“On my first trip to Israel, the furthest south we got to was Be’er Sheva, and when you disembarked the plane, you received food coupons because everything was rationed at the time,” reminisced Bob Levine of Teaneck, New Jersey, as he gazed across the colorful expanse of the Ramon Crater, located deep in the Negev desert. Seated at a lookout area along the crater’s edge in Mitzpe Ramon, Bob was marking a milestone—his 100th trip to Israel. “We were flying past Arad, and I remember looking out the window and seeing only desert,” Bob said, recalling his first trip to Israel in 1951, adding how over the years the country has undergone some miraculous changes. “It’s all green now. I just can’t believe it.”
For Bob and his wife, Helen, the ongoing growth and development of Israel is personal. Their lives are intertwined with their significant role in Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) and its work in creating a better future for the land and people of Israel. This past May, the Levines traveled to Israel on the President’s Society Mission, a special trip for JNF-USA President’s Society major donors committed to the ongoing task of investing and building the future of Israel. Bob and Helen beamed as they presented their newest contribution to Israel’s frontier—a brand-new firetruck for the recently renovated Mitzpe Ramon fire station. Having spent a lot of time in Israel, Bob can easily recount the many changes he has witnessed, and how Jewish National Fund has played an integral role in the nation that Israel has become.
“One has to decide early in life if they are there for the larger global community, and if they want to contribute toward making the world a better place. Jewish National Fund was the vehicle we chose and it has given us the ability to express our appreciation for what we have,” said Bob. Surrounded by those who have benefited from his partnership over the years, including Mitzpe Ramon Mayor Roni Merom, Israel Fire Chief Shmulik Friedman, dozens of regional firefighters and, of course, his JNF family, emotions ran high as mission participants watched Bob continue his personal mission to do whatever he can for the Jewish homeland.
The Levines’ investment in Mitzpe Ramon also extends past their philanthropic connection and now includes a newborn great-grandniece, who will grow up in the thriving community. While JNF-USA’s iconic tree planting has long been the symbol of growth in the Negev, it can be also said that Bob and Helen’s family are planting the seeds for the next generation, who will bring the Negev into the future.
Speaking at the firehouse dedication, Mayor Merom echoed Bob’s deep and lasting connection to Israel. “The word ‘partnership’ is the best way to describe our relationship with Bob, Helen and Jewish National Fund-USA,” said Merom. “Mitzpe Ramon would not be able to move forward the way that we have without the full support of JNF and our American partners, in terms of community, tourism and business development.”
With 100 trips to Israel now logged, Bob Levine’s story is one that truly defines the American-Jewish connection to the land and people of Israel. While still a small country, seven decades of building the Jewish homeland have taught Bob one important lesson: “We’ve planted forests, built the roads to the north and the south, and created communities for people to call home. Our work goes on because there is still so much to do.”
By Eric Narrow