On the final morning of our JNF trip we checked out of the hotel early in the morning before boarding the bus for a day packed with seeing where JNFs money goes in Israel. JNF can be found in many countries, so the focus here is JNF America. Most of the people on the trip are donors to JNF and so it is nice to get to see the good work that your money is actually doing to better the lives of Israelis, and those living in Israel. The focus of JNF in the US is developing the Negev desert, which is the majority of the land of Israel, but only contains a very small percentage of the population. It is not the most inhabitable location, so JNF is working on fixing that. They do projects in other areas, but there is a focus on the Negev. So that is where we started our journey.
This is the Be'er Sheva River Park. It is a huge park that only has a fraction of the land completed. They park will be larger than Central Park when completed, and include a man made lake so they can have water recreational activities.
Here you can see where they are digging out the hole for the lake.
Next we visited the pipes bridge in Be'er Sheva. This crosses over the dried up river bed here. They told us that many people from town come here at night as a place to hang out because it is lit up with colored lights and works as a nice meeting spot since it is for pedestrians only.
Last up was the Sderot Indoor Playground. I described this in my post last year where I visited this playground. You can read more HERE. Basically, this is an indoor playground so children living in this town will have a place to play. There are 2 bomb shelters inside. This is necessary because they are just miles from the Gaza Strip and often under rocket fire. They have 15 seconds from the time an alarm sounds to seek shelter, so if they are playing outside, there is not enough time to get to safety. Famous people have ever come here to see the good work that JNF has done with the city to give the kids somewhat of a normal life, where they can escape the bombing and hatred if only for a few moments. HERE is the video of Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber when they visited.
This is the front entrance way.
Inside there are a variety of things to play with and on.
On this day, at this time, the place was packed with kids playing and having fun, which only a few years ago was impossible for them. This place is truly amazing.
I had to laugh and photograph this. It is a check from money raised by a school in my hometown (and my moms friends daughter was in this class that raised the money-mind you this is an 8th grade class that raised $13,000...very impressive!), and the funny part was that last year when I was here, we brought this check down with us in the car since the students from the class were coming the next week to donate this money.
They served us pizza and salad for lunch.
Then we went to a JNF reservoir, and here we got to look out of Gaza. It is just off in the distance of these next few pictures. Luckily nothing was launched at us while we were visiting. They said things have been quiet recently.
This is probably the best picture I have of Gaza City.
Then we headed back up to the Tel Aviv area and had a tour of the Ayalon Institute. This i s probably one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard. This functioned as a secret bullet factory back in the 1940's, and with the bullets made here, Israel was able to become independent and be the country that it is today. For the full story, which is way more detailed than I can explain to everyone, click HERE.
The basic gist of the story was that they built a kibbutz where only some people knew the secret that they would be making bullets, but the rest of the people had no idea. The laundry room was made as a cover for the noise that was coming from below, which was the underground factory.
Wondering how they got in and out...
This washing machine slid out and uncovered the only entrance in and out of the bullet factory. The worker upstairs that was in on the secret made sure everyone left here by 11:55 so that at noon everyone could sneak out and join the rest of the kibbutz members for lunch.
This is the hole to the factory below.
Our tour guide gave the most impressive tour and detailed description of the events that took place. I am not kidding, this girl was so unbelievable good that people were hanging on her every word, anxious to hear what happened next.
After the laundry room was built, they built a bakery to cover over a larger entrance, which was used to bring in the heavy machinery, but then remained sealed until after the operation ended.
This is the entrance that is used today for visitors to enter.
Inside you can see the machines, which are how they were when the young men and women were manufacturing bullets.
This is my creepiest picture, but this was also a very smart idea. It was basically a tanning bed. The cover story of the factory workers was that they worked out in the fields, but this meant in Israel they would have a decent tan, which we know would be impossible if you worked every day underground. This was the solution.
Like I said, this was a great tour and a wonderful story. The Israelis (not Israelis at the time of course) outsmarted the British (who had the mandate they could not manufacture weapons), and were able to fight for their independence.
After the Ayalon Institute we headed to a very tall building in Tel Aviv to enjoy dinner on the top floor restaurant. This restaurant is called 2-C, and offers what is said to be the best view of Tel Aviv (see below to see why).
They had many tables set up for our group.
Here are some more pictures of the view.
Dinner started with a bunch of salads on the table. I still have no idea why the hummus was served covered in meat, but I guess a restaurant can prepare a dish any way they feel like it. Many of us did not eat meat, so then we just couldn't have the hummus.
This is eggplant.
Since wine was included, Rach and I could not pass up one final glass of wine.
Dinner included rice.
Now, here is where it got weird. They did not ask in advance what people wanted to eat, but there were 4 options. One was this vegetarian, mushroom ravioli, which is what I got.
There was a chicken dish and a steak dish, and there was also a salmon dish. Poor planning led to the running out of salmon after my mom already ordered it. Too bad my mom doesn't eat the other things (mostly due to the ingredients used in the preparations of the dishes), and this resulted in her being left without dinner. Eventually, and I have no idea how this happened since they said there was no salmon left in the entire restaurant, they brought my mom this salmon dish, which she said did taste good in the end.
Dessert was sorbet and a chocolate souffle, which both tasted good, but we did not have time to really sit down and eat them. Oh well, at least we had a bite of each.
Well, that marks the end of my time in Israel for now. It was a great trip. Lots of fun, very educational, and we met many great people.
Stay tuned...up next is the great debacle of leaving Israel...trust me, it wasn't pretty!
QUESTIONS: Have you ever heard of JNF? Did you know Israel had a secret bullet factory back in the 1940's?