Ever heard of JNF? This stands for Jewish National Fund and they are a large organization raising money and funding projects to help the Israelis have a better life. A major part of their efforts, other than planting trees in Israel, would be helping develop the Negev so people can live there comfortably. They said something like 70% of Israel's land in dessert, mostly in the Negev, and only 9% of the population live there.
I will get to why JNF gave us a tour, but first I will show you all of the things they took us to see.
The first project was a 9/11 memorial overlooking Jerusalem. This is the only one in the world that is dedicated to all people, Jewish or not, lost in the collapse of the towers. It is a brand new memorial and beautiful. It really makes a statement to have it here in Jerusalem.
Here I am with my Aunt and Grandpa.
This monument has a piece of steel from the twin towers.
It is an American flag that flows into a memorial flame.
There are plaques, in alphabetical order, that have all of the almost 3,000 names of those lost that day.
In the distance you can see the new bridge that also acts as a piece of art on the road into Jerusalem.
The next site was in Sderot, which is a few miles away from the Gaza strip, and often subjected to shelling from the Gaza strip. This is a water reservoir to aid in getting water to crops to sustainable agriculture.
Next up is a really special project in Sderot. As I said they often get rockets launched at them, even still in 2011, and they have only 15 seconds from the time the siren goes off for a warning to get into a bomb shelter. As a result, kids can’t play outside. It is just not safe. JNF saw a need to get an indoor playground built for these kids. There are bomb shelters inside so that everyone can rush to safety if and when needed.
The wall (not shown, next to this sign) showcases the names all the donors, and this sign shows the information about the JNF project.
Ever wonder what a rocket looks like after it is launched in terror at people just trying to live their lives? Here it is!
Scary, but we posed with this. It was found about a mile away at a gas station.
The planning for this was so intense and careful. They wanted to put a Merry-go-Round here but the plans were scrapped. The reason why is that a carousel takes 25 seconds to power down, and this is more than the 15 seconds they have to take shelter. That is utterly insane to think that they could not have a carousel for that reason. But they did include many other fun activities in this giant building, so keep reading to see all the fun the kids can have.
Parents can sit by the cafe while kids play. If they have small children there are swings around for the babies.
You can see into the facility and there are bikes all along this wall. There are actually a lot of little bikes, so it seems no one would have to fight over toys.
Instead of a carousel they built a play mall. If you are going to go shopping, you need an ATM!
My grandpa decided to do some grocery shopping.
Look how cute this party room is. They can even turn off the lights and it glows in the black light. You would never know this doubles as a secured bomb shelter. This way the party can keep going if the sirens go off.
Here is a climbing wall, table tennis, and then some video games.
Here we are during our tour. It was hard not to get emotional here. It is amazing what these kids have to go through and I am thankful someone thought to give them a place to play.
They can even box.
Look at the cute soccer set up. Again, this is a bomb shelter. Only some areas are reinforced as shelters. Everyone needs to run and fit in here (or one of the other secure rooms) if the siren goes off.
This is a computer room. This is another secured room. There are enough so that people can get to safety if and when needed.
As we were leaving I made sure to give Tzedakah, which is a donation or charity.
Then they took us to lunch, where we were joined by a JNF project manager (his project is coming up next). This was in Be’er Sheva. It is called the Golden Goose.
Across the street was this place called Siesta and I thought it was too cute not to take a picture.
The Golden Goose is one of those traditional restaurants that serves ALL the salads. Lots of veggie salads. There was only one meat, and that was the chopped liver. The restaurant is kosher meat, but I was able to order fish. Look at all the salads were were served. Since we had 7 people we were given all the salads and dishes x 3.
I think this eggplant was my favorite.
Here is the whole group, with only the start of the food we received.
Holy pita! This was closer to naan bread, minus the butter, and so delicious.
Look at the hummus!
Then came some tomato salad and falafel.
There couldn’t possibly be more, but there was. All before the entrees were served. This is the rice.
Finally, we got the entrees. My grandma and Aunt had the chicken kebab.
I had the fish. This is known as (I have no idea how this is really spelled) denish, and we think this is sea bream (which I have had on the island).
Dessert was coffee, tea and baklava.
I should mention that when we were done with that, they brought out this…
That was one serious meal there!
Afterwards we headed to the River Park project. When completed this will be double the size of Central Park and provide a (man made) lake and park to residents of the Negev desert. Only a fraction of the land is completed into the final park. At least it gives and idea of what this will look like.
It is amazing that they can get this green park to flourish in the desert.
Then you can see just how barren this is before the development takes place. It is a huge project and I wish them much success. This was the project of the gentleman who joined us for lunch, and shared with us his vision and plans.
It wouldn’t be a road trip if I did not need to use the bathroom at a gas station. When we were leaving we spotted some goats.
I actually found this picture a lot funnier.
Next up was a visit to Ben Gurion’s grave. He was the first Prime Minister of Israel. He loved the desert, so there is a college here for desert studies and he was buried right in front of this view.
This is the grave site.
Next up was the nearby Ramon crater. This is a natural crater that formed from earthquakes a long, long time ago. The “guide” (he was actually the JNF employee traveling with us) said the largest in all of Israel, but I read in my tour book this is the largest in the world. That means it is really, really a big crater!
On top of this wall they just built a hotel. Imagine the view!
The colors formed naturally here.
The views were amazing.
This was the first time I heard of the ibex. We did not see any. I thought this was an odd way to state not to feed them. I know it’s true, but who wants to come out and say it will “cause painful death” to feed them people food.
As the day was winding down, we got to the part we were really there for. Welcome to Merchav Am. This is a new community. I liked how those living there explained that these families are like pioneers. They ventured out to start life in the desert and to show others that they can live here and hope to draw more of the population down into the south. This was the welcome for us, and the synagogue inside.
My relatives, and this is confusing, but I will try it out…my great grandfather’s niece and her husband, saved their money so that they could help people after they passed on. Zelda was very old when she passed away, but she was a great lady. I really just always loved that her name was Zelda (loved that game, LOL!). My mom handles the estate and found this project in need of funding. On behalf of our family members my mom donated their money to help build a community center for them. Although they only have 38 families now, and they all still live in temporary housing (after 10 years), the plan is for 500 families to all live in permanent housing. This community center will provide a much needed facility for them. I went as a representative of the family for the dedication and groundbreaking.
Here we are at the ceremony.
This is the rabbi with the our JNF man. He said the synagogue will be the heart of the community and the community center will be the body.
Then the kids (many, many kids here, but they were all younger) performed a song for us. It was adorable. I was honored to be able to know that we were helping these kids to have a place where they would meet over the years and grow up enjoying.
Here I am with the Mayor.
Here we are with the mayor and the gentleman (from the Or Movement) who had the vision to start communities in the south.
The last picture was with another employee of the Or Movement, who was helping the community get started, and others in the south. I wish my mom could have been there, but I am glad I had this experience. I hope to get to go back and see the center when it is completed.
After the long day and long drive back, we just went back across the street and picked up some take out. Plus, we were stuffed from that lunch. I had a nice veggie sandwich, and my Aunt had some pasta. My grandparents had the same pizza again, so I didn’t bother with the picture.
Wait! I couldn’t skip dessert. This chocolate pie was heated up and the middle oozed out. Yum! It too me 3 nights to eat this.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever tried sea bream? Do you donate to charity (even if just pennies…just curious)? If you had a lot of money to donate, where would you want to help out?