the Hula Valley, and dedicated plaques at Airplane Park.
In the north, we visited Kibbutz HaGoshrim and Home for Life, an organization which builds homes for people with physical disabilities and reduced cognitive abilities. We also visited Kishorit, an innovative community where adults with special needs are able to live a life with purpose and independence in a safe environment where they can thrive.
In Haifa, we visited the Shabtai Levi Home, a non-profit organization and emergency shelter that caters to single mothers and infants up to three years of age. Our next stop was Sderot, located on the border with Gaza. Here, we attended a groundbreaking ceremony of the Bervin JNF Canada House for Excellence (the project chosen by 2021 Negev Dinner honourees Lowell and Cindy Richter). In Ramat Gan, we visited a new hospital which will cater to people with Alzheimer’s. In Holon, we visited the Wolfson Hospital’s Save a Child’s Heart wing, where 50 per cent of the children being treated are from the Palestinian territories or Gaza, Iraq, and Morocco, and more than 40 per cent are from Africa. We also visited Jaffa Dalet, where mostly Ethiopian children get their after-school activities, a hot meal, and help with their homework.
On Oct. 26, we attended the Climate Solution Prize inaugural festival at the Hulda Forest. This new JNF Canada initiative is intended to find solutions to climate changes we all face by awarding $1 million to an Israeli start-up or research team each year. Among the candidates that blew my mind was Watergen, a company that generates drinking water from air and the purest water I have ever tasted. Another company makes plastic bags that dissolve in water.
For me, the highlight of our trip was seeing the diversity of the projects that JNF Canada supports. We have our imprint on every corner of the country and in so many ways. JNF Canada enables each of us to do our little part to sustain Israel for generations to come.
It is said that Jews ought to be a light to the nations. The outcomes of the seeds that have been planted over the last 74 years are overwhelming. Israel’s diversity and its flexibility to adjust to the changes of the world’s needs is remarkable. In so many areas, we allow ourselves at JNF to further respond and build—that is the key to sustainability. JNF links the bond from our past to our present and it will ensure that Israel will be maintained for future generations.