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JNF footprints ‘hard not to see,’ says Israeli JNF official
September 30th, 2012
“It is hard not to see the footprints” of the Jewish National Fund in Israel, said Ariel Kotler to the about 200 people at the Wisconsin Region JNF banquet Sept. 5 at the River Club of Mequon. And he ought to know.
Ariel Kotler speaking at the Wisconsin Region Jewish National Fund banquest on Sept. 5.
Kotler is the development officer for JNF’s Israel operations. In that capacity, he travels all over Israel, and, as he told the Milwaukee audience, “I get to enjoy what you do on a daily basis.”
He described how he went to Sderot for meetings and brought his wife Ranit, his son Chaim, and two daughters of a friend. While he attended meetings, they played in the JNF-funded Sderot indoor playground — and because it is painted blue Kotler called it “the biggest Blue Box in the world,” in reference to the famous JNF Blue Boxes for donations.
Kotler also discussed the JNF-built park in Beersheva, which he called “the largest urban park in Israel” — part of the Blueprint Negev endeavor to develop Israel’s Negev Desert region, with Beersheva as the regional capital.
And of course, he spoke about the Timna Valley Park that Milwaukeean Avrum Chudnow was instrumental in developing near Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.
Kotler said that the park today has some 120,000 visitors per year, brings in about 9 million shekels a year of which 70 percent stays in the region, and provides more than 300 jobs in and around the park.
He described how on a flight to Tel Aviv from Eilat, he happened to start a conversation with an Eilat resident who fondly recalled enjoying the Timna Park when he was growing up — a chance to hear “from the beneficiary side,” he said.
But Kotler also reminded the audience that not everything is about enjoyment. He recalled how only 66 years ago, Jews trying to come to what would become Israel were arrested by the British as illegal immigrants.
He urged the audience members to visit the Atlit “Illegal” Detention Camp Museum — a JNF-supported project — during their next trip to Israel. It is a place that can help Israel’s supporters and Israelis “understand what we are fighting for and why we are fighting for it,” he said.
And Kotler attributed to Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon (1918-1980) the observation, “A nation that doesn’t know its past, its present is in haze, and its future has a question mark lingering over it.”
Before Kotler spoke, Enid Bootzin Berkovitz, JNF Wisconsin Region co-president with Rusti Moffic, announced that the region’s campaign, co-chaired by Richard Marcus and Selma Zeiger, had raised to that date a record amount of $1,330,000. She said that includes $500,000 from the Chudnow family toward a visitors’ center at Timna Park.
And lay leader Randi Schachter described how this past July she went a mission to Israel with JNFuture, an national JNF endeavor founded in 2007 designed for young JNF leaders.
“There are not a lot of young people here tonight, and I want to change that,” Schachter said. “It is time to get a JNFuture chapter started here in Milwaukee.”
She announced that the first meeting will take place on Saturday, Nov. 10, and will feature JNFuture’s founder, Benjamin Jablonski of New York City. Schachter will co-chair the chapter with her husband, Eric Schachter, and her brother, Brad Komisar.
The banquet also honored 11 Jewish community activists. For more information on the honorees, see the August Chronicle or The Chronicle website, http://www.jewishchronicle.org/article.php?article_id=13739.
Susan and Joel Pittelman were the banquet co-chairs. The regional director is Sidney Rivkin. For more information about JNFuture, including the time and address of the first meeting, or about any other JNF project, contact the Wisconsin Region office, 414-963-8733.