July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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First JNF Rabbis’ Mission: ‘More Than Just Trees’

Everyone knows that the Jewish National Fund is the organization that plants trees in Israel. Many have purchased trees as tributes for friends or loved ones. What most people don’t know, however, is that JNF goes well beyond tree planting. JNF helps extend the roots of those trees deep into the land of Israel, with each root representing another of JNF’s partners to help ensure that its ties to the State of Israel continue in perpetuity.

The first JNF Rabbis’ Mission to Israel helped bring this message home for a group of rabbis from Bergen and Essex counties, who participated in the hopes of learning the full scope of JNF’s contributions to Israel. What they discovered was more than they could ever have imagined.

Rabbi Zev Goldberg, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, was the driving force behind this event. Said Jocelyn Inglis, director of JNF of northern NJ and Rockland, who accompanied the rabbis on this trip, “Rabbi Goldberg came up with the concept of this mission and worked tirelessly to make it a reality.”

Goldberg said that his inspiration came from a breakfast that his synagogue hosted last year for Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village in the south of Israel that provides inpatient and outpatient treatment to individuals with disabilities, from their birth throughout their entire adulthood. It was during this breakfast that he realized “JNF was a lot more than trees.”

Last summer, Goldberg visited Israel with his family and spent a full day with JNF, “really getting a sense of everything they do.” After his trip, he approached Inglis to discuss organizing a mission for area rabbis to teach them “what JNF is all about so they can come home and spread the word.”

Once the dates were finalized, Goldberg reached out to many of his colleagues to recruit rabbis to participate in the trip. “There was a lot of interest, but not everyone had the ability to go at that time of the year,” he noted. There was also a fundraising component to the mission, he added. There was the expectation that after the trip, each of the rabbis would host a breakfast in their respective communities to raise money for JNF.

Ultimately, the rabbis who accompanied Goldberg and Inglis on the trip were Rabbi Shalom Baum of Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, Rabbi Jeremy Donath of Congregation Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn, Rabbi Andrew Markowitz of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn and Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff of Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston. The four-day trip, held during the last week of July, was carefully planned to expose these Orthodox rabbis to ALL the work of JNF.

Rabbi Donath commented, “I went on the recent JNF mission with very limited knowledge about the extent of everything that JNF is involved in, aside from planting trees which, I imagine, is how much of American Jewry thinks of the organization. I chose to attend because it was a unique opportunity to learn more about the agency, spend some time with my local rabbinic colleagues and see Israel through a non-denominational lens. I left the mission truly amazed at the extent of the work that JNF does for the State of Israel.”

Goldberg agreed, saying, “It was an unbelievable eye-opening experience. JNF goes well beyond planting trees in Israel; it is an umbrella organization that works with about 30 groups in Israel to facilitate their good work. I was just floored by the breadth and depth of the work they are doing.”

Rabbi Markowitz said, “Growing up, the only association I had with JNF was planting trees in Israel. I went on the mission to dispel that myth. I can say with certainty that trees are just a small part of how JNF gives, helps and supports the people and the Land of Israel. With each place that we went to I was more and more inspired by how they are making Israel an even greater place to live.”

The rabbis spent much of their trip with JNF partner organizations in Israel, including Aleh Negev, Special in Uniform (a group that helps integrate individuals with special needs into areas of the IDF in which they can make a difference) and others, learning exactly what JNF does and how contributions to the organization directly help the State of Israel. They learned that not only do these groups benefit from funding through JNF, but they also benefit from sharing resources.

“We toured various partners of JNF, such as Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art village built for individuals with special needs. We visited a fire station in Ramla, one of many sites to which JNF has donated brand-new fire trucks. We walked along the handicap-accessible hiking trails of Lotem, another partner committed to making more of Israel more handicapped accessible. We also got a sneak peek at the beautiful, brand-new visitor center in the Gush Etzion region,” said Donath.

Klibanoff added, “Each day was led by a member of a different JNF partner organization, who provided a new perspective and voice to the trip. That freshness was invigorating. The leaders also were able to speak about each of the partner groups, not just their own, which showed us that these groups truly work together for the betterment of JNF and Israel.”

Another area that was visited by the rabbis was Halutza, located just east of Israel’s border with Egypt and south of its border with Gaza. The area “used to be a wasteland, but was built into three growing communities by evacuees from Gush Katif,” said Goldberg. “The idealism and passion of these pioneers is so inspiring.”

Donath continued, “For me, the highlight of the trip was seeing the communities of Halutza, which is a series of three communities built along the Sinai and Gaza border. We met with communal leaders as they described their mission of ensuring that the borders of Israel are maintained under Israel’s control by these communities’ mere existence. They represent the modern-day pioneers of Israel, who moved from the center of the country to the periphery.”

The next step for these rabbis will be to bring JNF’s mission and message back to their respective communities in a manner that will clearly show their congregants where JNF’s fundraising dollars go. The plan is for this type of mission to serve as a model for future trips.

In summary, Goldberg said, “I learned that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make a difference to JNF. Any amount helps in concretely building the State of Israel. With JNF, you can see the direct link between what you give and what’s done with it. That matters to people.”

Klibanoff stated, “A major theme throughout the trip was how each of the partner organizations was started by the ideas of one person. We saw how one person can indeed make a difference.”

Donath concluded, “All of the sites that JNF partners with had nothing to do with religious affiliation, but rather with a recognition of the importance of the State of Israel. I know of no other organization that is as committed to the establishment and fortification of the State of Israel on so many different levels than JNF, and to be exposed to their wonderful work was not only a real eye-opener, but also a real treat. I hope that the Jewish communities throughout northern NJ and the world can rally behind this important organization, as they are involved in such important and unique work.”

As these rabbis learned, JNF remains firmly rooted in the State of Israel and, with the help of its partner organizations and the Jewish people as a whole, its trees will continue to bear fruit.

For a list of JNF’s partner organizations or for more information, please visit JNF’s website at www.jnf.org or www.Jnf.org/workwedo.

For more information on JNF and how you can get more involved, contact Jocelyn Inglis at 973-593-0095 x823 or [email protected].

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