For Jewish National Fund-USA, Tu Bishvat is a day of celebration. For over 100 years it has planted trees and today does so much more – nourish communities, foster innovation, and build a better today and tomorrow for Israel.
The connection between JNF-USA and the holiday of Tu Bishvat, then, is a natural and obvious one.
“As the caretaker of the land of Israel, literally, JNF-USA celebrates its flagship holiday on Tu Bishvat,” explained Eric Michaelson, JNF-USA chief Israel officer. “For nearly 116 years, this is our way of gathering people who love Israel from all over the world, to plant trees here. Today, more than a century later and after turning Israel into the only place on earth that has more trees at the beginning of the 21st century than it had in the 20th, Tu Bishvat is not only a celebration of trees and environmentalism, but rather all of JNF-USA’s initiatives and our deep roots embedded within the history of Israel.”
Michaelson emphasized that the planting and afforestation efforts have been broadened toward bringing people, building cities, developing infrastructure, enhancing the quality of life and working tirelessly to secure the future of Israel; all of this primarily with our nation’s modern-day pioneers, who are growing and cultivating the frontier regions – the Negev and Galilee, specifically.
“In turn, the current leadership at Jewish National Fund is now building upon the foundation that was laid before us, paving the way for the pioneers of today to come, as we continue to raise the bar of opportunity,” he continued. “In doing so, we honor the legacy of Tu Bishvat, our forefathers and [Theodor] Herzl, by planting human capital and invest- ing in the next generation. A multifaceted investment that comes in the form of support for innovation, research and development in alternative energy and sustainable practices, education, employment, housing, healthcare, culture, social entrepreneurship, and much more.”
Michaelson highlighted that “as we move into the 70th year since Israel’s establishment, we remember this import- ant legacy we have been given, and make it our mission to continue building Israel for generations to come.
“Our grandparents planted the seeds and we are harvesting the fruit while fulfilling our own calling to surpass the trees that were planted; with people,” he said.
With JNF-USA’s extensive activities and its decision over recent years to concentrate on strengthening Israel’s geographic and social periphery, the organization has not neglected any of its major tasks – protecting the length and the breadth of Israel’s natural landscapes and developing the country, especially in the Negev in the South and the Galilee in the North.
One of JNF-USA’s groundbreaking initiatives is Blueprint Negev, which aims to improve the quality of life in the Negev and ultimately bring 500,000 new residents to the region in the next 10 years.
When Blueprint Negev was launched in 2003, 193,000 people lived in the region, with a 3% population loss a year, despite the Negev making up some 60% of Israel’s landmass. Now, the city of Beersheba is fast growing and home to more than 200,000.
In the Galilee, JNF-USA is working to show Israel and the world what the North has to offer from both a living and tourism perspective.
Its Go North initiative aims to bring some 300,000 new residents by 2024 and to economically develop the Galilee to make it a desirable alternative place to live rather than the country’s congested and overpriced center.
The younger generation of Israelis often move to the cen- ter because of the lack of economic opportunities in the North, but JNF-USA is working tirelessly to combat that trend by investing in medical centers and housing funds, and by working to attract new immigrants to the North.
To celebrate this special holiday and Israel’s 70th birth- day, JNF-USA is celebrating Tu Bishvat from January 15 to February 15 with a sweepstakes that awards the grand prize winner with a round-trip airline ticket to Israel on EL AL Airlines and a two-night stay at the luxurious Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, just by planting a tree in Israel. The prize also includes a JNF day tour for two people.
There are also 10 runner-up prizes to be won.
However, for those who wish to join a once in a lifetime experience JNF is offering an unparalleled, unique experience to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary as part of its Israel@70 mission. The mission has five different tracks that will give participants a unique and interesting experience in the Holy Land. This includes the Young Leadership Experience, an Interfaith Experience, a Spirit of Israel experience, a President’s Society Experience and the San Diego Community Experience. Depending on what track is chosen, the Israel@70 mission will explore the different facets that Israel has to offer both from a historical point of view to a modern day look at the country through spirituality and religion or exploring what makes a leader and the history of leadership in Israel.
For example, participants can discover the diverse cultures, communities, and religions that were born in Israel and coexist today through the interfaith experience, or see a different side of Israel with other young professionals on a one-of-a-kind subsidized trip and engage with young, dynamic Israelis who are assuming leadership roles in their communities, while also exploring Israel’s rich history through the young leadership experience. Each track gives participants the opportunity to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday in style through a momentous and unforgettable trip. The tours will also include a memorable Shabbat dinner with Deputy Minister for Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US; front row seats to an exclusive Yom Hazikaron event in Jerusalem with families of Israeli war veterans, military heroes, and other special guests; an insider’s look into Israel’s deep-rooted history dating back 70 years to the fight for independence through present day; and festive Yom Ha’atzma’ut celebrations with local Israelis.
JNF-USA’s Speakers Bureau Chairman and Israel@70 Mission co-chair Robert Benedon emphasized to The Jerusalem Post that “Jewish National Fund strives to enhance the quality of life for all of Israel’s residents and contributes positively to the environment making Israel even more beautiful for those who live and visit the Jewish home- land,” he said. “Although the planting of trees is an import- ant component of our work in Israel, JNF is building communities, preserving heritage sites, working to make the lives of those with special needs better and so much more.
“We do this through our amazing partnerships in Israel, our dedicated professional staff and lay leadership,” Benedon added.
Michelson concluded with saying that by taking part in such initiatives, “The seeds that we plant today will be the trees of tomorrow and by doing so we will be sharing in the momentous occasion of Israel’s 70th anniversary and the timeless ethos of the Jewish nation in the land of Israel.”
To enter the sweepstakes, plant-a-tree competition, go to: www.jnf.org/events-landing-pages/tu-bishvat-sweepstakes
This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.