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by Faith Kaplan, September 14, 2010

Hart and I were in Italy this summer and frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t live there. It is a beautiful country with a very relaxed lifestyle. OK fine, maybe there’s a bit of political corruption, a loosely organized economy, the Mafia and a different work ethic, but the wine and the sunshine are sublime.

As we landed at airport just outside Rome, I thought of Israel. The trees, the sunshine, the rolling hills, the Mediterranean, even the suburban architecture were very familiar. The striking difference, though, was the green, fertile landscape. Vineyards, olive groves, and forests surrounded us as we travelled from place to place. The lush beauty of the countryside made me think of the Roman soldiers who cut down Judea’s forests, uprooted the vineyards and olive groves, and salted the land after subduing the Jewish revolt in the First Century. They were so thorough that Mark Twain described Palestine in The Innocents Abroad, written in 1867, this way:

“There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] -- not for 30 miles in either direction... One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings. ... For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee ... Nazareth is forlorn ... Jericho lies a mouldering ruin ... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation... untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds ... a silent, mournful expanse ... a desolation ... We never saw a human being on the whole route ... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil had almost deserted the country ... Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery Palestine must be the prince. The hills barren and dull, the valleys unsightly deserts [inhabited by] swarms of beggars with ghastly sores and malformations. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes ... desolate and unlovely ...”

What a difference 109 years can make!  The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to help rebuild the land of Israel. The organization sent tin boxes throughout the Jewish world to collect money to purchase land in what was then called Palestine, planted thousands of trees, drained malarial swamps, built agricultural villages, dug reservoirs, and terraced mountain sides. In partnership with the Diaspora, Jews living in Israel finally repaired the damage done by the Romans 19 centuries before.

In 1948, David Ben Gurion established Israel Bonds to raise capital to build the infrastructure needed to create a modern country in an ancient and neglected land surrounded by enemies. The resulting collaboration between Israel Bond holders and the State financed roads, highways, bomb shelters, telecommunication networks, and railroads.

In 62 years Israel has transformed into a first world economy. We have been active participants in the rebuilding of our ancient homeland even though we have chosen to live here through CJA and the Israel based organizations with offices here. I consider JNF and Israel Bonds as investment opportunities that have produced world changing technologies. Faced with droughts and insufficient water resources to meet the population’s needs, Israel has become a world leader in waste water reclamation and desalination. Faced with terrorists on two borders, Israel has developed security shelters and reinforced buildings to protect communities under attack and a network of first rate highways to evacuate vulnerable populations. Israel has developed an economy based on brain power, which relies on state of the art security, communication and access, supported by Israel Bonds. My investment in Israel has changed the world. Not a bad return.

During these 10 Days of Awe, as we consider our past year’s accomplishments and shape next year’s goals, think about investing in the future. Your Combined Jewish Appeal volunteer will be calling soon. It might be me, so I encourage you to think about the community we live in and the legacy we will leave our children and grandchildren. Yom Kippur will bring the synagogues’ appeal for an annual gift to offset operating expenses. Think about the sense of community a shul creates. Regardless of who asks you this Holiday season, please be generous. Tzedakah is not just a moral imperative. It is a gift to ourselves, and the dividends will be repaid many times over. Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.


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