Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund knows the secrets of the forest.
Since its founding in 1901, KKL-JNF has been greening Israel, planting large expanses of fast-growing pine forests. Today, it is the world’s largest Jewish- environment organization, fighting desertification and investing in a plethora of environmental fields, including forestation, agriculture, water, renewable energy and eco-Zionist education, according to KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar.
Easy to Breathe, a joint initiative with the State of Israel, has put electric-powered buses on the roads to reduce air pollution from public transportation. The organization has established more than 150 water reservoirs, some of which are solar-powered, and its biofilter projects allow for the treatment and reuse of runoff water in urban areas for agricultural purposes.
Around the world, KKL-JNF leads knowledge-sharing initiatives that include forestation projects in Europe, agricultural projects and efforts to fight desertification in Africa, and collaborations in South America in the field of water.
“The Jewish link to the environment goes back to the holy roots of the Torah,” Atar told The Jerusalem Post. “The law of shmita – the sabbatical year that calls for Jews to let their agricultural land in Israel rest on every seventh year, so it can improve and heal – is a lesson in environmental conscientiousness. This message was ever-present in Judaism. It is our duty to continue being aware of environmental issues and to contribute to green-minded advancements.”
KKL-JNF is more than just a green thumb. Atar said KKL-JNF has evolved and grown alongside the State of Israel for 70 years, adapting to the needs and challenges that the Jewish people and the Israeli public face.
“KKL-JNF has served as an unwavering anchor of support for the developmental policies of Israeli governments throughout the years,” Atar said.
The Post caught up with Atar to learn more: KKL-JNF has talked about the creation of an “international Jewish communal space.”
What does that mean and how do you envision this space bringing together Jews in Israel and the Diaspora?
Our partnership with the Jewish National Fund, together with our KKL-JNF delegates around the world, already allows us to have a direct relationship with local Jewish communities in the Diaspora through activities revolving around Jewish identity, eco-Zionist education and the tie to the land of Israel. The communal space we wish to create with the Jewish Diaspora is more figurative than literal. We are interested in creating a sense of belonging for these communities, so Jews around the world will always feel they have a listening ear, a source of fellowship, and a “warm Jewish home.”
Israel is known as the Start-up Nation, but there are areas of Israel, such as the periphery, that don’t always benefit from what goes on in the center of the country. Talk about this and KKL-JNF’s efforts to change that.
KKL-JNF believes in the importance of investing in quality education in the periphery, and in providing youth with the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of where they live. The world, job market and economy are evolving and becoming more globalized each day. The education system must adapt to remain relevant. Our research recently led us to invest in KKLJNF Youth Centers for Innovation in peripheral cities all over Israel. At these centers, expert instructors will provide support and tools to local youth in fields like math and English. In the South, we have made a tremendous investment in the Arava Institute, which focuses on environmental research and development, thereby doing our part to make the region a hub of innovative thinking.
When we talk about the next generation of Jewish leadership, there is cause for concern.So many Jews – in Israel and abroad – are struggling with their Jewish identities. How can KKL-JNF help?
Today, there are new and modern ways to reach the young generation. The presence of our KKL-JNF delegates in Jewish communities around the world has allowed us to develop a genuine connection with Jewish youth in the Diaspora. Apart from our work with Jewish communities in the Diaspora, we bring delegations of Jewish youth to Israel to help strengthen the irrefutable link they have to their Jewish roots and to Israel.
There have been some challenges between KKL-JNF and the government in recent weeks. I understand the government wanted to take away the organization’s tax-exempt status – and the issue is still not resolved. Why would politicians want to change your tax-exempt status, knowing the harm it could do to KKLJNF operations?
True, at this point, the issue is not resolved yet, but the only thing we know is that if KKL-JNF doesn’t have the same abilities to work, the Israeli public will be the one who gets hurt. Some of the politicians in Israel do not understand the Zionist values at the very foundation of KKL-JNF’s existence and the contribution that our organization has made to the State of Israel. It is absurd that KKL-JNF receives a tax-except status in countries around the world, but here in Israel its status is questioned. Above all else, our primary purpose is to work for and on behalf of the Jewish people, without whom there would be no Israel. Some political figures do not understand that any hit on the Jewish people is a hit on the State of Israel.
Israel celebrates its 70th birthday this year. Where do you see KKL-JNF going in the next 70 years, alongside the Jewish state?
Our vision for future efforts revolves around the next generation and tomorrow’s brilliant minds. We have already begun investing in education initiatives for youth in the periphery and plan on helping these promising young people by providing them with tools that will serve as a catalyst for future success. Furthermore, we aim to continue expanding our knowledge- sharing efforts with communities around the world. Just a few months ago, KKL-JNF signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya in the field of forestation to help the country combat growing desertification in the area. By aiding countries that are tackling the challenges created by climate change, we hope to make a lasting and positive contribution for generations to come.