New Fellowships for Philadelphia Teens to Study Abroad in Israel

– by Donna Breitbart

A group of ten Greater Philadelphia high school sophomores and juniors will now have the opportunity to embark on a spiritual journey and connect with their Jewish identities by attending the Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF). The selected students will travel to Israel as fellows of the 2017 Hans and Gloria Schott Impact Fund. [Read more…]

Second Annual JNFuture Margate Meets Tel Aviv

To celebrate the end of summer and our growth as a chapter, we invite you to join us for an evening of dancing, games, hors d’oeuvres, open bar, and a chance to meet and greet with JNF’s CEO, Russell F. Robinson. Taking place at the iconic Lucy the Elephant in Margate, this event will combine all the best aspects that the beaches of Tel Aviv and Margate have to offer.

Registration is required prior to the event.

Insects Threaten Israeli National Symbol, the Sabra Fruit

— by Neta Yoffe

An aphid infestation which threatens the sabra fruit and cacti, national symbols of Israel, has been discovered in the Hula Valley located in the northern part of the country.

A team of researchers from Jewish National Fund, Plant Protection Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Department of Entomology at the Volcani Center in Beit Dagan, is working hard to find ways to rid the cacti of these aphids.

More after the jump.
According to David Brand, chief forester and head of the Forestry Department of KKL-JNF:

We presume the aphids were introduced into Israel about three or four months ago and we are worried that it will spread throughout Israel. We have many of these sabras in areas all over the country and they are a very important symbol in Israel. We have to take action in order to stop the aphids from spreading.

The sabra cactus is part of the landscape and national heritage of Israel. Hundreds of years ago, it was brought into Palestine for the dye derived from the insects that feed off the plant’s sap. Later, the cacti were used to create a natural fence around a village or property to define borders, keep animals in and people out.

Most importantly for Israelis, they are the source of the term tzabar, “sabra,” used to describe Jews born in Israel, as well as their characteristics.

The origin of the word, Sabra comes from the Hebrew word for the cactus fruit, Tsabar. Israelis are often compared to the Sabra fruit, which is hard and prickly on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside, suggesting that Israelis are rough, tough and rude on the outside, but once you get to know them, they are warm and kind and welcoming.

As for keeping it intact, said Brand:

The first step in stopping an invasive species is to locate the history — where it started and how it has spread — and our aim is to eradicate the insects before they spread further. This is only the beginning, but right now we are trying to stop the damage either by mechanical means [cutting the affected plants] or by spraying.

However, we know for sure that we will not be able to eradicate all the insects in this way, so we also need to get ready to import the aphids’ natural enemies from abroad so they can eradicate or, at least, lower the population of these aphids.

The team, headed by Professor Zvi Mendel from the Volcani Center, is working under the strict regulations of the Plant Protection Services in the Ministry of Agriculture to make sure that when they import the natural enemies of this aphid, officially known by its Latin name, dactylopius opuntiae, they don’t become a problem for other plants in Israel as well.

Brand said,

We are working with full permission of the Plant Protection Services and in collaboration with researchers from the Volcani Institute, and we will make sure that everything we do follows the regulations. We have rich experience in importing natural enemies. We have done it in the past with other insects that invaded Israel and we will not release the natural enemy until we are sure that it will only attack the insects that are attacking the Tsabar.

JNF foresters are not only in charge of Israel’s forests, but of ecosystems all over the country. Brand believes his department can make a major contribution towards stopping the invasion, but knows they have to tread carefully where natural enemies are concerned.

Brand continued:

We are not starting this research from zero, so we don’t believe there will be any problems. In Mexico and other countries, researchers have already identified the natural enemies. But even so, if you import any kind of insect into Israel and you do not examine it very carefully, it could cause damage to other plants.

We know the risks are very, very low, but we still plan to put the natural enemies into quarantine for two or three years. Only after strict examination and only after we are absolutely sure that they will only attack this specific aphid will we release it into the forests and the relevant areas in Israel.

But how did the aphid get there to begin with?

Leaves on some Central American cacti have narcotic substances and sometimes, travelers to Central America return to their home countries with a leaf from these cacti hoping it will grow. Brand and his colleagues think that an Israeli who traveled to Central America may have brought back a leaf that had the insect attached to it.

Brand concluded:

It is, of course, illegal to take any kind of plant material from one country to another, but someone obviously did it and now the consequences are enormous. This is another example of how one person’s action can cause damage to the whole country.

1st Children’s Aliyah Flight Arrives: Record 106 Children Aboard

— by Rebecca (Langer) Modell

Gilad Shalit accompanied the 231 North American Olima board this summer’s first charter Aliyah flight including Nefesh b’Nefesh’s 35,000th Oleh

El-Al flight 3004 landed Monday morning at Ben Gurion Airport with 231 new Israeli citizens aboard. Even before they took off, the passengers knew not to expect getting any sleep, as close to 50% of the occupants were children. This is a new record of children arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel. The 106 young Olim are joining a whopping 989 children who will be making Aliyah throughout 2013 with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF. This is an increase of 20%, compared to 822 children that made Aliyah in 2012.

In anticipation of the arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were Aliyah coloring books, games and custom-made t-shirts. Former Israeli IDF captive, Gilad Shalit, also joined the flight as a show of support and appreciation for the thousands of North American Olim who are fulfilling their dream to return to Israel and their contribution to the State of Israel.

Also on board were 41 families, including the 106 children as well as 54 singles — 13 of whom will be joining the IDF. Also of note were the 41 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.

Kindertransport 1938-1940

The Children’s Aliyah Flight reminds us for the story of the Kindertransport which saved “some ten thousand Jewish children out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the free city of Danzig nine month prior to the outbreak of World War II. For the most part, the children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of those children, fourteen-year-old Viennese native Renee Perl, was destined to become the mother of congressional representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania.”
(Source:The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members)

The Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart said:

As we welcome our 35,000th Oleh, it is exciting to see so many children amongst the Zionistic modern day pioneers who are helping to build and secure the future of the State of Israel. This new generation is joining young adults volunteering for the IDF and Olim moving to Israel’s North and South to help strengthen the periphery, to infuse the country with renewed passion and idealism.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said:

I am happy to welcome over 100 children who are making Aliyah today through Nefesh B’Nefesh and joining us here in Israel. Aliyah from North America is extremely important and makes us stronger as a nation.

The Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said:

The Jewish Agency, which brings tens of thousands of Olim from across the globe sees Nefesh B’Nefesh as a dedicated partner in this important work.  The children and their parents who are arriving on this Olim flight from North America represent the future of Israel and every one of them strengthens Israeli society.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the country’s newest citizens at the arrival ceremony.

Those present included:

  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver;
  • Member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs MK Dov Lipman;
  • Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky;
  • World Chairman of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler;
  • Vice President Global Sales of El Al, Offer Gat;
  • Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Erez Halfon and
  • Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.

Photo credit: Shafar Azran and Peter Hamalgyi.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh: Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 35,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.  

The Philadelphia Tu B’Shevat Adventure

Orange Tree

— by Ronit Treatman

What do April 15th and the Shevat 15th have in common? Both are tax days! Two thousand years ago, the 15th of Shevat was when the twelve Hebrew tribes paid tithes to the Levites in Jerusalem. Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, is described in the Mishnah as the New Year for Trees. During the times of the Temple, fruit tithes would be calculated beginning on Tu B’Shevat. Fruit that grew on trees after the fifteenth day of Shevat was counted for the tithes that were due the following year. These tithes supported the Levites, helped feed the poor, and paid for Tu B’Shevat festivities in Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the Jews were exiled from Israel, and tithes were no longer paid. The Jews in the Diaspora preserved the memory of Tu B’Shevat by remembering their connection to the Land of Israel. In the Jewish communities of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and Kurdistan, Tu B’Shevat developed into the “day of eating the seven species.” The seven species are the seven fruits and grains that are listed in the Torah as special products of the Land of Israel. In the 16th century Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famous mystic of Safed, and his students collaborated to create the Tu B’Shevat Seder. The observance of Tu B’Shevat has undergone many permutations
since that time.

How can you and your family enjoy this ancient holiday in present day Philadelphia?

Some hands-on ideas to bring your families the warming spirit of Tu B’Shevat this winter follow the jump.

Seven Species

The Longwood Gardens Seven Species Scavenger Hunt

This year, Tu B’Shevat begins on February 7th, at sunset, and extends through the daylight of February 8th. This holiday presents a great opportunity to visit Longwood Gardens. The outdoor gardens will probably be covered with snow, so the half mile long hothouse will be your main destination. The conservatory, built in 1919, resembles a crystal palace. As you step inside, you will be transported to a place where spring has already arrived. The warm air will envelop you. Your family will inhale the aroma of a garden in full bloom, see the beautiful colors of the plants, and hear the rustle of leaves and dripping of water as they explore the greenhouse. It will be fun to look for some of the seven species in the gardens. As is mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8, the Land of Israel is described as a “land of wheat and barley, of [grape] vines, figs and pomegranates, and a land of olives for oil and [date] honey.” Here is a guide to help you find them.

Olive Tree

Grape Vines

Olives: In Biblical times, olive oil was very important for cooking, as a fuel for lamps, and for preparing soap. There is an olive tree in the Silver Garden.

Grapes: The Estate Fruit House has grape vines. In ancient times in the Land of Israel, grapes were used to make wine and vinegar. The fruit was eaten fresh off the vine. The grape leaves were used in cooking.

Figs at the Vine

Pomegranate Tree

Figs: A fig tree grows in The Estate Fruit House. Figs were eaten fresh, and used in cooking in Biblical Israel. Fig honey and alcohol were made from them.

Pomegranates: A miniature pomegranate tree (with tiny red pomegranates!) may be found in the Bonsai Display. In ancient Israel, pomegranates were used to make wine. Pomegranate juice was used as a dye. They were also a popular snack fresh off the tree.




Dates: The wild date palm grows in the Palm House. Dates were eaten fresh or dry during Biblical times. They were made into honey. It is thought that when the Land of Israel was described as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” it meant date honey, not bees’ honey.

Wheat and Barley: Wheat was used to bake bread in ancient Israel. It was the staple of the people’s diet. Barley was used to cook porridge and barley cakes. Poor people relied on barley more than on wheat, since it was more plentiful. It was also fed to the cows and goats. Wheat and barley do not grow in the greenhouses of Longwood Gardens! I suggest planning in advance and ordering a bundle of wheat and a bundle of barley from Curious Country Creations.

You can bring these plants with you, and your family may admire them during the visit to Longwood Gardens. Then, the wheat and barley may be part of your Tu B’Shevat Seder decorations!

You can inform yourself about the plants that these fruits of the seven species come from, and admire their beauty at Longwood Gardens. After learning about all these beautiful plants by seeing, smelling, and sometimes touching them, it is time to go home and taste some of them! The way to do that is with a Tu B’Shevat feast!

Tu b’Shvat Seder

The Tu B’Shevat Seder

The first Tu B’Shevat Haggadah was called Pri Etz Hadar” or “Fruit of the Goodly Tree” in Hebrew. It was published in 1753. This Tu B’Shevat Seder was modeled on the Passover Seder. This Seder consisted of a festive meal that celebrated the Kabalistic diagram of the Tree of Life. The original purpose of the Seder was to restore G-d’s blessing by repairing and strengthening the Tree of Life. The traditional concluding blessing of the Tu B’Shevat Seder is “May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.” Fruits grown in Israel were served at the Seder and were related to the Four Worlds or “planes of existence” in the Kabbalah. These are Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action, which are like the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of a tree. Four cups of wine, symbolizing the four seasons, were also served. Participants read Biblical passages that discussed trees, sang songs about trees and nature, and danced dances inspired by trees. Almonds were important to this Seder because almond trees are the first to blossom in the springtime in Israel. The Kabbalists called this Seder the “Feast of Fruits. Turkish Jews called it “Frutikas Seder,” and referred to Tu B’Shevat as “Frutikas.”  You can follow the first published Tu B’Shevat Seder in your own home.

Almond Tree Blossoms

The Tu B’Shevat Seder was first embraced by the Sephardic Jews, and then by the Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazi Jews developed the custom of eating fifteen different fruits in honor of the “Tu” (15 in Hebrew) in “Tu B’Shevat.” It became a tradition to serve carob, a hardy fruit that could travel well from Israel to Europe. Eating etrog (citron) from Sukkot that was either candied or preserved was another custom that developed. In the late 19th century the Zionist pioneers arrived to cultivate the land of Israel. Israel’s ecology had been harmed by many years of war, extirpation of trees, and desertification. In 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz and his students planted trees in Zichron Yaakov in honor of Tu B’Shevat. The Jewish National Fund adopted this custom to help with the reforestation of Israel. Most recently, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day. Nature, ecology, and environmentalism are celebrated.

In honor of the Tu B’Shevat Seder, your family may have fun making your home look and feel festive, with a tablecloth, some flowers, and the bunches of wheat and barley on the table. Red and white grape juice should be available. The juice should be served as indicated by the Tu B’Shevat Seder Hagaddah of your choice. Several links to free Hagaddas are provided below.

All of the Tu B’Shevat Hagaddot require the following cups of juice:

  • The First Cup: White grape juice, to symbolize winter.
  • The Second Cup: 2/3 cup white grape juice and 1/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize a progression to spring.
  • The Third Cup: 1/3 cup white grape juice and 2/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize spring.
  • The Fourth Cup: Red grape juice, to symbolize summer.

Fifteen types of fruit should be arranged on the table:


Autumn Red Peaches
  • Fruit that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside:
    • Pecans
    • Almonds
    • Coconuts
    • Walnuts
  • Soft fruit with a pit in the middle:
    • Olives
    • Peaches
    • Cherries
    • Plums
    • Dates

    Ripe Carobs

    Fragaria Stawberry
  • Fruits with and inner pit and a tough skin:
    • Avocado
    • Carob
    • Pomegranate
    • Mango
    • Orange
  • Fruit is that which is soft on the inside and outside, and is entirely edible:
    • Grape
    • Fig
    • Strawberry
    • Raisin

You may display a picture of an almond tree in full bloom to learn about the first blossoms of spring in Israel. It is customary to serve a dinner which incorporates fruits and nuts in all of its courses.  Here is a sephardic recipe which includes all seven species.

Sephardic Seven Species Pilaf

  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 1 cup cooked wheat berries
  • 1/2  cup cut up dried figs
  • 1/2 cup cut up dried dates
  • 1/2 cup sliced grapes
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Some very good recipes are available at Aish. There are many other recipes that may be found on the Internet. Following are links to some free Tu B’Shevat Seder Haggadahs that are available online. Many more may be found.

Plant A Tree

Following a visit to Longwood Gardens, and a Tu B’Shevat Seder feast, there is an opportunity to plant a seed and nurture a plant. It is too cold in January to plant a tree in Philadelphia. Your family can plant a tree in Israel with the Jewish National Fund. There is a delightful new tradition that you may adopt. You may plant parsley seeds in a pot. Then water ther seeds, give them plant food, and make sure that they are exposed to enough sunlight. If all goes well, in April, you will have a parsley plant that may be used for Karpas (green spring vegetable) in the Passover Seder.

From Seder to Seder, may it be a fruitful year of joyful celebrations!

Looking to Bike Ride in Israel?

One of the Longest Biking Trails in Israel  Inaugurated at the Beautiful Ben Shemen Forest

— by Natalie Kahan-Behar

This trail is part of a biking trail project that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL-JNF has developed and invested more than one million NIS in.

Yesterday, December 26th, 2011 a new single rider biking trail was inaugurated in Ben Shemen Forest, 32 kilometers long, making it one of the longest biking trails in Israel.

More after the jump.
Over the past decade mountain bike riding has become a very popular sport which created a demand for biking trails in open spaces and forests. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL-JNF responded to the high demand as well as to willingness to preserve the forest. These trails are designed to encourage the public to ride through the trails safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.

The Ben Shemen biking trail is composed of two trails that pass through the western part of the Ben Shemen Forest and continue up to Modi’in Forest: The first trees that were ever planted in the Ben Shemen forest were in honor of Hertzel, hence the name of the trail. It is an intermediate 10 kilometers circular trail that begins and ends at Mitzpe Modi’in.

The trail goes through Ben Shemen’s ancient forest scenery, and passes by the oldest Cyprus Pine forest in Israel. After riding about 7 kilometers, the trail splits south and becomes Anava trail.  Anava is a 25 kilometer circular trail that begins and ends at Hertzel trail. Along the trail are historical and archeological sites such as Tel Gamzo and the Monks Valley. Throughout the trail there are lookout points to Modi’in city, Shefelah towns and the coastal plain. Together, the biking trails form one of the longest biking trails in Israel.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at the bike trail inauguration ceremonyThe inauguration ceremony took place at the event site in Mitzpe Modi’in this morning, and was attended by KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, Deputy Mayor of Modi’in, Michal Periferi, head of Hevel Modi’in Regional Council, Shimon Shushan, the trail planner, Otto Friedman and many more.

The trails were designed by the architect, Otto Friedman, whom specializes in riding and planning biking trails in parks. While the trail was being paved by KKL-JNF employees, the entire process was supervised by an authorized biking trail constructer, Doron Emetz.

According to KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, “There is no better time than today, Channukah, Rosh Hodesh, to inaugurate this biking trail that runs through the ancient olive presses that probably produced the oil for the temple. We named the forest “Hertzel” in honor of the first forest KKL-JNF planted. KKL-JNF is 110 years old today and is focusing on the establishment of biking trails throughout Israel. I invite you to ride safely and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”

Ben Shemen Forest:

The Ben Shemen forest is a metropolis park located near the large urban area of Gush Dan. The forest has a wide open space for various recreational activities. Both Ben Shemen forest and Modi’in’s forests together create a 40 Dunam green region. KKL-JNF established dozens of recreational parks, winding roads, observation points and advanced infrastructure for the public’s convenience in the forest.

The optimum riding conditions in Ben Shemen forest allow different riding groups to enjoy the mostly flat forest, the great sequence of the undisturbed forest areas, the varied landscape roads, parking lots, observation spots and heritage sites that make the riding experience unique and enjoyable. Bike riders from all over Israel choose Ben Shemen forest as the most preferable destination for bike riding.

Photo credits: Yossi Zamir