JNF Educators Study Tour 2020

Day 1 –  From the Centre of Israel to Tsfat   –   Reflections of 2 of our Educators;

Michelle Kubie – Director – Shalom College – NSW

As for most of our group, my day began a little before 8am at Arlozorov Train Station.

There were familiar faces and the excited buzz of anticipation in the air as the group grew over the next half hour.

Time to head over to the buses to our first destination, the Jabotinsky Shuni- KKL JNF Field and Forest Education Centre, for the official welcome and start to our tour.


Our bus 2 guide Noam, made clear from the outset that his modus operandi was humour and had us all chuckling from the start (even before he regaled us with Polish wife jokes). He clarified that our focus would be on breakfast, lunch and dinner (and sleeping) with some educational interludes. With this in mind we were not disappointed when our first stop began with a musical welcome followed by a delicious array of Israeli food, before learning about the centre.

Sculptor Achiam Shoshany donated his collection of works to JNF who have created a wonderful display of them at the Centre. From the large, stone carvings, (which we were invited to hug) displayed in the former pool area of the Roman ruins which form the heart of the Education Centre, to the marble, bronze, timber and carvings housed in the 3 rooms inside the Centre. These were displayed in themes as, sorrow, his love of women (particularly his wife – don’t think she was Polish), to the Kings and music, these sculptures are clearly a prize possession of  JNF.


In the welcome we were reminded of Mark Twain’s fist encounters with the Holy Land 160 years ago in his work ‘Innocents Abroad’. He was less than enamoured with the place he saw then but perhaps he would feel differently about the land that has developed since.

Some transient points:

  • Modern Israel was established in 1948. It was a land that was mostly desert and swamps with no natural resources
  • The settlements were mostly in rural areas
  • It is now a country ranking 3rd in terms of start-ups (after USA and China)
  • Many global companies have established offices here with a focus on research and development
  • Israel has had to fight for it’s survival since becoming the Jewish homeland after 2000 years of the land being ruled by others
  • The nearby Crocodile River has no crocodiles
  • Singer Oz Manor was born nearby in Binyamina


After singing BaShana Haba’a, we learnt that this is the 119th anniversary of JNF. The tour has 75 participants representing 27 institutions from around Australia (and New Zealand represented by 1!).

Yigal implored us to have ‘vision’ as Theodore Herzl, a founding father of the idea of a Jewish state did. He told us the story of Ben Gurion’s meeting with Eisenhower when the US Secretary of State questioned the sense of trying to unify a Jewish population that had dispersed across the world, and Ben Gurion was able to eloquently point out that despite this, the shared history of the Jewish people is what would hold them together.

We planted trees for each of our institutions and headed back to the bus.


On to the Jordan River Village and of course, first of all – food!

We learnt about the wonderful work of the Village which provides respite for children with serious health and medical issues or special needs established 30 years ago. With support from Paul Newman, the Village is now part of a network of 16 ‘camps’ around the world.

Their goal is to provide medical assistance, be accessible, provide a high ration of counselors (1 per 2 children), and to be completely free of charge.

JRV runs 39-41 sessions per year including holiday programs (10 per yr), family weekends, and programs run in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. There are also camps for children from the Gaza Strip.

They aim to provide a safe environment for the children and welcome children of all faiths.

We enjoyed a tour of the facilities and an opportunity to play in the ‘music garden’, before participating in an educational workshop session with JNF to learn a little more about Israel and how to incorporate what we learn into our curriculum in a fun and interactive way.

Our final stop for the day was our accommodation for the next 2 nights in Tsfat, which was preceded by some incredible reversing skills by our bus driver Alex (yay Alex!).

Another huge meal, a wrap up of the day and an opportunity to socialise, wind down and then “wine” down for some New Years Eve festivities to welcome 2020– what a day and it’s only Day 1!

Some more ‘facts from the day:

  • Israel has a population of over 8.5mil (these are holders of Israeli identity). 75% of the population is Jewish (7 mil), about 18% of pop is Muslim, they are full citizens, only about 1% serve in the army, there are also Druze, Circassians and Bedouins.
  • Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel.
  • There are 2 mil Palestinians (as distinct from Arab Israelis)
  • 60% of Israel is classified as desert (meaning it receives less than 200mm of rain per year)
  • JNF own 40% of the land (would have been more if they hadn’t given Rothschild Ave to Tel Aviv!)
  • Tel Aviv was established in 1909
  • Israel is the only country which plants more trees than they cut down, almost 250 mil trees have been planted
  • Soil was taken from the mountains of Jordan to the Arava to improve the fertility of the region and support crop growth
  • Water mist is used to water these crops
  • 80% of water in Israel comes from 5 desalination plants in the country (a 6th is currently being built)
  • 85% of water used is recycled and used for agriculture (purple pipes)
  • Rainwater is also collected
  • Israel actually sells water to other countries
  • More recently natural gas was found in the Mediterranean Sea and this is a major source of power
  • JNF has 5 field centres in Israel
  • Aus/ NZ is the second largest supporter of JNF (after USA)
  • Israel is surrounded by Jordan (pop 60 mil), Egypt (pop 100 mil), Syria and Lebanon.
  • Peace has been negotiated with Jordan and Egypt
  • The Negev is seen as the future of Israel, very small population in this area currently, JNF is encouraging people to move to the South
  • Population growth is anticipated to be 1 mil in the next 10 years
  • Apart from being married to a Polish woman (have I mentioned that yet?), Noam is related to Jabotinsky!


Gary Brand – Teacher – Bialik College, Melbourne

Blue skies have greeted us for the first of our 10 day tour. We were met at our two pickup locations by our JNF representatives and tour guides before boarding one of the two buses bound for our first stop, Jabotinsky Shuni KKL-JNF Field and Forest Education Centre.

On arrival we were welcomed by a couple of musicians playing Israeli songs on the clarinet and piano accordion. We then had a light snack before being given a history of the area and sculptures within. The ruins, dating back to the 3rd Century, have been restored and are filled with many sculptures carved from various materials including basalt, wood, bronze and marble.
We then sat in the glorious sunshine in the Roman amphitheatre and given further history of the ruins and the positive impact that KKL & JNF have in Israel. We were then invited to plant a tree on behalf of our represented educational institution.

KKL-JNF gifts were then bestowed on us being a day-pack, hoodie, t-shirt, drink bottle, pen, diary and notebook.
We then boarded the buses bound for the Jordan River Village (JRV). Upon arrival we had a beautiful smorgasbord lunch. After we were fed we heard all about what the JRV facility actually does.

The JRV provides an away from home camp for children with medical issues that would prevent them from participating at a standard type camp. The JRV was inspired by the late Paul Newman who set up a similar camp in the USA. This was a truly heart warming experience watching the video and seeing the joy on the children’s faces just by participating in activities that we take for granted. Activities that they would not normally have the opportunity of doing if not for the generosity of benefactors that donate financially and those that volunteer their time and expertise. These children get the opportunity to forget about their daily struggles for a few days and enjoy the many and varied activities onsite. Kol Hakavod!

We then had a session on Israel’s geographical layout and how the majority of the population lives in the middle to northern area of the country whereas in the south, the Negev, it is sparsely populated. Israel is addressing this so that the area can be better utilised and therefore able to be better populated.

Sunset here is at 4:40pm so it gets dark early. It was now 5:15pm and time to get back on the buses and head to our hotel in Tsfat. Upon arrival and after checking in, we navigated to our respective rooms and settled in. Another great smorgasbord of amazing food was consumed for dinner.

After dinner we had a debriefing of the day and an introduction to what Day 2 has in store. This was the end of the formal part of the day and it was time to celebrate the New Year. I couldnt have thought of a better way to end the decade than being in Israel with like minded people and a great way to see in the new year on this fantastic tour.