A balmy Sunday evening, Feb. 26, ushered in a new venue, the Atlanta History Center with a nontraditional breakfast meal for dinner as a sold-out crowd of 400 came to recognize the great work of the Jewish National Fund and, particularly, local “national” leaders, Sharoni and Mike Levison. Event chairs were Caryn Berzack, Lindsay Lewis, and Samantha Wiedenbaum.
Mark Kopkin, local JNF president of the board of directors, gave opening remarks complimenting the room of 400 JNF diners, who constitute the “supporter village.” He then acknowledged the change in format from weekday breakfast to weekend dinner, “still honoring the breakfast concept.” He saluted Gladys Hirsch, spouse of the late Jack Hirsch, whose memory started the annual breakfast concept 19 years ago.
After the pledge of allegiance given by Dr. Brian Nadolne, who serves as a major in the Georgia Army National Guard, and alongside Rabbi Daniel Dorsch’s prayer for the State of Israel, JNF executive director, Greater Atlanta, Beth Gluck delivered a strong presentation about the full scope of JNF looking back and forward.
“JNF has been around for 120 years, but the objective still stays focused on what is relevant,” Gluck said, “Everyone remembers the Blue Box, and how trees stand for food and security. As Israel matured, JNF stepped into the water sector. Water is life.”
She expounded on the JNF mission to help re-settle populations to the north and south in Israel, since Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem are so congested.
Gluck spoke by the AV screen showing JNF’s seven connection/points of actions like research and development, education, forestry, and heritage sites, special needs, and inclusivity. She elaborated, “JNF is focused on the local community’s individualized needs, whatever it takes, like serving non-Jewish Bedouins if that’s what’s needed.”
Gluck interviewed Yedidua Harush, of Action for Impact, about living in Halutzah, a Negev development. Having just gotten off two planes to rush to the History Center, Harush shared how Halutzah started with 15 families in 2014, and has expanded to 400 families now, growing 85 varieties of fruits and vegetables to 30 export countries.
He stated, “We rose out of the sand. JNF thinks strategically and is lay leader driven to keep inquiring and supplying, ‘What do you need?’ We went from depressing yellow ground to synagogues and day care centers. We are growing tobacco, not for smoking, but used to print body organs…amazing technology to share with the world.”
A critical point initially was that the nearest medical clinic was over an hour away at Bersheva.
“JNF made it happen. Being 2.5 miles from Gaza, 450 yards from ISIS, our residents need to be within 15 seconds of shelter from emerging rocket fire.”
A father of four, Harush explained that JNF helped with resilience centers (some suffer from PTSD), animal therapy, and painting bomb shelters with subjects like cows and strawberries to be “user-friendly and so kids would want to hang out there. 200 painted, 500 to go.”
Gluck commented that living there was “98 percent heaven, 2 percent hell.”
Next up was Prachi Gala, a Kennesaw State University faculty fellowship participant, who went to Israel with other non-Jews to develop contacts with colleagues there and came back “a changed person,” and who is taking her students to Israel this summer.
Lauren Mescon, a member of the Central Arava Taskforce, said, “JNF was green before green was cool – making the desert bloom…doing so much with sometimes one inch of rain a year, using drip irrigation.”
Arava encompasses eight settlements south of the Dead Sea with an agricultural training center that started with 450 students, and now boasts 1,200 from “all over, Liberia, Laos, Cambodia, Tanzania. Some of whom do not recognize Israel…inventing concepts like growing crops under solar panels. This technology will be taken back home to their native countries after 11 months of training.”
Gluck also spoke about legendary Atlanta JNF supporting families like the Sterns, Fidotins, and Birnbry’s who set the stage, saying, “Now it’s our turn for thoughtful leaders to make it happen.”
She introduced the night’s honorees, Sharoni and Michael Levison. Michael spoke first about the importance of infrastructure, creating vibrant communities and affordable housing. Sharoni then contrasted how they work as a team, saying, “I have been by Mike Levison’s side for 40 years. He’s level-headed and I am highly creative. We both serve on the JNF National Board.”
Israeli spray paint artist, Elyasaf Miara, created works during the program that went home with three lucky attendees.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Atlanta History Center
- jewish national fund
- Sharoni and Mike Levison
- Caryn Berzack
- Lindsay Lewis
- Samantha Wiedenbaum
- Mark Kopkin
- Gladys Hirsch
- Dr. Brian Nadolne
- Georgia Army National Guard
- Rabbi Daniel Dorsch
- State of Israel
- Beth Gluck
- Blue Box
- tel aviv
- Yedidua Harush
- Action for Impact
- Prachi Gala
- a Kennesaw State University
- Central Arava Taskforce
- Lauren Mescon
- Elyasaf Miara