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Fusion Energy – Coalition Support Fuels Negev Work

"When you're faced with Israel's future, glinting up at you from the face of a solar panel, what can you do but smile, seeing another example of the pioneering zionist spirit, alive, well and thriving in the periphery" exclaimed Lorri Kushnir, from the UJA Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, looking at the renewable energy site at Shikun U'Binuy, and several Negev Funding Coalition projects visited on June 24, 2012, by a group of over twenty Federation lay leaders and professionals on a JFNA Israel funded trip.

The Negev Funding Coalition is a product of the Negev Work Group, a union created to further development of the Negev, with forward-thinking philanthropy. The Coalition's two projects, the Eilat/Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative and Young Communities, Sustainable Future, are both supported by the Coalition's nine federations enlisted in Year One of the Coalition and the group visited these two projects during the day. Moving into plans for Year two activity, the Coalition is registering other members for the continuation of its program.

Year One members of the Coalition include Federation CJA of Montreal, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Delaware, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Jewish Federation of San Diego County, UJA Federation of NY, UJA Federation of Toronto, UJC of MetroWest, almost all of whom were represented on Sunday's visit. Additionally represented were the Federations of Chicago, Silicon Valley, and Colorado.

In the morning, the group visited the renewable energy site in Eilot. "Renewable Energy is not only the future of Israel – it's the future of the world. To see the Negev blooming in this way, at the forefront in the green technology field, makes me proud to be an Israel supporter," said Richard Bernstein, Chair of the Negev Funding Coalition. You can see pictures here of the work that is being done. Met by mayor of Eilot, Udi Gat, the group was told of the economic and social advancements being made due to the renewable energy developments. "With 360 days of sun per year, 20 mm water per year and 350 km from Tel Aviv, the Eilot region really is the Silicon Valley for renewable energy. The overall goal is to bring more people to the region. With 4,000 people here currently, Udi is aiming for 11,000 in twenty years' time." Looking out into the desert, the group saw empty space. "In 2 years' time," said Gat, "this will be covered by 2000 dunams [2 km squared] of solar panels."

In addition to the Shikun U'binuy Thermasolar facility, the group visited the Kibbutz Ketura Validation Center and the The Arava Center for Environmental Studies.

Lori Klinghoffer, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, New Jersey, identified with the sites visited; "I certainly feel, as a federation member, as an American, as a Jew, more connected. I look at each solar panel and I think ahead to the future. Is this the future for global energy? Not to speak of the implications for Israel's energy dependency."

Enthusiasm for the Eilat/Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative was clear and strong in the group. "By being involved," said Phyllis Bernstein Kuchner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro West, New Jersey, "we have the opportunity to be involved in a broader vision. We are doing this for our benefit as much as for the Negev."

Elaine Rosen Hamilton, Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, sees the Initiative as a forerunner in providing "an ecosystem for the rest of the world."

Douglas Seserman, President and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, spoke of the work his twin community, Ramat HaNegev, has been achieving with the challenges faced in the region. Richard Summers, Jewish Federation of Toronto, suggests the biggest service anyone "can do to this area is expose people to it."

The area has found ways to use its natural resources to best advantage. The no-cost unforgiving sun light of the Negev is used, instead of the costlier fluorescent light needed elsewhere, to cultivate algae exported to Japan for its antioxidant value.

Discussion over lunch at the eco-friendly Kibbutz Lotan centered on the best uses of the Coalition's renewable education fund. Marilyn Blumer of Montreal Federation CJA, Chair of the Negev Work Group, commented on Israel's 'ready-to' attitude: "I always marvel at what this country does with the resources available."

The afternoon's activities included a special event in Beersheva with the participants and partners of the Young Communities, Sustainable Future program at the center for the Tor HaMidbar community, one of the nine young communities funded by the Coalition. The afternoon included games with the young children of the community, getting to know the community members on a more intimate level. Watch a presentation on the communities here. "As part of the Coalition's ongoing agenda to assist in the development of the periphery," said Bernstein, "I was delighted to witness the enthusiasm of all involved at being part of these pioneering enterprises."

The day's tour showcasing the two initiatives gave the group a real feel for the entrepreneurial activities of the Coalition. Caryn Rosen Adelman, from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, acclaims the Coalition as "a working model of cooperation and collaboration which uses a democratic decision process of one federation/donor, one vote."

Bernstein agrees, "The Coalition gives everyone a feeling of being together and building the state. It also makes us look at federations and feel a sense of being compatriots in working together. Whereas other issues can divide federation interest, this brings people together."

The Coalition continues to invest in the Negev and is planning exciting activities for the coming year. Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, comments "JFNA is very proud of the work the Negev Funding Coalition has been doing; it continues to go from strength to strength in its activities."

More information on the Negev Funding Coalition and its activities can be found here: http://www.jewishfederations.org/Negev-Hub.aspx.