JNF Educators Tour July 2022

Day 1 – July 3, 2022

Lower Galilee

Israel… how can you possibly begin to explain Israel in words. Words are so limited; the feelings, emotions, thoughts that come to mind when I am is Israel is overwhelming (in the best possible way).

Home. I am home. I am alive here, my soul is on fire. This is the home of my forefathers and foremothers. This is the home of my people. My people, who have fought hard for this land, who through their blood, sweat and tears (literally) today I am able to stand here, to be here, unapologetic for who I am and what I stand for, as a proud Jew and lover of Israel.

Today, was the first day of our JNF Israel trip for educators, psychologists, social workers and more across Australia.

When explaining to other people (I came early on Friday, and was blessed to spend Shabbat in the holy, mystical city of Tzfat), what the goal of the trip is, I summed it up by saying: To give everyone an opportunity to appreciate and see the true value of Israel. Unfortunately, as we know all to well, the way Israel is perceived in the media and the world is nothing to how it is in the real life. In stark contrast Israel is a multifaceted, cultural, diverse, innovative country where all types of peoples are accepted and embraced to live their lives and reach their true potential.

We started our trip by going to the Lavi JNF Field and Forest Education Centre. As we were driving in we saw all the trees that people have planted. Interestingly enough, this year is the law of Shmitta (A Sabbatical, for the land. There is a law in the Bible which stipulates that every 7 years the land of Israel must rest). This still happens today and since the land is resting, the JNF does not plant any new trees.

Fun fact: Israel is the only country that entered into the 21st century with the most trees. In fact, every year 1 million trees are planted.

We entered the Lavi JNF Field and Forest Education Centre with a huge warm welcome. Klezmer music was played, and we had a little dance. Delicious light refreshments were served, as we collected our special JNF packs and got time to chat and meet other people on the trip.  We then played some fun, interactive games with our groups and were shown the field centre were camps and scouts come. The campsite and all the activities built were unbelievable, and so important for the children to be able to reconnect with their roots and nature.

We then went to visit the Jordan River village, which was a camp created for children who have chronic illness, based on Paul Newman’s method. This is for all children from all demographics and nationalities. This includes Jews, Muslim’s, Christian’s, Druze and Bedouin; wealthy and poor, religious and secular. The village is staunchly apolitical, guided by the principle that all children deserve to experience the wonders of childhood.  People tend to associate the JNF with just planting trees (although, that is far from a just) in actuality, the JNF helps assist and aid all different aspects in Israeli society. Specifically, the JNF Australia donated money to the sensory garden and jungle gym in the village, which implemented all the different senses. The goal of the camp is for the children to be challenged, interact, grow and have fun. These camps which implement the same techniques are across the world, such as in the USA and Europe. The Jordan River Village is the only camp like this in the whole Middle East.

There are over 1000 volunteers each year, including doctors and nurses, specifically catered to each child’s needs. During covid, the counsellors traveled all around Israel to the campers, and brought the fun to them.

The campsite includes an enormous amount of facilities and amenities. There is horse riding and therapeutic dog activities, Bedouin tents and camping, kites workshops and a musical spice garden. These are just some of the incredible programs that the village offers. No longer are the children ashamed or embarrassed, everyone is treated equally and feel apart of it.

Feeling so uplifted and inspired we checked into our fancy hotel – the Sofia Hotel (although when I told an Israeli that we were sleeping in a fancy hotel in Teveria he laughed, saying there is no such thing). Anyways, turns out it is BEYOND and top class, the JNF are treating us all like kings and queens. We ended off the night on the magical rooftop of the hotel with drinks, and enjoyed the night away – so exited for what comes next!

Chavi Block